What’s a “Twitter Lynchmob”?

From Digiday.com: Tweets may be limited to 140 characters, but the breadth of hellish backfire one misguided post can cause is incalculable. One false tweet can lead to death threats if you choose to dress up as a Boston bombing victim for Halloween. It can close down your dental practice if you killed a beloved African lion. And it will undoubtedly get you fired, if you’re a PR professional behind a racially insensitive share. Brands are not immune. Just think of AT&T, when in 2013 it chose the anniversary of Sept. 11 as a moment prime for product placement, or Kenneth Cole, which used protests in Egypt as a chance to promote its spring collection.

“It’s incredible when you think about how many ignorant comments are made on a given day,” said David Clinton Wills, a social media and pop culture professor at NYU. “Those that are strung along and hung up to dry — it seems totally random.” It’s been repeated over and over: What you share on Twitter and other forms of social media sticks with you. It can outlive you, even, and, most importantly, once deleted, it’s never fully erased.

“On Facebook, and more enclosed forums, there isn’t really a lynching mob because you’ve chosen your mob,” said Wills. “But the disconnect between private and public space on Twitter, that’s fascinating. It’s much more vulnerable to getting picked up.” These Twitter “lynch mobs” inevitably spin out of control. Regardless of how reprehensible the perpetrator’s initial act was, the ultimate punishment for those lambasted on social media usually doesn’t fit the crime.

According to Will McInnes, CMO at Brandwatch, there are a few distinct ingredients that can yank a tweet out of a person’s inner circle and shoot it into the social stratosphere, to be torn apart by the rest of the world. First, it must center around a topic able to incite passion and interest. Then, there must be a group ready and willing to jump into public outcry, given the chance. Finally, it must be a small and compact enough instance for people to understand. “We, as consumers, have a cognitive bias where we only respond to numbers that are small enough for us to wrap our heads around,” he said. “We get so mad about one lion rather than the entire wildlife. It’s much easier for us to react to a simple narrative than an entrenched issue.”

Tim Young, writing in Washingtontimes.com: “I have been attacked by Twitter mobs before, and the pattern is similar. Suddenly out of the blue, an account with 100 or less followers comments on a tweet of yours they don’t agree with and it immediately has 30 to 50 likes on it. As someone who has more than 200,000 followers, I can tell you that it’s tough to get that many likes in under a few minutes, let alone immediately with an account my size, so when an account with even 1,500 followers gets that many likes immediately, you know that it is just one person operating a large amount of multiple accounts.

“From there, each of those accounts will weigh in and begin driving more attention to the tweet and you, who they are attacking, in order to bring a ‘Twitter mob’. Those accounts are likely similar trolls who behave in a similar way. I say all that to say that the mob that wants to silence edgy comedy or things they don’t agree with, may only be a few people. How do they even pick their targets? One day it’s a shirt that has a #FakeNews logo on it — the next it’s people who say Baltimore is a bad city — the next it’s a new word we never knew to be offensive before they declared it as such (‘Fredo’, for instance). These shifting issues expose the mob for what it really is: A disorganized group of bullies with an ever-evolving list of implausible arguments for things to be offended by.”

Now I weigh in. Does anyone with a “smartphone” not know about multiple cases of Twitter abuse—mobs or “meantweets”, or people who have been vilified due to tweets they sent years in the past? Of course they know, and many still tweet, because airing their opinions is soooo satisfying. The Bible has some advice for you. Proverbs 18:2. A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, only in expressing his own opinion. Proverbs 17:28. Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent. The same goes for the written word. Until you have absolutely considered the consequences, don’t send that email, tweet or letter.

My favorite response to an idiotic or insulting message, be it verbal or written, is this one from Douglas Wilson on his Blog and Mablog blog: “You’re no religious person. Donald Trump PAID FOR & FORCED multiple women to have ABORTIONS. You fake Christians are seriously twisted. The Bible says to beware of false prophets and boy oh boy, uneducated people like you have taken Satan’s bait. You’re truly sick. But why is anyone surprised when you quiverfull fools keep your kids uneducated, girls are only used as broodmares and your “pro life” stance is a joke. Can’t wait for that afterlife because none of us will give you fake Christians a drop of water when you’re sitting in Hell. Signed, Donald

The response: Donald, the best part of this job is being able to read all the thoughtful responses that come in.