Whenever a controversial or high-profile story hits the news, we can count on certain predictable events to follow, perhaps the most predictable being the miscalculated and/or idiotic celebrity tweet. It has almost become a Celebrity Rite of Passage to fumble wildly on Twitter towards the unintended (we presume) consequence of making a fool/villain/pariah of oneself by a thoughtless response to the event in question. Which is mind-boggling, given the clear, very public function of social media.
And while one could say this blundering behavior is potentially any tweeter's stumbling block, no one's paying attention to the tweets of people we don't know. (The lack of response to my own pithy contributions is evidence enough of that!)
No, it's the celebrities, the famous folk with their gooey, gushing fame, who bring the point most saliently home. Think of Gilbert Gottfried losing his Aflac gig, The Onion writers being excoriated after calling young, Oscar-nominated Quvenzhané Wallis the c-word, Alec Baldwin unwittingly building a case for his later MSNBC fail by homophobing on Twitter, or Kanye tweeting... well, just about anything.
The sputtering that follows these tweeting imbroglios is also confounding. Perhaps celebrities are so insulated within their fame bubbles they forget (odd, given that many of the worst offenders are deeply narcissistic) that people are actually reading the words they tweet. And when those readers have their understandable reactions, the script is almost a given. It goes something like this:
1. Controversial/high-profile event occurs.
2. Celebrity tweets his/her/their idiotic remark(s).
3. Celebrity's "followers" and other readers go ballistic, tweet flaming responses to celebrity.
4. Celebrity doubles down on idiotic tweet(s) OR
5. Celebrity stumbles through course correction tweets OR
6. Celebrity tweets that he/she is "new to Twitter" or "just learning my way around this thing" OR
7. Celebrity tweets "sincere apology" OR
8. Celebrity disables Twitter account... for now.
Dear God, Famous People, what is so challenging about being aware of what comes out of your mouths via your brains via Twitter? What's so elusive about the obligation to be thoughtful about the 140-character comments you make online? Did you not get the memo? It's been made so very clear. Did you, instead, presume your insensitive, ill-conceived, inappropriate comments would not be read by the gazillions of fans your managers, agents and publicists have slavishly courted and are now racing to "follow" you on Twitter? Did you expect these same people wouldn't have a response if you disappointed them by being a thug, bitch, cad, whatever?
What I find most disingenuous about these all-too-frequent Celebrity Twitter Snafus is the feigned ignorance about how it all works. Because it's just not hard. Really. There's no learning curve required. Nothing so difficult to "learn your way around." It's no more challenging than proofreading an email before you send it, giving a once-over to a letter before you put it in the mail; double-checking a text message before you hit "send." You do these things every day. It's not hard. You're just being obtuse.
Most recent cases in point:
Levar Burton decided, upon hearing of Philip Seymour Hoffman's tragic death, to use Twitter to make some self-aggrandizing points about how he would never be found lying on a bathroom floor with a needle in his arm, but if he was, "please put my pants on!" Isn't that hilarious?! Given the tragedy of this beloved actor, father and friend felled by a voracious addiction, and all tentacles of connection people feel on the universal topic of addiction and loss, this was profoundly tacky and insensitive. But Burton went right for #4 above; he kept sending out his judgmental, tone-deaf, 140-character missives until the backlash reached epic proportions and followers started fleeing like ex-Scientologists from the Celebrity Center. Suddenly then, and only then, did it strike him that maybe he was not only being a d**k, he was sabotaging himself (horrors!). And what followed that revelation? #6, the "sincere apology":
"I apologize for being insensitive regarding the death of PSH. No excuses, it was wrong! May he rest in Peace!"
Apparently this rather obvious revelation did not strike him prior to the "put on my pants" comment but, good Lord, what a relief that he figured it out before he lost all his fans and had to activate #7.
Then there was the other hot story of the week, Dylan Farrow. As we all know, her open letter regarding her alleged sexual molestation at the hands of Woody Allen incited a shit-storm of response from everyone on every side of the issue, to the point that random, uninvolved people took to acting as if they knew the intimate details so well they could tell you the color of Dylan's curtains. LOTS of experts on this one. But it was famed author Stephen King who most clumsily put his well-heeled foot into his Twitter mouth by this tweet:
"Boy, I'm stumped on this one. I don't like to think it's true, and there's an element of palpable bitchery there, but... "
Yep. It was the "palpable bitchery" that unleashed the Twitter hounds. Women, in particular, found the verbiage chosen to express his doubts about the young Ms. Farrow's veracity to ring of "rape culture" misogyny and made no bones about letting him know just what they thought. One, a Jennifer L. Ponzer, perhaps put it best:
"Wow, @Stephen King: how is it remotely OK to call Dylan Farrow's wrenching story of child molestation "palpable bitchery"? #palpabledouchery "
Which I think is a fair query.
Unlike Levar Burton, who initially went with #4, King opted for a quick run through #s 5, 6, and 7, wrapping with a chagrined:
"Still learning my way around this thing. Mercy, please."
While that tweet reflected a certain humility, again, I couldn't help but think: there's really nothing here to learn, Mr. King. If you write the word "poop" in a tweet then hit send, all the people on Twitter who follow you, and many who follow them, will likely see the word "poop" in a tweet. It's just like the U.S. Postal Service: you put a letter in the mail and it goes to the place you sent it. Only on Twitter the place you sent it is... everywhere.
This is not a dig on celebrities. I love celebrities; some of my best friends are celebrities; I waited on tons of celebrities when I was in the catering business in Hollywood, honestly. And, truth be told, non-celebrities can be just as offensive on Twitter; it's just that no one notices. But still... we are all obligated to learn how to use the weaponry of social media, these powerful, ubiquitous and everlasting tools we avail ourselves of. If one doesn't want to be perceived as an insensitive cad or a woman-bashing sexist, it behooves one to take a sec before they hit that send button to make sure all the words they put in that little 140-character box really, truly reflect what they want to convey.
It's really easy, Mr. King. You've written and edited full novels; you can surely handle 140 little characters.
"Think Before You Tweet" image by Lorraine Devon Wilke