Understanding the Twitter pile-on.
Twitter "dunking" has become a not-so-fun new sport.
A few weeks back, I wrapped up my 2021 newsletters with a reflection on the “dunk culture” of social media. For all the good that social media (and the internet, generally) can bring, there’s always been a whole lot of bad. The piece ran through a couple of examples of people who had been put through the ol’ online criticism ringer, and I definitely recommend checking it out before reading the rest of this post:
Now that we’re all caught up with that, let me just say [insert incomprehensible wailing noises here]. Okay, where was I…
As I am wont to do, I was wasting time on Twitter a couple of weeks ago when I saw a tweet from Katelyn Burns1, who is a friend and whose podcast I was on back in December. Or actually, I saw a tweet containing a screenshot of a tweet sent by Katelyn Burns. It read:
My hottest take is that I got two Covid shots in a FEMA tent at a metro stop under Trump and got told to google tests and watched hospitals stop reporting statistics under Biden.
My first thought was, “Huh, this doesn’t quite seem to add up time-wise,” and it didn’t. But I also saw underneath the screenshot, it read, “This Tweet has been deleted.”
The screenshot showed that the tweet had 9 retweets, 31 quote tweets, and 89 likes before it was deleted. That’s barely anything, and based on how many of the interactions were quote tweets, most people who saw it were probably saying that she was wrong.
“Well, at least that’s over with,” I thought, foolishly.
But before I get to that, let’s just look at what was correct and not-so-correct in her original tweet.
“I got two Covid shots in a FEMA tent at a metro stop under Trump”
What’s true: She did get vaccinated at a FEMA tent. Those were real things that existed.
What wasn’t true: She mixed up the dates, and Biden was president at the time. She tweeted about side effects from the first vaccine in April 2021.
“…and got told to google tests…”
What’s true: All of it. The Biden administration started really playing up the “Google ‘COVID test near me’ to find the nearest site where you can get a test,” thing in recent weeks.
“…and watched hospitals stop reporting statistics under Biden.”
What’s true/false: This one’s a little more complicated. The tl;dr is basically that there was a viral tweet that incorrectly claimed “US Government to end daily COVID death reporting” based on a January 6th HHS document.
Why this isn’t accurate: Here’s what Erin Kissane, co-founder of the COVID Tracking Project, tweeted in response to one of the viral tweets. (there’s a whole thread there explaining the ins and outs of that order, which was far less nefarious than some made it out to be.)Seriously this is so misleading, please stop spreading it. *None of the daily death counts you are following come from the HHS data.* They all come from CDC or by rolling up state/local health authority data directly like we did at .🚨BREAKING🚨 US Government to end daily COVID death reporting A document issued issued Jan 6 by the US Health and Human Services tells hospitals they are no longer required to report daily COVID-19 deaths to the federal government starting Feb 2. Story broken by @DataDrivenMD https://t.co/jpxQi2yItZAndre Damon @Andre__Damon
So, in all, Katelyn got a few things wrong, which is why she acknowledged the mistake and deleted her tweet. This is where the story should have ended, but it didn’t.
People spent the better part of the next week relentlessly harassing her, accusing her of lying.
For days, people piled on. Long after Katelyn had deleted the tweet and acknowledged her mistake, they accused her of being some sort of pro-Trump operative, they called for her to be fired from her job (she’s a freelancer, a concept that seemed to elude a lot of the people angrily mashing out tweets), and just generally treated her like garbage.
The replies to her tweet in which she owns up to the mistake were some of the more ridiculous things I’ve seen on the internet lately (which is saying quite a lot!). There seemed to be a big trend of people responding to her with something extremely hostile, her responding by asking what people wanted from her, and then others piling on even harder and inventing storylines that make them feel justified for bullying her. Here’s one example of this:
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