Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Twitter and the evolution of social media outrage

   I am forever befuddled and bemused by the unique phenomenon of social media outrage - both in its selectivity and the rapidly-evolving cycle of backlash.
   Let's start with the backlash.  During its relatively brief life span, Twitter has become a convenient platform for righteous mob indignation.  Anyone who tweets anything perceived as being outside the socially-acceptable norm is set upon by an army of social justice warriors and hashtag activists whose fundamentalist fervor smacks of the same intolerance they claim to abhor.  It wasn't long before the self-appointed Twitter thought police became a parody of themselves, and disproportionate social media outrage became a running gag among the majority of people who don't devote their time to looking for reasons to be offended.  Of late, I've noticed SJWs trying to swing the pendulum back the other way by arguing that superfluous outrage doesn't preclude the right to be offended.  They're not wrong, although as usual, they overstate their case.
   The most fascinating aspect of social media outrage, however, is how it's targeted.  In the past two weeks, professional hockey players Morgan Rielly and Dustin Penner were pilloried online - Rielly for saying in a media interview that his teammates "shouldn't be girls" and Penner for cracking wise on Twitter about whether he required sexual consent from his girlfriend.  Rielly made a poor choice of words in describing the frustration of losing, while Penner - who's well known as a Twitter jokester - hit the "send" button when he clearly should have opted for "cancel".  Both subsequently apologized, but not before being subjected to the full wrath of the pitchfork-wielding, torch-bearing progressive Twitter hordes.
   Meanwhile, two far more consequential Twitter incidents involving current or retired professional athletes were met with relative silence.  A tweet erroneously posted on TSN alleging adultery between Toronto Maple Leaf Joffrey Lupul and teammate Dion Phaneuf's wife, Elisha Cuthbert, and a series of tweets promoting the violent rape of former major league baseball pitcher Curt Schilling's daughter were both widely reported in the media, but neither incident got much traction with the SJW crowd.  The difference?  Rielly and Penner were high-profile perpetrators, while the celebrities in the latter two incidents were the victims.  Aside from Schilling himself and a law firm representing Lupul, Phanuef and Cuthbert, forming a posse to go after the relative nobodies who were behind the tweets in those cases didn't seem to be high on anyone's priority list, even though the content of the tweets were far more offensive and potentially damaging than anything Rielly or Penner said. 
   I don't doubt the altruism of do-gooders who want a warm and fuzzy world where we all sing Kumbaya around the campfire, but whether they recognize it or care to admit it, the righteous Twitter mob are the online version of a big game safari.  They're only interested in taking someone down if the trophy is going to look good mounted on their wall.  
   They would do well to be more consistent in practicing their principles.