As it happens I had just finished writing a piece on teens and social media, touching on cyberbullying when the perfect storm of media idiocy broke out.
It began when Amanda Carpenter, a speechwriter for Sen. Ted Cruz, tweeted that Republicans could defund Obamacare.
Allen Brauer, communications chairman of the Sacramento County Democratic Party, tweeted in response, “May your children all die from debilitating, painful and incurable diseases.”
When some people evidently protested that this was a bit out of bounds, Brauer went on in the same vein for about an hour.
“I’m being attacked on Twitter for wishing one of Ted Cruz’s pubic lice to experience the pain her boss is inflicting on Americans,” Brauer tweeted. “Yes, your party takes bread from the mouths of starving children and medicine from the sick, and I’m the problem. Got it.”
Wiser heads ultimately prevails and Brauer apologized.
“I am truly sorry for my tweet. I was very upset and lashed out. Your kids are not fair game either. My apologies.”
Carpenter tweeted in reply, “Thank you, I appreciate it.”
The National Rifle Association was not so forgiving after David Guth, associate professor of journalism at the University of Kansas, tweeted after the Washington Navy Yard shootings.
“#NavyYardShooting The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you.”
Guth however, is not apologizing.
Guth told Fox4KC.com. “I don’t apologize for it because I’m not saying in the tweet that I want anybody harmed, and I expanded on it in my blog. I defend the NRA’s rights first and second amendments and I hope they respect mine.”
Actually he did say he wanted someone harmed in his tweet, someone’s children in fact, and the Kansas State Rifle Association is calling for his dismissal.
According to the university Guth has been placed on “indefinite administrative leave pending a review of the entire situation.”
That is, the university would like him to keep out of sight until the furor dies down.
I actually have a Twitter account. I opened one for reasons I forget, but have never tweeted anything. Nor do I follow anyone’s tweets.
I’m one of the most interesting people I know, but even I don’t think anyone would be interested in a minute-by-minute account of the thoughts running through my head. If I ever forget this my children are there to remind me. Because I’m a writer I tend to think out loud in the car, that’s how I do the first draft of much of what I write. My children assure me the process is not fascinating.
I concede Twitter has some uses for public figures and people organizing enterprises that require constant updates.
But there’s something I learned a long time ago when email was new to me. The technology to compose and send a message to a large number of people within the space of a few minutes creates endless opportunity to make a conspicuous fool of yourself.
Email created the opportunity, Twitter made it easier still.
At times like this I think of the movie “Notting Hill” (1999) with Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts. At one point in the movie papparazzi take a picture of Roberts leaving Grant’s house in the early morning hours.
Robert’s character explains to Grant that the immediate furor may die down, but that picture is not going away. Not ever. It’s going to remain in files and be brought out whenever a rumor or hint of scandal about her arises.
Back in 1999 that was life for movie stars. Now it’s the reality for all of us.
Teens have no cognitive ability to grasp what “the rest of your life” means, and a lot of grownups who didn’t grow up with this kind of tech haven’t grasped the implications yet. Or maybe they’re just idiots with a lot of anger issues and little self-control.
Let’s face it, all of us have engaged in a lot of cringe-worthy behavior from time to time. But nowadays it’s harder to forget and impossible to walk away from.
I don’t know how this is all going to shake out, but I wonder if we’re going to become both more tolerant and more reserved in our public demeanor.