This Is Twittering: Controversy Edition

Yesterday I posted a joke on Twitter, and then a blog explaining that tweet. Several people on Twitter (not followers of mine) told me they felt it was inappropriate. To anyone who viewed it and was offended, I apologize. After hearing the concerns of others, I realize it was insensitive. Because the posts mentioned a specific person, I’ve removed them so as not to draw any further unwanted attention to the person. But I want to explain to readers a bit about what happened and where I went wrong.

It started with this tweet:

Some guys are shameless about flirting on Twitter. They’re clearly fumbling for any excuse to talk to a woman. What do you think, @[woman who I don’t know personally]?

(Where [woman who I don’t know personally] was the Twitter name of a woman who I don’t know personally.)

My primary goal with this joke, and the subsequent explanatory blog post, was to call attention to the complicated issue of how we view, and are viewed by, other people with whom we interact online. I think this is an interesting issue, and I’ll probably explore it more in the future.

I spent the first half of the post talking about this issue in general terms. It was in the second half that things became problematic.

Rather than choosing a high profile celebrity or personal friend to make the joke in the tweet, I chose someone who was a stranger to me. I had come across her online (she works in media, but isn’t a public figure1). I spent a couple paragraphs describing who she was and why I thought she was interesting. I didn’t say anything crude or lascivious, but I did say she was “attractive” and “good-looking”.

Although I don’t believe what I said—when taken at face value—was derogatory or hostile, I now recognize that the specifics of what I said are profoundly irrelevant to this situation. I had no way of knowing this woman’s history or experience. Considering the very real problem of online harassment of women, my mentioning of her (or any other woman) like this—without warning and without context—may have felt, at best, like an invasion of her personal online space or, at worst, menacing. And, as someone who tries hard to consider the feelings of others, this was a significant failure of empathy on my part.

While I don’t agree with all of the characterizations I heard from critics, their overall point is correct: I was wrong to spotlight this woman in this way. I’m not one to capitulate or offer fake apologies when I believe my actions were justified, so I don’t want there to be any doubt: I made the wrong choice and I offer my unreserved apology to this woman especially, and to anyone else who I offended.

  1. Don’t ask me who she is; I won’t tell you. I don’t want to cause her any more grief []