If you ever go online to share your shitty opinions where everyone can see them, you have probably posted something at some point that didn’t go exactly the way you thought it would. In today’s world of basically three major social networks (a very bad thing, by the way), a lot of diverse people are thrown into the same forums, resulting in some pretty ugly interactions. Maybe an in-joke gets broadcast to a wider audience than it was meant for. Maybe something gets taken out of context. Maybe your worst-ever tweet is the one that goes viral. The point is, everyone is wrong on the internet at some point or another.
I myself am hardly immune to this phenomenon, but if I have learned one thing about being on the web, it’s this: When you are wrong, please please please, for the love of all that is fucking holy, don’t make it worse. Admit you did something dumb, apologize, and atone as best you can. For instance, about a year ago, I made a post on Twitter that used the word “Eskimo”—without knowing, as several people quickly pointed out to me, that that word is sometimes used as a slur. So I apologized, deleted the post, and moved on—and I certainly won’t make the same mistake again. Nobody is above errors, but anyone can learn from one.
So why are so many high-profile pundits incapable of doing this?
The latest example of someone famous refusing to say they’re sorry is Joy-Ann Reid, who has come under fire this week after Mediate reported (from a tip by an anonymous Twitter user) that her old blog had a bunch of posts that contained homophobic nastiness like, “Most straight people cringe at the sight of two men kissing.” Importantly, this was back in the mid-2000s, when those sorts of statements were relatively common, even in the liberal blogosphere. I myself was too young to have such opinions of my own, but I am certainly aware of their prevalence among boomers at the time.
I truly believe people can evolve and grow on these issues, and I am inclined to believe Reid when she says that she has. If we’re going to go back to the 2000s and analyze prevailing political opinions, things get pretty dicey pretty quick (see: Jon Stewart’s litany of “chicks with dicks” jokes from his tenure as host of The Daily Show).
But Reid insisted that she never wrote these words. Instead she blamed hackers and even hired a cybersecurity expert to back her up on that (the expert, incidentally, once bragged about being buddies with a neo-Nazi). Even as other experts poked holes in her story, she stood her ground firmly, even going so far as to involve the FBI. The nonprofit Internet Archive actually had to release a statement refuting claims that it had been hacked. While I cannot say with any authority declare that she was definitely lying, I was left wondering why she didn’t just apologize, admit that her views on homosexuality have changed, and let everyone move on from her. Even her on-air “apology” Friday night—which given the incident's widespread coverage and suspension of her column at the Daily Beast, felt very damage-controlly—started out with Reid saying, “I genuinely do not believe I wrote these hateful things.” (She did admit that she couldn’t prove she was hacked.)
You can probably think up a half-dozen incidents of public figures refusing to apologize while looking worse and worse. A personal favorite is Kurt Eichenwald, a journalist who these days is mostly known for getting into bizarre Twitter beefs. Last summer, Eichenwald was famously busted for having hentai open on his computer when he posted a photo of his desktop. Rather than simply cop to his own cartoon horniness, he descended into a tornado of excuses, eventually claiming he and his adult son were showing his wife some tentacle porn to prove to her that such a genre existed. What started as a relatively innocent goof of a horned-up journalist became a great moment in online history. Meghan McCain of The View even publicly dragged him for it.
The list of people refusing to back down has grown long in recent days. The New York Times’s Bari Weiss, rather than simply apologizing for apparently misidentifying an Olympic athlete of Asian descent as an “immigrant”, had a multiple-day online fued with anyone who dared question her initial comment. Conservative writer Kevin Williamson, who was hired and fired by The Atlantic in record time because of comments he had made about using hanging as a penalty for women who had abortions, has refused to apologize for anything he’s ever said—though in that case Williamson is at least savvy about monetizing his stubbornness, publishing pieces in the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, and the Washington Post about the controversy.
I suppose some people (like Williamson) actually bask in and profit from the jeers, but if you’re like most folks, you probably don’t love getting dogpiled online for a dumb post. But there’s an easy way out. For guidance, look to Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo, who once accidentally posted a porn link to Twitter—and rather than having a full online hissy fit, he admitted to the mistake, made some self-deprecating jokes, and the controversy was over in a day. Well, except for all the jokes about Marshall cranking it to softcore porn, but whatever. Good for you, Josh.
Another example: Chance the Rapper, who I think is a pretty stand-up guy in general, recently tweeted, “Black people don’t need to be Democrats.” The statement in and of itself is quite true—and shouldn’t be interpreted to mean that Chance was imploring people to become Republicans—but the timing was unfortunate given Kanye West’s going full red pill earlier that day. This of course prompted a quick and furious backlash from the internet, but Chance quickly issued an apology and clarification about what he meant. Now everyone is just back to being mad at Kanye, who I don’t think has apologized for anything in his life.
All of the people I’ve mentioned here presumably know how to apologize, of course. But these well-heeled and well-connected pundits clearly don’t feel the need to, and are often offended by the mere suggestion that they should. Despite what some of them say, they are at absolutely no goddamn risk of being “silenced” by “Twitter mobs.” They clearly don’t think that their high-status positions should come with any degree of accountability, and don’t feel obligated to admit they were ever wrong about anything.
But anyone can go through the same cycle of defensiveness and denial, with similar results. If you do a bad tweet, post, or whatthefuckever—please, for the love of god, just back away and stop making it worse. Or don’t, more idiots for me to tease online. Either is good.
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