The Onion Outrage: Did the Reactions Make the Problem Worse?

I’m hesitant to weigh in at all on heated topics such as this, but I think the reaction raises a broader question than the specific incident.

I watched the reaction online to The Onion‘s post-Oscar tweet and was struck by something ironic: people who’s stated goal was for The Onion to delete their tweet took hundreds of screenshots of it and posted them online. If the actual goal was purely public shaming, then this is an effective tactic. If the goal was protecting the young actress in question, it doesn’t seem to make much sense. The reaction took a single tweet and made it ubiquitous.

I couldn’t help but to think about this young actress’ future career and how from now on her online search results will be dominated by high-ranking websites and news sources talking about this incident, many with screenshots of the offensive tweet. It made me wonder: did the reaction of well-meaning people unintentionally take an isolated tweet and amplify it to the point where she became “the young girl The Onion called an offensive word?” Was the cure worse than the disease?

Perhaps the larger question is whether a mass of people online, reacting instantly without reflection, can act strategically in terms of identifying a goal and evaluating their actions for negative externalities. There was a stated goal–deletion of the tweet and a public apology–but there wasn’t a strategic reason for the goal, nor consideration of the potential negative consequences of action.

I write this not to be critical of those who took action online, but to encourage people to think about these questions and potential outcomes when these situations arise.

* I specifically do not use the name of the young actress nor link to anything relating to the tweet to avoid contributing to the search engine problem mentioned above.