When I joined Twitter back in 2015 it wasn’t a particularly nice place, which I must admit thrilled my little Canadian heart. This was around the time you would see long, overthought meditations on what was motivating people to be mean to each other online and it seemed very clear to me then as it does now that the answer is really no more sophisticated than “it’s fun.”
It is fun to clown on some shithead who strides confidently into the public square, puffed up on their own intellectual or moral superiority, and proceeds to make an absolute fool of themselves: Holding aloft a cup of golden nectar in tweet form, sure that all will agree it is good and healthful and delicious, only to gargle down some piss. It’s especially fun when those people have ideas that lead to greater suffering in the world, or if they went to Harvard, which is perhaps redundant but you take my point.
And it used to be the case that when this happened, it was a joy for all. Much frivolity would ensue as everyone would gather round and say “Hey get a load of this piss-drinking asshole!” By the next day, he would be canonized as Piss Guy, and shortly after that everyone would have moved on to some other worthy target. Unpleasant for Piss Guy? Yes, sure. But the stakes were low enough that you never really had to feel complicit in ruining some guy’s life.
Obviously, there were exceptional cases like Justine Sacco and others, who were fired or otherwise suffered material or professional repercussions for tweeting truly vile things, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. I am talking about the whole pantheon of “some guy”s who would be mercilessly mocked but no worse when they decided to share their thoughts about how much they love their curvy wife. Those days are over and I hate it.
Now we have a man who in all likelihood made up a story about being a deranged pedant of a parent forced to offer a public apology. We have replaced that ultimately harmless mockery with self-righteous indignation and it’s not just making Twitter a less enjoyable place to be, it is ceding ground to the worst of us: The people who immediately diagnose a child with some form of trauma based on a tweet thread, the ones who will talk about “grief” and “outrage” in relation to an overwritten story about a can of beans.
We simply cannot go on like this, allowing the howling scolds to keep feeding an insatiable hunger for retribution. We need to return to our senses here and dial back the stakes to a reasonable level. We need to bring back Clowning on Some Guy.