Here are my Twitter stats after 12 years: I have sent out 3,475 tweets. I’m following 50 accounts, one of whom claims to be a graduate of ‘Bovine University.’ Bafflingly, I have 431 followers: I know only 22 of them, although to be fair that number should be 21 since one of my followers is deceased.
So as you can tell, I’m not especially active on Twitter. But, since I’m a veteran of 12 years, I feel I can offer some advice to young people who may be reading this. (Yes, yes, I know – the idea of young people reading this is as likely as old people listening to DaBaby, who, I’m assured, is an actual entertainer.)
If you’re contemplating joining the Twitterverse to share your bon mots, witticisms and snarks with the rest of the world … don’t. No good ever comes from Twitter.
Examples of tweets destroying careers are numerous. Remember the formerly corpulent comic, Roseanne Barr? In 2019, she was riding a surge in popularity, bringing back her once-popular TV show Roseanne to huge ratings success. Then she made one racist Tweet – probably while drunk or under the influence of pharmaceuticals or both – about a prominent female black politician, and that was it for Roseanne. Fired from her own show, officially branded a hate-mongering racist, Barr flushed her career and millions of dollars down the Twitter toilet.
Barr was 66 at the time, a mature (in years, anyway) adult who should have known better. But to the mythical young person reading this, you too will be older at some point. And while you might tweet something you think is clever or brilliant, especially trenchant or just plain snarky, it could come back to bite you in the ass long after you’ve forgotten about it.
For your consideration, let’s look at the story of Alexi McCammond.
McCammond, only 27, is an American journalist on the fast track to success. She made her name as a political reporter for a Washington-based site called Axios, covering Joe Biden’s campaign while contributing to MSNBC and NBC.
On March 5, she was named editor of something called Teen Vogue, an apparently socially conscious, junior version of Vogue magazine. (I would like to point out that I don’t read Teen Vogue, just to clarify in case you’re wondering what kind of creepy old man reads Teen Vogue.) This was big enough news to make the New York Times, since she ticked all the boxes the Times loves – a young, black female breaks barriers, etc.
But on March 18, she was forced to resign from the job she had not yet started. Turns out she wrote some tweets the Times described as “comments on the appearance of Asian features, derogatory stereotypes about Asians and slurs for gay people.” (The Times, as is their style, did not actually reprint the tweets, allowing the reader to imagine the worst.)
This is bad for a journalist, to be sure. You can’t have prominent editors casting derogatory comments on minorities, so her departure was well deserved, right?
Except … she wrote them 10 years ago, when she was just 17. Stupid comments she made as a 17-year-old have destroyed her career years later. She may be unemployable in the current cancel climate.
So, young readers, here is the moral of the story: You are not as smart at 17 as you will be in the future. You may not listen to the same music. You may not read the same books, you may not watch the same TV, you may not have the same friends and you likely won’t have the same opinions. This goes on for the rest of your life. But if you commit your thoughts to Twitter, you are forever setting your opinions in amber, just waiting to be dug up and rediscovered.
In my 40 years in journalism, I’ve written hundreds of columns. I regret some in hindsight, because they just weren’t very smart. Luckily for me, the only place you can find my worst stuff is in a box in my basement (I hope). Twitter, however, is forever, as McCammond and many others have found out.
Twitter can be a great source for news and amusement, and sometimes intelligent opinion.
But post at your peril.
Maurice Tougas is a retired Alberta editor and journalist, formerly with the Red Deer Advocate, the Edmonton Examiner, Edmonton and Calgary Prime Times and many others. He was twice named best columnist in Canada by the Canadian Community Newspaper Association and was a finalist for the Golden Quill award from the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors. He served one term as a Liberal MLA in the Alberta legislature.