[NOTE: For the “jump the snark” language, I owe credit to Gardner Campbell.]

It was a lovely Thanksgiving morning and I was watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with my wife and two kids (my son is 8 and my daughter is 4). While watching, I had Janetter up and running on a laptop so I could occasionally check Twitter to see what friends and those I follow were saying. Watching a major TV event with Twitter as a backchannel (of sorts) is one of my favorite uses of Twitter. As the performance by the cast of Kinky Boots began, I took to Twitter to chime in. I posted a mostly snarky/sarcastic tweet as I’m inclined to do. I feel like that has become a part of my identity on Twitter; I just don’t take myself too seriously in that space and like to joke around.

Later that day, I learned that a screenshot of my tweet was being used on the Huffington Post Gay Voices site as part of a story about the outrage by the right wing to the inclusion of Kinky Boots in the parade. I was (and still am) horrified. While the sarcasm intended by my tweet1 was clearly not obvious, anyone who knows me even a little bit knows how mislabeled I am in that post. Since the post ran, I have received countless replies from people who had not followed me to that point and who, evidently, took the HuffPo piece at face value. I won’t share those replies here as many of them are NSFW. The replies continue to flow in, even as I write this post. I also received one very nasty email2.

There is a lot to be learned from this episode, and I’m still processing it all. For now, I’ll just say a few things.

To those who took this occasion to use me as the target of their LGBTQ advocacy campaign, please, PLEASE direct your efforts elsewhere3. First of all, I am on your team; I have ALWAYS been a strong supporter of equity and social justice, especially for those underrepresented in the democratic processes. You’re barking up the wrong tree. Second, I have no power to effect change on the issues about which you and I care deeply . Please consider using your considerable voices to address policymakers and continuing to mount serious legislative campaigns for gay rights. I’ll support you 100%; I always have. In fact, I hope you’ll consider joining me in efforts to get gay marriage legalized in the Commonwealth of Virginia, where I live now. That would be fantastic.

To those who responded to perceived hateful language with nasty, hateful language… well, I don’t even know what to say other than hypocrisy and ad hominem attacks get us nowhere.

To the editors of The Huffington Post Gay Voices site, I hope you’ll do better next time. I’m no journalist, and I don’t even know if HuffPo counts as journalism. But, it seems to me there was a time when people did a little homework before publishing something to a wide audience. Consider adopting some kind of standard of evidence as you mount advocacy campaigns through your widely read publication. You have a powerful platform, and, as you know, with great power comes great responsibility. Just a little bit of research on your part might have led you to realize who I am, what I stand for, and, therefore, the intended sarcasm of my tweet. Cherry picking tweets and decontexualizing them to craft an argument is bad rhetorical practice by any standard of which I am aware.

Ultimately, I think my friend and colleague Gary Stager is right. He sent me a DM which said, in part, “comedy is hard.” Indeed, Gary. Thanks for the reminder.

I’m not ready to give up on social media, yet, but this event has shaken me. It’s incredibly frustrating that the vast majority of those who chose to attack me on Twitter won’t see this post because they don’t follow me and likely have little to no connection to anyone who is in my Twitter network. Social media and networked life is complicated that way. For now, I’ll probably reassess my comedy routine and stick to the boring Twitter updates. #GoDuke (that’s not offensive, right?).

  1. FWIW, I’d say the tweet was 90% sarcastic. The other 10% was concern over having to use the moment of the parade to define the word “kinky” for my 4 year-old daughter []
  2. I also received a couple of very nice emails and DMs; thanks to those of you that took the time to offer kind words []
  3. BTW, it takes a couple of bunnyhops of logic to get this to be about “gay rights.” But, that seems to be the issue most of my attackers are addressing. See e.g. the regular use of the word “homophobe.” []

10 thoughts on “When Twitter “Jumped The Snark” For Me

  1. Hi Jon,
    I totally agree that HuffPo should have done their research and looked for context in your tweet, and that taking it out of context doesn’t help anyone. However, I think it’s also fair to remember to own our words, and be aware that putting things out on the internet, and on Twitter in particular, we don’t have control over what happens next. It doesn’t excuse others’ actions – but their actions also don’t make us unaccountable for our words. I think in this situation, your tweet is pretty clearly sarcastic – and you seem to stand by it – but it’s a good lesson to remember and to teach others for the future.

  2. Ahhh the early days of compuserv and flame wars deja vu. I feel for you. It makes you approach the keyboard with curled fingers. Im not sure I what the solution is but a few things stand out: hufpo big no-no! Shame ! Other people reading and understanding or miscontruing your sarcasm : get over it. Before taking umbrage take a few deep breaths and see if the ‘reality’ u intuited is it self not subject to interpretation! Chill. Ommmm. Peace. Just breathe.

  3. Hi Jon,
    I feel terrible that this happened to you, as it could have just as easily happened to any one of us. “Us” being those who are also silly and sarcastic on Twitter and clearly don’t take ourselves, or the platform, too seriously. There is always that risk that what we publish will be taken out of context and it’s impossible to anticipate every single angle that can be used to someone else’s advantage. Having said that, it is a good reminder to us all that we mustn’t forget that for people like you and me, our Tweets are being read by many others who we don’t know or even follow. It is so easy to fall into a false sense of community when our interactions are limited to just a few friends who join us in our snarkiness. I’m guilty. I’ve deleted Tweets that in retrospect could be taken out of context and/or offend. In fact, Twitter by it’s nature, has no context. 140 characters don’t leave much room for context.

    I think the simplistic reminder that comedy is hard, is right on. Look at famous individuals who, in their attempt at comedy, found themselves in a light they never intended (in some cases were fired): Roseanne Barr, Michael Richards, Gilbert Gottfried, Andy Dick, Jay Leno; just to name a few who immediately come to my mind.

    Then there’s those who engage in public shaming (guilty), and then found themselves in a heap-load of fecal matter. (Google: “Applebees fires waitress” or “Sexist Tweet forking.”) All of this constantly reminds me how complacent we’ve all become.

    I like the fact that HuffPo updated the article with a retraction about your Tweet, but it is true that the damage has been done.

  4. Jon,

    I’d have a lot more sympathy for you if you’d do two things:

    1. Stop pretending you’re an innocent bystander. Posting on Twitter, Facebook, etc., is like owning your own TV or radio channel. It makes you a public media figure — and the public may very well respond.

    2. When a misunderstanding arises, don’t dig in your heels or whine (“Anyone who knows me…”). Respond like a public media figure: clear up the confusion quickly and politely. And don’t go on tangents (i.e. lecturing the gay community or complaining about the media).

    If, after that, you still are being harassed, you might have a valid reason to complain.

  5. Huff did not just “respond”. They took a truly ambiguous tweet and lumped it in with unambiguously nasty tweets, all in a story with a nice lead about outraged social conservatives, thus giving it a spin the author now has to cope with. tsk, tsk. The only one who does not understand their public responsibility is the Huff, which they seem to have acknowledged by pulling some of the tweets (while not so helpfully naming the tweeters, rather missing the point of a retraction). My2.

  6. Jon,

    Your tweets were pretty innocent. I’m surprised they were included in a list of anti-gay or reactionary tweets. I disagree with Jeff. You have every right to claim innocence. Twitter is SOCIAL media and so the comparison to traditional media is flawed. It is a space, a place, much more than it is a publishing platform.

    The Huffington Post, on the other hand, is a massive media outlet. It was sloppy journalism bordering on libel. Defending your character is the right thing to do. You’re not being whiny.

    You responded in a polite way to hate speech. I didn’t see it as lecturing. I saw it as a nice guy who was attacked and is clearing up the confusion.

  7. Most importantly, as the tweet has now been removed from the Huffington Post site, readers no longer know what you said, and are unable to assess the merits of claims made about it. I’d suggets tyou repost it here for people to see.

    Second, when you trade in snark and sarcasm as ‘part of your identity’ you have to expect to get bitten from time to time. Most people make an effort to be nice, and such people find snark and sarcasm somewhat abrasive. Additionally, many people who are ordinarily nice will take snark and sarcasm seriously, as many people obviously did with your tweet.

    Third, I see nothing wrong with Kinky Boots at the Macy’s parade. If there is indeed nothing wrong with LGBTQ people, then there is nothing wrong with having them do a show in front of your four-year old daughter. The costumes are no more revealing than football cheerleaders or majorettes, and nobody complains about explaining those to children. And you can slide-step past their sexuality just as easily as you elide details of how the king and queen had a new baby princess.

    Finally, I have to say, with Jeff, that you should stop pretending to be the innocent bystander. Messages – especially short messages, like tweets – do not carry their own semantics. You should know how easily they are misinterpreted. You are therefore 100% responsible for the consequences of your tweet (as you surely know you are). So you should own it, and take responsibility.

  8. Jon:

    Thanks so much for sharing this experience and reflecting openly on your lessons learned. It certainly is true that any of us on Twitter can have our words interpreted out of context and used for someone else’s purposes. Your responses in this situation seem completely appropriate and on target.

    One thing you can take heart in is that those who do follow you and care about you are more likely to read this and seek to understand both what happened in your intentions in greater detail than those reading the HuffPo article alone.

    I encourage you to continue reflecting and sharing about this on your website, and cross-linking your posts to the other posts on HuffPo and elsewhere. Others may choose not to read what you have to say, but we will all benefit from your insights and lessons learned as you continue to freely share them. Sharing publicly like this takes courage, and I applaud you for that. 🙂

  9. Jon. I just ran across this. No doubt Gary is right when he says “Comedy is hard”. In this case Huff Post had a journalistic obligation to get the story right, and they blew it. You paid the price. If you were a celebrity you would probably be in a position to sue them, but you’re doing a far better thing by clearing your name publicly and handling it with more dignity than they deserve. Not fair, but take some comfort in the fact that most of us who know you primarily through Twitter, also know your convictions and your sense of humour. We revel in both. And oh yah, just for the record, #gohoosiers.

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