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Apr 05

Swinging the Social Media Wrecking Ball by Samuel Greengard

If the Internet has proved one thing about human nature, it’s that it’s possible to hold a megaphone up to stupidity. Peruse discussion boards and reader comments at news sites, and you’ll find a seemingly endless stream of obnoxious, half-baked and incendiary comments.

Of course, social media pushes the concept to the equivalent of Spinal Tap 11. Arm someone with an opportunity to fire off commentary about the news story du jour and you can be sure that the self-appointed expert will provide a biting analysis. Fortunately, if you’re like me–with only around 1,000 followers–you can do only limited damage. But when you’re a celebrity with somewhere in the neighborhood of a million followers, you can really swing a wrecking ball.

Enter Spike Lee. Last week, the movie director tweeted the address of George Zimmerman, the man who shot and killed Trayvon Martin. It was bad enough that Mr. Lee provided digital fuel for a vigilante fire, but it turns out that he got the information wrong. He tweeted the address of an elderly couple who had to flee their home for fear of attack.

Later, after Mr. Lee learned that he had totally messed up, he apologized to the couple and posted a tweet asking followers to leave them alone. He also offered to pay for their hotel stay and miscellaneous expenses.

End of story? Nope. A day later, Roseanne Barr tweeted that address. Then, after being harangued by more than 100,000 followers, she reportedly deleted the tweet. She then whined that the criticism directed toward her was the equivalent of “The Witchburnings.”

Plenty of other celebrities have discovered that spewing in Twitterworld can create real world headaches … and lawsuits. In fact, there’s already a name for these cases: Twibel. Courtney Love reportedly coughed up a settlement of $430,000 last year for derogatory comments she made about fashion designer Dawn Simorangkir.

On a basic level, I’m not sure why anyone cares what an actor or basketball player has to say–simply because they’re famous. However, when you combine megalomania with technology, you often wind up with a buffer overflow of stupidity. Give people the power to influence others, and they will frequently get it all wrong.

We all need to think before we post.

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