Last week, Justine Sacco — for better or worse — demonstrated the power of Twitter in unleashing a single, thoughtless tweet before getting on a plane to South Africa that cost the woman her job, and got her face and name plastered all over the Internet.
On the one hand, the woman got what she deserved — the loss of her job — for saying something ugly and racist. On the other hand, did the entire world need to drop what they were doing and follow the woman’s flight, relishing in her media evisceration? She’s not much more than a kid — a dumb, thoughtless kid — but a kid, nonetheless, and for a few hours, she was one of the least liked women on the planet. Hundreds of thousands of people celebrated her ruination.
Twitter is a weird place, an avalanche of jokes, of negativity, of pointless arguments, of banal thoughts, of occasionally amusing conversations, and tiny nuggets of useful information. The arguments people used to have with their televisions in the quiet of their homes are now put on Twitter for the world to see, and some guy’s instant impressions of the latest scene in Scandal gets just as much play as a tweet about the passage of a budget bill in Congress. It’s Democracy, and chaos, and humor, and stupidity, and anarchy, and it’s all reflective of and completely disconnected from humanity. It’s millions of people who can barely hear the world over the sound of their owns tweets, but it also allows for people who would otherwise never communicate with one another to have lengthy 140-character exchanges. An 11-year-old aspiring astrophysicist can ask Neil Degrasse Tyson a question and get an answer, and that is f**king amazing.
Twitter is the best, and it is the worst. It allows people to put their sh*tty little thoughts out into the world, but it also allows the rest of us to call them on those thoughts, to chastise them, and in some cases, ruin them. For a day or two anyway. On social media. But are those social media personalities real, anyway, or just constructs that can be rebuilt just as fast as they are torn down?
I doubt any of the people who delivered the ten worst tweets of the year suffered any long-lasting consequences. Some of them were amusing mistakes; some were tasteless attempts to exploit tragedies to the benefit of their brands; some were narcissism run amok; some were bad jokes that didn’t have the desired effect, and some were just plain racist. What they all have in common, however, is that they were passed from one Twitter account to another, to blogs, and back to Twitter, as the media continued to feed itself, bouncing a ball off the walls of a locked room until every surface had been pelted and bruised, and until another dumb tweet propelled the ball back into action.
10. Richard Simmons
9. Christiano Ronaldo
8. Geraldo Rivera
7. Kenneth Cole
6. Spaghetti O’s
5. Home Depot
4. Lisa Lampanelli
3. Dr. Phil
2. Atlanta Journal Constitution
1. The Onion