This is a pretty minor thing, all considered, and if I were to just move on and keep it in the past there’s a good chance it would be forgotten and done with. But the way we handle the big stuff is usually based on the way we live our lives day to day, and I’m not happy with something I did today, and I feel I owe the person I did it to an apology that is at least as public, if not more so, than what I did. Which is what this post is all about.
Way back in 1996 (when I started Help Desk) being disgusted at the antics of the computer industry was a decidedly nonpartisan activity. It might not be true today—there’s too much political bickering over corporate rights and the proper role of a free market and whatnot—but whether or not (for example) Microsoft was a monopoly and dangerously abusing its power was not an opinion that fell evenly along political divisions. As such, my readers have historically been pretty evenly spread across the political spectrum.
That may have changed over time. Those kinds of things generally do. But very early on I decided that while my webcomic was a “political cartoon” after a fashion (the political position being “the computer industry is run by a pack of lying thieves”) I was going to do pretty much everything I could to keep my own political views out of it, unless it was directly related to computers and the computer industry. So for example I have absolutely zero problems writing and commenting on the use of Diebold voting systems and the threat that unaudited and unregulated computers pose to our democracy when we base elections on them—that’s certainly a political view, but it’s solidly in Help Desk’s territory—but I sure as hell wouldn’t talk about the Iraq War, even though I had some very strongly-worded opinions on it.
That was a decision I made very early on in Help Desk’s life, and I think I’ve generally been able to stick to it pretty well. And while I’ve occasionally chafed under it, mostly I believe it was the right one to make. I’ve had the opportunity to meet and interact with a lot of people who believe a lot of things as a result, and it’s nice to know that people of differing viewpoints can still, in this day and age, find things to agree on.
None of that means I don’t have political opinions, though—I actually have rather a lot of them, and occasionally they leak through. If I were to describe myself politically, it would be “a libertarian who has stopped calling himself a libertarian because libertarians appear to have tacked hard to the right in order to get more votes, so I’m mostly caucusing with Democrats because they appear to be the only party that hasn’t gone completely batshit insane.” I know I have followers who strongly disagree with this description, and that’s all right—that’s why I try to keep most of that stuff off the site. But I still get drawn into discussions, and to be honest it’s getting harder and harder not to the more life goes on. But I still make an effort to hold back, at least on my own website, because it seems right for me to do so, and because it’s very easy to hit below the belt online.
It’s also easy for something to escalate online. It’s ridiculously easy for things to escalate online. And it’s important to me that I make sure things don’t escalate as a result of things I do. Today, on Twitter, I was very careless. It wasn’t intentional (things that are “careless” rarely are) and I don’t think anything came of it, but I needlessly exposed a disagreement to the world at large, and I want to apologize for that.
Today someone RT’d something that made me mad. That’s a pretty simple statement that can encompass a lot of things, but it wasn’t in the grand scheme of things a big deal, it was just the kind of thing that made me frown and think “hey, that’s not fair,” and the thought gnawed at me a while until I replied to guy and told him I thought it was unfair. Specifically I told him I thought the faux outrage displayed of the tweet was unworthy of him.
And given this day and age, his response showed far more grace and self-control than mine did: he essentially asked “which tweet? There are so many.” And I had to laugh, because, well, OK, yes, it’s Twitter, and RT’ing something is really easy to do. And his follow up was the observation that it wasn’t so much outrage as exasperation, and it was perhaps juvenile, but there you go.
And at that point I had to admit to myself I was being a hypocrite, because I’m the last person who has standing to criticize someone for being freaking juvenile. So I replied that was fair enough, and that I didn’t really have grounds to to criticize in that department, and moved on. At that point, I figured that was end of it.
A few hours later I checked my website, and saw my original tweet—the one criticizing him—displayed on my home page.
Look, I’m not really a public figure. There are people who are legitimately public figures, and people who are legitimately “Internet figures” or “social media personalities,” and I don’t fit any of the criteria for that. I can’t summon legions of followers to rally to my defense, or make a person’s life miserable simply because they displeased me in some way. But I do have this website, and it does get traffic, and I did put that twitter box on it, so everyone who loads my front page sees everything I tweeted that doesn’t start with an @. And I didn’t start with his twitter name, which is what I should have done. So my twitter applet picked it up and posted it on my front page, and now every person who visits my site sees this:
“Sorry @Guruzilla, but this is faux outrage and unworthy of you.”
As far as criticism goes, it’s not the worst I’ve seen. Not even close to the worst–it’s about as low-key as you can get. And if it was just something I’d dashed off on Twitter, without it being linked or displayed anywhere else, it wouldn’t be an issue. But it’s sitting on my site’s home page, with absolutely no context whatsoever, and that’s irresponsible. Especially these days: if this site were more popular, if my visitors were more volatile, that kind of thing could easily spin out of control.
Like I said, I don’t consider myself a public figure, and the people who visit my site don’t seem to have a tendency to go apeshit at the drop of a hat (seriously, y’all are awesome). But I do have an audience, and there are responsibilities that come with that, no matter how comparatively small that audience may be: it’s not just “with great power comes great responsibility,” it’s “with any power comes great responsibility.” And in the moment I composed and sent out that tweet I acted irresponsibly by exposing a disagreement he didn’t even know we had to the rest of the world at large.That was dumb, and wrong, and the sad thing is I’ve probably done it before and it never occurred to me I was doing it until now. I need to be more careful about that kind of thing.
So… sorry @Guruzilla. You deserved better than that, and you deserve an apology for what you got instead. Which is what this is. Here’s hoping we’re still cool.