CNN’s media correspondent Brian Stelter recently unleashed his frustration when a 10-year-old tweet set off a firestorm.
“Just how sick and poisoned has our information environment become?” he wrote. “Here’s an example that’s made my Twitter mentions unreadable.”
In that tweet from 2009, Stelter had reported stopping at a bar called Epstein’s.
“Today, people suddenly started replying to that tweet, falsely claiming I’m part of a Jeffrey Epstein conspiracy,” Stelter reported. “That’s not only completely factually incorrect and dangerous, it’s nuts. And this insanity happens to all sorts of people, all the time.”
Never mind that the now-defunct bar had no connection to the late billionaire. Anonymous Twitter users churned out all sorts of accusations.
“Crazy memes falsely claiming I rode on Epstein’s jet,” Stelter wrote. “Bots and anonymous commenters using words I don’t even want to repeat. Normal people shrug and say, ‘that’s just social media.’ No, it’s ANTIsocial and sick.”
Some of the responses to Stelter’s posts were sympathetic.
“Social media has become so toxic,” one said. “Twitter is the worst. I can only take tiny doses anymore.”
“Every day I have to put on my Twitter Flak jacket,” he said.
Others, though, were less than charitable.
“Hahaha ... everything's all fun & games ... Until it happens to YOU!” one Twitter user responded.
Many of the comments seemed to be inspired by CNN’s treatment of a hot microphone moment released by the conservative activist organization Project Veritas.
“Brian, why has CNN still NOT reported on the bombshell story that ABC News anchor Amy Robach admitted that ABC killed a story on pedophile Jeffrey Epstein that involved Bill Clinton?” one Twitter user asked. “I thought you were all about reporting on the media? No?”
Another asked: “You know what would clear this up? INVESTIGATING AND REPORTING THE FREAKING EPSTEIN STORY.”
And then there was this: “Yes, Brian is the story here. Not ABC, Epstein, and Brian's refusal to report on it as a MEDIA REPORTER.”
Just to be clear, Stelter did include the story in his daily newsletter, noting that the video “caused widespread outrage, particularly on the right, with many commentators using it to stoke hatred of the media writ large.”
A few of the posts suggested that as a part of the mainstream news media, Stelter was getting what he deserved.
“Stinks when it happens to you, doesn’t it?” one said. “What goes around comes around, Brian.”
Another offered, “It’s a goose and gander thing, Brian. Get it?”
Much of the criticism seemed driven by politics.
“Welcome to the daily life of President Donald J. Trump,” one woman observed. “If I didn’t know any better and I closed my eyes, I would’ve thought this was something he would tweet about himself. How ironic that the tables have now turned. Marinate in it ... you and the cohorts created reality!”
Stelter didn’t hide his frustration.
“While we report on this daily, and I know other people have it much worse, today’s flood of lies reminds me that these platforms are broken beyond belief,” he wrote. “Or maybe we’re broken. And not much is being done about it.”
What can we do?
Not much. Those keyboard warriors, it seems, will always be part of the internet experience.
Still, a key step might be for social media platforms to require users to identify themselves. Having their names attached to what they say might make folks think twice about their choice of words.
In the meantime, those who decide to wade into the fray would do well to grab a flak jacket.
Kelly Hawes is a columnist for CNHI News Indiana. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter @Kelly_Hawes.