When it comes to writing, I’ve been rather quiet lately, and friends and acquaintances occasionally ask me why. The answer is fairly simple, really: It is because the world of social media is ruining both journalism and public discourse as we speak.
Do you doubt this? Does this seem a bit over-the-top? Let me regale you, then, with the sordid details of the latest would-be online-outrage witch hunt, flagrantly manufactured by people at two major media companies right in front of our very eyes.
The target, at least this time, was affable television personality Mario Lopez. Mr. Lopez, as you might recall, first shot to stardom on the teen sitcom Saved by the Bell. There, he played the hunky high-school rebel dreamboat A. C. Slater, a young man so desirable that NBC would occasionally pipe in an instant recording of a bunch of girls screaming “Wooooooooooo!” when he entered a room.
Anyway, remember Saul Alinksy’s Rules for Radicals? Remember that book’s detailed instructions on how to fight dirty when it comes to political warfare, including the maxim that one should “pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it”? That’s what a writer at Yahoo and the good folks at Twitter did to Lopez this week. It should alarm us all.
“Mario Lopez: It’s ‘dangerous’ for parents to support transgender kids,” blared an insistent headline Wednesday on Yahoo News. Not long after, a Twitter Moments headline popped up — what a coincidence! — declaring that “Mario Lopez’s comments from June on the #BelieveWomen movement and embracing gender expression in young children are receiving backlash.” Oh, wow! An online “backlash”! How very unusual! How exceedingly rare! The supposed evidence for this sweeping Twitter Moments statement, of course, was a link to the article at Yahoo News.
Here is a useful tip for navigating our bonkers new media culture, which is unfortunately dominated by a sizable group of over-educated knuckleheads who spend almost every waking hour on Twitter and wouldn’t know reality if it walked up in a clown suit and personally invited them to a Maoist struggle session: If you read on the Internet that something or someone is receiving a “backlash,” there is a sizable chance that the “backlash” in question actually consists of three or four tweets from random anonymous accounts. These accounts may or may not be run by middle-schoolers, the Russians, or the criminally insane, and they also usually have about 16 followers each.
If you take the time to actually read the Yahoo story targeting Lopez, you’ll not only find that he didn’t say what the headline claimed he did — more on that later — but that the “backlash” in question consisted of five anonymous tweets. I will repeat: FIVE ANONYMOUS TWEETS. At press time, the very first tweet cited as evidence of a massive online “backlash” had — wait for it, because this is actually kind of funny — a grand total of three followers. I wish I was making this story up, but the writer at Yahoo beat me to it.
But, hey, it’s 2019, so who cares, right? By promoting the Lopez “scandal” in its “Moments” feature, Twitter decided that this could be a good bullying opportunity — ahem, excuse me, I mean an important story. And lo and behold: It became an important story. By midday, tens of thousands of people on Twitter were passionately arguing about a controversy that did not actually exist. What a country!
In case you care about what Lopez actually said (and apparently not that many people do), here is a brief summary: When it comes to gender identity, he suggested, parents should exercise caution when a three-year-old makes a declaration that, if acted upon without question, would affect the rest of the child’s life. He also said that sexual-assault cases should be addressed with due process, because false accusations unfortunately do exist.
No, really, that’s pretty much it. This doesn’t seem that outrageous to me, especially given the fact that when my youngest was three, he spent an entire year earnestly waiting for his T-Rex teeth to come in. Also, due process seems like a good idea, does it not? Have we still not yet processed the disasters that surrounded the false accusations at the University of Virginia and Duke?
Moreover, even if you do find Lopez’s comments wildly offensive, whatever happened to the idea of people being free to say things that other people disagree with and we all simply move on with our lives?
Well, never mind. Score one for the mob: Lopez apologized, and it didn’t even take a day. “The comments I made were ignorant and insensitive, and I now have a deeper understanding of how hurtful they were,” he said in a statement. Moreover, he says, “I am going to use this opportunity to better educate myself. Moving forward I will be more informed and thoughtful.”
Well, good luck, Mr. Lopez. I’m sure you’ll be more careful in the future, lest you be dropped yet again into a real-life version of a Hieronymus Bosch painting. Meanwhile, out in this wild, wacky world, others will watch and learn. Call me crazy, but I doubt the results will be good.