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Digital Savant

Posted: 11:09 a.m. Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Column: quick-tempered social media is all the rage 

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GALLAGA: Internet outrage engine shows no sign of slowing
Mark J. Terrill
Racial remarks by Los Angeles Clippers team owner Donald Sterling drew a predictable stream of vitriolic criticism on social media services such as Twitter.

By Omar L. Gallaga

Sometimes the timing just works out perfectly.

In today's print edition of the Austin American-Statesman and on, you'll find this week's Digital Savant column, which is about the ways we respond to things that offend us online. Social media gives us lots of ways to instantaneously react to things we really don't like and to mobilize quickly, but when does that turn into piling on, the online equivalent of a pitchforks-and-torches mob, even when the target is definitely in the wrong?

Here's an excerpt from the column:

The Internet is rarely what it seems. We get catfished. We fall victim to clever marketing tricks. We pass on bad information because it’s there and we want to be first, to show that we’re in the know. But anger and outrage don’t really bottle back up well, especially when the target of the scorn turns out to be innocent.

But it’s also possible that the alternative is worse. At least we have channels where anyone’s voice can carry further than ever before, where collective speech is easy to corral into something useful, or at least something that can be acknowledged.

The column was written late last week and over the weekend, many of us in Austin got a front-row seat to just the kind of incident I discuss in the column when an Austin bar, Longbranch Inn, apparently Tweeted out a racial slur during a Mexico World Cup match

The Tweet created a predictable reaction (and I confess I was one of the people replying to the account and letting people know it had happened but tried very hard not to pile on for the sake of piling on). Things got more complicated when owners of the East Austin bar said that the Twitter account was not officially associated with the bar and was being run by a brother living in New York.

The unwanted attention ended up blogged several times locally and was even retweeted out by congressman Joaquin Castro.

On Monday, the Twitter account apparently posted its last Tweet (at least as run by that brother).

Usually when a business on Twitter realizes is has made a mistake, the procedure is to apologize quickly, delete the offending material and try to move on as quickly as possible. But if it's true this account was not being run or sanctioned by the Longbranch Inn owners, that complicates things and muddies the waters about the slow response, antagonistic @replies and long delay in deleting the original Tweet that provoked even more outrage.

On Twitter, the drama never ends.

We're discussing the incident (and others like it, especially as it related to the role of comedians on social media) later this week on "Statesman Shots" in an episode with Dale Roe and Cody Hustak, winner of this year's Funniest Person in Austin contest. It'll be available on Thursday around 11 a.m.

As for the original Digital Savant column related to all this, you can read the full article here.

Omar L. Gallaga

About Omar L. Gallaga

Omar L. Gallaga writes about technology culture for the Austin American-Statesman. He was a technology correspondent for NPR's "All Things Considered," helping originate the All Tech Considered segment and blog.

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