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Jul 03, 2014

Hi Folks, This unicorn of a chat will occur on July 3 -- though I'll be conducting it from a cabin with spotty Internet in Michigan. Any of you who weren't lucky enough to get early dismissals for the 4th of July, I hope you'll join me for as long as my wireless connection holds out.

Afternoon, everyone, and thanks for stopping by. We'll get started at 2. Attendence to this chat might be sparse, seeing as it's the afternoon before a three-day weekend, but seeing as we had to cancel the past two weeks, I wanted to at least give it a shot. (Internet might be sparse for me too -- be patient.)

 

This week online: Adam Richman, a well-known Travel Channel celebrity ("Man vs. Food") , was scheduled to launch a new show yesterday, but it was pulled from the lineup after he got in a nasty Twitter war with some fans.

 

The Post's Emily Yahr recaps the whole story here, it's short enough to read in just a minute. The abridged version: Richman, who had recently lost quite a bit of weight, posted an picture of himself looking more svelte and tagged it #thinspiration. Unbeknownst to Richman, the word #thinspiration has very negative connotations online, and is frequently used by people with eating disorders to urge themselves to increasingly emaciated states. Someone called him on his use of the term, he fought back, it spiraled from there.

 

What do you think of this -- both Richman's behavior and the Travel Channel's reaction?

 

Regarding Richman's behavior:

A) He should have researched the hashtag before using it and never posted it to begin with.

B) It was fine for him to use the hashtag, but once someone told him it was offensive, he should have immediately apologized and/or deleted the offensive tweet.

C) He did nothing wrong. Just because some people associate "#thinspiration" with anorexia or bulimia doesn't mean there's something intrinsicly wrong with the term. People were being too sensitive.

 

Regarding the Travel Channel's reaction:

A) They were right to postpone the show; he used offensive terminology.

B) They were right to postpone the show; Richman's post-Tweet behavior proved him to be a loose cannon.

C) They were wrong to postpone the show. This was a misunderstanding and they overreacted.

 

The general theme I'm curious about is one of personal responsibility online, and how much we can/should be responsible for other people's feelings. If you offend one person online, do you assume you were wrong and apologize? Twenty people? A hundred? What's the difference between being a jerk, and everyone else being too sensitive? I'm interested in your thoughts.

The difference is whether your employer finds out, frankly. That doesn't mean there aren't free-roaming jerks who haven't been caught, but I think situations such as Richman's are trees falling in the forest: if you don't see them, it didn't happen. I think the Travel Channel would have gained a bigger audience if they aired the show as scheduled, and I think that a retroactive apology would have saved their butt. Best of both worlds, for them. As far as apologizing, I think there's a difference between offending one or two by saying, "WOAH! Lebron is totally bipolar, look at him!" and offending a movement. One or two people and you can knock out "I'm sorry that offended you" pretty easy, but as soon as an issue gains momentum (the 20+ range, I'd say) you should start moving toward, "I did not know that [phrase/action/whatever] carried so much weight. I didn't mean to offend anyone and I'm sorry I said it." Then stop. I think the general takeaway from social media disasters is that people want to apologize *and* try to explain their behavior, when very few people understand the difference between explaining their behavior and justifying/defending it. "This is why I did it, I was mistaken," v. "This is why I did it so geez, lay off."

Is it useful to try to explain behavior? I understand the impulse -- you want people to know that you're not a jerk, you were just joking, etc -- but at the same time, you're right. "Explaining" often comes across as "justifying," and makes things even worse. How do you "explain" properly without looking like even more of a doink?

I'm sure you're getting a lot of questions like this... did you ever feel threatened at the conference in Detroit?

This question is in response to this article I wrote this week, about a conference of men's rights activists.

And -- no. I never felt threatened. Most of the men I talked with were very polite. Which might get at why it's so important to meet people in real life. Once people become real people and not just an abstract "enemy," it's much harder to judge them. That goes for people on either side of the aisle -- I honestly hadn't been sure of what to expect, but people were mostly very kind.

B & B. He didn't know it was a touchy hashtag - if you search for it, you get a warning - but once someone politely informed him, he behaved very badly. They were right to postpone the show and let things die down, and/or evaluate his behavior. If someone is offended, you have to evaluate your own behavior and decide if you should apologize/delete/ignore/converse, but lashing out is pretty much never the right answer.

 

Can I propose my own multiple choice? You're a food celebrity with a half-ounce of maturity and/or business sense. You use a word as a hashtag that, unbeknownst to you, has another meaning to the eating disorder community. Someone politely lets you know. Should you: A) Ignore them B) Delete your original post C) Edit your original post to remove the hashtag D) Leave your original post, but reply and say "I didn't know that" E) Leave your original post and reply with "Do I look like I give a F?" F) Any of the above except E.

 

This is not difficult. Let's say you don't actually have a half-ounce of maturity and/or business sense, and you choose E. People get offended and start attacking you online, because the internet is the wild west. You're still a food celebrity with a lot of followers. Should you: A) Sign off B) Delete the conversations C) Apologize D) Go watch Netflix E) Go on a rant, call people foul names, and tell them to kill themselves F) Any of the above except E.

 

Still not that hard.

It's the Paula Deen problem. The original charge of racism was bad enough. But then instead of immediately apologizing with genuine contriteness, she dug herself further and further in by justifying and overexplaining her actions.

 

Actually, that seems to frequently be the problem with celebrities. It's not the original offense that gets them. It's the cluelessness they display afterward.

If you use Twitter, you should look for hashtag use before you use it. It's not that hard or timeconsuming. For him to whine about having feelings is pretty audacious considering that he's the one who escalated into nastiness with his DILLIGAF. TV shows don't want to be associated with this kind of behavior.

DILLIGAF, for those of you not familiar with the term.

My closest is B). But actually, the real problem wasn't the original tweet, but his follow up angry tirades, including some pretty nasty name calling. Not only did he react like he was under attack (when it was someone trying to fairly politely educate him), but he went on a crazy war path. That leads me to say B) for the Travel Channel.

The warpath is just fascinating. How could he not know better? How could he not tell what was going to happen? Did he not realize how bad he looked? Did he not care? Did he not see himself as enough of a celebrity to understand that other people would be paying attention to this? Is he just a jerk who had managed to hide it for a really long time? What happened there?

I'm one of two people in the office today and there's little chance of us being sent home early. What sound I do to entertain myself for the rest of the afternoon?

Well. We've got you covered until 3. And then from 3 to 5, you probably need to run to CVS, buy some Clorox wipes, and methodically clean your desk while listening to This American Life podcasts and/or watching the HBO series that just became free on Amazon Prime. Right?

For #1: Somewhere between B and C - think he should have acknowledged it with some level of apology once he found out, but deleting seems like overcompensating. Opportunity to discuss perils of obesity and anorexia! For #2: I'd go with B. I didn't care about the original tweet, but his reaction was just so way over the top. At least these outbursts reveal who has a PR person run their account and who is doing it themselves. Question: what in the world was going on with the SCOTUSblog after the Hobby Lobby decision? My forensic internet research suggests maybe that people were responding to the handle as tho it WAS the SCOTUS, rather than a feed reporting what they decided, and then the reporters decided to pretend they were and say crazy things? Am I even close?

Re: SCOTUS and Hobby Lobby.

Yep, you're correct. SCOTUSblog is a blog reporting on the actions of the Supreme Court of the United States. It is not at all affiliated with the Court, i.e. it's run by bloggers and lawyers, not Roberts and Scalia.

 

But some people appeared to not understand that, and started Tweeting angry messages to @SCOTUSblog. Which let @SCOTUSblog to respond somewhat snarkily. Which led the people who thought that @SCOTUSblog was, in fact, run by SCOTUS, to get even MORE angry, because they thought that the supreme court justices were being really inappropriate.

 

Here is a recap.

He saw himself as enough of a celebrity that he can do whatever he wants, so there, nyeah nyeah to you. He got what he deserved.

I think celebrities would have a really hard time determining what's appropriate and what's not. For much of their lives, they have a bunch of people telling them everything they do is great.

I'm not sure I like the phrasing of B... I don't think he was obligated to apologize for what was clearly a easy/simple mistake. Silence and no further action is still a valid 'response' here. He did obviously do something wrong in escalating it. Travel Channel's reaction I have no opinion on. One reaction looks overzealous and the other looks too passive. It's no-win for them. How's that for a non answer.

Feel free to change my phrasings, which are meant as jumping off points rather than hard-and-fast statements.

 

What else could Travel Channel have done? Create a special apology episode, I guess? Put out releases saying that Richman would now be going through sensitivity training? 

Longreads.com is *always* a great option.

There ya go. I'll post a few more suggestions that have come in.

Read something fun and out of copyright at UPenn's On-Line Books Page, which includes all Project Gutenberg entries.

Or this.

Monica, from your article it seems that many of these men feel they were wronged by 1 woman (usually ex-wife), and have turned the resulting emotions into something greater and more far-reaching. Is that a correct reading?

I think that's true, for at least a portion of the men. It's human nature, to universalize your personalize experience and assume that it represents broad facts. Sometimes it does, in fact, and sometimes it doesn't. Either way, it doesn't make your pain any less real.

The portrait you painted was of a group of mostly fringe characters obscuring a few very noteworthy and valid grievances. The one that sticks out is the unfair treatment that fathers get in custody hearings, with the mother automatically getting the benefit of the doubt (yes, this is true. The law in most states has a rebuttable presumption that children are better off with their mother, all things being equal). This is the kind of point that touches on true notions of equality, but that could get buried by some of the more...colorful characters you met at the conference. Do you see any of the issues that were presented at the conference as gaining a mainstream breakthrough, or are they all tainted by association with the fringe?

I don't know. I'm not an activist or an expert. I do know that when I mentioned the types of issues discussed at the conference -- custody, paternity testing, etc --to  my "feminist" friends, they were wholeheartedly supportive of the message. But it was hard to see this particular group getting the traction they needed, when the delivery of the message was so alienating and bitter-seeming.

Whoa. Whoooooa. That's much more of a mike-drop than Obama usually does.

OMG no, totally not necessary to explain behavior, only ever makes things worse, which is why I said to quit after the apology. "I only said you looked fat in that because..." No. "When I said retard, I..." No. "It was the last piece of cake, but..." No.

* I only said you looked 'fat' in that because in my mind I was spelling it with a ph. You look PHAT, girl!

* When I said [r-word] I was referring to the musical notation telling me to slow down.

* It was the last piece of cake but ... I ate it anyway. No shame when it comes to cake.

So many problems would be solved if we all did not generalize from the specific. Blaming an entire group of people for the behavior of one just leads to problems. I guess we should start the #notallwomen tag for responses to that conference?

You know, I really did find myself sitting there thinking, "Not all feminists/Not most feminists." Which was a lovely exercise in patience.

So, in the spirit of past conversations, how do we go about reading "Mists of Avalon" and other MZB fiction now? I've always felt that it's fine to read and support an artist even if I'd consider her opinions offensive, particularly if it was a different historical time period. However, with MZB we're faced with an incredible author who not only apparently believed some really noxious stuff, but also assisted her husband in grooming and arranging new victims. Doesn't that cross the line?

Oh wow. I'd missed this story when it came out last week, and since I never wanted to read the series to begin with, I'll just continue on not reading it now. What about the rest of you?

Um, why the scare quotes?

Because my feminist friends believe in equality between men and women. But as "feminist" was used at the conference, it implied that most feminists really believe that men should be subservient to women.

I'm on vacation and easily confused. Go ahead and report me to the blog of unnecessary quotation marks.

I don't think there was anything wrong with his use of the hashtag to begin with--we all make mistakes and it's incredibly easy to inadvertently offend people these days. His problem was in his defensive and nasty reaction once the mistake was pointed out to him. I was pretty surprised by it, really--I generally assume that most TV or media personalities are savvy enough on social media in general to know that's not how you react to criticism. Ultimately he did the right thing by apologizing (and I was impressed that it seemed genuine rather than the generic and ubiquitous "I'm sorry if you were offended"), and I'm sure this will blow over pretty quickly. I thought Travel Channel probably overreacted, but they have a brand to protect and I'm sure the show will go on sooner rather than later.

They've already got episodes in the can, and I doubt they'll want to waste them. My guess is they'll appear in few months when this has all blown over and Richman has gone through some kind of sensitivity training.

Not too concerned about the word, even though I understand how it can be problematic. It's not inherently offensive like a racial slur - it's a made-up word that only has power because of its past association with triggering complicated feelings about weight loss and gain, which I think would already be accomplished in the natural course of watching any show called "Man vs. Food." But he lost any sympathy from me when he started with this sort of thing: “Grab a razor blade and draw a bath. I doubt anyone will miss you.” What a vile and cruel thing to say to ANYONE, doubly so if you're a celebrity interacting with fans in a public space. And that was just one of many equally gross things. I can see why that would make the Travel Channel nervous. When you're in the public eye, you have to be able to handle, deflect or ignore criticism. That kind of reaction to something that was SO minor - A COMMENT! Not even a face-to-face, real-time interaction where he had to respond on the spot - is startling. That was a situation where he could done five seconds of research, written, "Oh, didn't know that, sorry" and never used it again and he would have received brownie points for that action. It's like he went out of his way to make a benign exchange explode into unbridled rage and negative publicity.

The razor comment -- yes. I can't imagine being that cruel to anyone, in real or online life.

C) He did nothing wrong in posting it & not apologizing or taking it down BUT!! NECESSARY QUALIFICATION!! He did do something wrong in the way he fought back against the trolls hounding him about it. Using profanity & suggesting they kill themselves was way outta control for a public figure. He needs to realize that his comments and actions have consequences, which is why I choose B) for the travel channel response- they were right to postpone the show because of how he reacted once the anti-#thispiration trolls started hounding him.

Most of you are saying similar things here, with a few interesting variations, so I'm going to post several in a row without comment.

Not to mean a Bed & Breakfast but those are my quiz answers. It is unreasonable I think to expect that he would have researched the hashtag beforehand, but once the horrible reality of the hashtag was pointed out to him, he should have definitely apologized. Based on that post tweet behavior, I think the Travel Channel did the right thing. I judge things very differently when they are done quickly (first tweet) and when they are done with more info (secondary tweets). Make sense?

I'd say I'm not sure where I fall with regard to Richman's behavior at first as I don't expect people to research has tags before using them - though people in the public eye should probably give that some thought - but I'd say Travel Channel was (B) totally justified in postponing. Seems like he has some serious anger management issues.

Yikes. C and B. He didn't know, and it wasn't wrong of him to use it, and I don't think he was obliged to apologize or retract it. But man, did he go off the rails after that.

I mean the only correct answer here is 'B' right? He clearly didn't mean it with any negative undertones. Once it was pointed out, he should have just said "Hey, I'm sorry if I offended, I clearly didn't mean it that way." Why he reacted with such vitriol is beyond me; but I guess I can't say I've never over-reacted like that on a bad day either. The difference is that when I lose it unnecessarily people just say "there goes Brian again, I'll wait until he chills to respond."

Do you think maybe his strong reaction was a pent-up reaction to general political-correctness online? Or a pent-up reaction to the general stress of being a celebrity? On the Internet, you don't get a lot of takebacks. You say one wrong thing, and it's retweeted fifty times before you can fish it back in. If it happens to you enough, you probably have a knee-jerk reaction against it.

Cupcake, I hope you'll be around this week to speak from your Webinatrix capacity and answer a burning query I've been saving up for you (though I guess this week, that'd mean you're dialing in from vacay and that's not very nice of me to wish on you, is it?) :(

 

Well, callously moving on: I need some hashtag explanation, please. I know *what* they are, but what I need to understand is, how do people know what to tag WITH? Example: my impossibly hip girlfriend will tag all sorts of crap on her Instagrams... like a post-bath pic of her pup will be tagged with 'pet selfie' (ok, fairly obvious) but also 'the ladies love me.'

 

(Possibly related: how was that FoodNetwork guy supposed to know that 'thinspiration' was a bad thing? Where did he come up wiht it in the first place?) As a Part B to that question, of what use exactly is what I see the WaPo somewhat grandiosely calling a 'social media campaign,' exactly? In the case of 'Yes all women,' for example, I do see the power in simply sharing the stories. But how about 'Bring back our girls'? Or 'avenge our boys'? What is TWEETING or tagging that going to accomplish exactly?

How to know what to hashtag something: It depends. Is your goal to be amusing or entertaining for your followers? Or is your goal to jump on the bandwagon with lots of other people talking about the same subject?

 

Say that I want to tweet about the World Cup. If I want to be a part of the same conversation that everyone else is having, I'll go to search.twitter.com, and do several searches to see what the hashtag is that people are already using to describe what I want to talk about. I might search #soccer, or #worldcup, or #usavsbelgium, or whatever else.

 

But if my goal isn't to be a part of that thread, but rather to just amuse my followers, then my hashtags would be more specific, i.e. "#Istilldon'tunderstandtheoffsidesrule." The whole point is that I'm using the concept of a hashtag to make a joke, which is what your girlfriend's #ladiesloveme hashtag would have been doing.

 

Does that make sense? Anyone want to add anything in a smarter sounding way?

How can a newspaper use a Twitter post to force a person to resign a volunteer position? See for yourself.The headline showed a picture of my twitter account and my tweet!

 This is near where I'm vacationing. I was going to go to this cherry festival on Saturday. And now all I'll be able to taste in those cherries is the bitterness of scandal.

I thought it was great. I thought you did a good job of respecting the frailties and human motivations of many of these men without going too far in pointing out how those issues have metastasized in to something pretty dark. For the most part your interviewees words did that for you. I hope you have received too much vitriol in response.

You know what? Virtually no vitriol. Surprised me, too. I thought I'd get it from both sides.

As I was reading the story I kept hoping that the entire weekend conference was going to turn out to be a performance art piece. But alas, no.

True life often reads like performance art. A mix of absurd and poignant.

My Facebook feed was eerily quiet when the decision was announced. Was this the case for everybody else, or have I just gotten good at feed editing? I block almost EVERY site that people repost from, because I'd rather see only original posts that people write themselves...

Others?

Thanks for the info. So excited that I figured something out on twitter!!! Oh, it's 2pm, time for dinner!

Dinner at 2 pm is such a good idea.

unintentional hilarity because the story is interrupted by this line: "Get EW on your tablet!" and the story is so EEEEEWWWW.

Again, I haven't followed the story closely. But I find it really interesting that Greyland was so instrumental in putting her father away for sexual abuse charges, but did not speak out about her mother until now -- out of, she says, an attempt to preserver her mom's famous image. Sad, sadness all around.

You can weep as you eat some for us. I miss Michigan cherries.

They are really, really tasty.

I'm a young woman with an older male mentor, and we've had LOTS of discussions about the MRA movement. He's having some trouble seeing these guys as legitimate, because he remembers the earlier version of the men's rights movement that was in vogue in the 1990s: The one launched by Robert Bly's "Iron John" (http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2006/08/remembering_iron_john.html), which was focused on the idea of giving men a mythic identity to claim as their own in the modern age, and eventually collapsed in on itself because in practice, it was a lot of hurting businessmen having weekend drum circle retreats and donning masks in the woods.

 

After doing my own reading on it at his encouragement, I was surprised by the gentleness in it - it stresses the importance of undergoing a meaningful life journey of your own during which you assume the mantle of adulthood, which I can't find in this current movement at all. It automatically assumes that you're trying to pick up your missing pieces instead of engaging in dedicated growth.

 

My mentor noted that there IS an unfulfilled need among men for a sense of "manhood" and power in today's society, but it's a need that MUST NOT revolve around one's interactions with women. By making it all about women and how women react to them, they're just losing themselves even more deeply. The benefit of the feminist movement is that it teaches women to explore and enjoy a concept of "womanhood" that's flexible and forgiving in its parameters. I can say "I am woman, hear me roar" when I'm kicking butt at work OR when I'm sitting on my couch eating ice cream and painting my nails. Men realize that they don't have anything like that in relation to manhood, and they're hurting over it.

Thanks. Your last paragraph, especially, makes some really interesting points.

This was my absolute favorite thing on the internet all week (being a lawyer, a law nerd, a fan of well-done snark, and someone who needed a laugh after Hobby Lobby). I think this one was my favorite: "Really? Let’s let twitter decide. Ok? MT @The_Itch: @SCOTUSblog How do I become a justice? Pretty sure I’m smarter than 5 of you."

Oh, dear.

He was probably hangry. I might do the same if I'm delayed from lunch by more than 10 minutes.

Want us to hold up the chat for you while you go make a sandwich?

Hm, I think this glosses over the fact of male dominance in most walks of life. Sure, they don't acknowledge it, but it's true, and a lot of them have interpreted losing a little privilege as being attacked and demeaned.

Posting.

The Currently Online just went up over 100 to 106. Yay! I'm not alone!!

Still, we're a wee band today.

In response to the query, I'll just say that my Facebook feed exploded, a combination of vitriol and sarcastic memes, some of them very funny. (For instance, the "ruling" that Little Ceaser's could feed Christian employees to lions.) New Query: can folks in northern Michigan water ski while eating cherries this time of year?

Oh, well done, whomever did the pizza meme.

(And it's cold here. Too cold to water ski. Feels more like ski ski).

I wouldn't be a bit surprised if it were actually fear of retaliation by her famous mom and her famous mom's fans.

Right, that too.

I think there are plenty of legitimate issues - custody is evolving to not default to mom-only, there are societal pressures on men to be "manly," breadwinners, etc - but it all gets lost in the women-hating, feminist-bashing nonsense. As a breadwinning woman with a stay-at-home husband who could use a better community, it's a shame.

Posting.

OP here. My spouse just helpfully informed me that Ogre, starring John Schneider is on SyFy right now. This doesn't help me, but I thought I share. I somehow forget about longreads, always a great idea.

So I guess we should all probably go and watch that?

We'll wrap up a few minutes early, in the name of patriotism. Next week I won't be traveling for work, and I won't  be on vacation, and I hope to see you all there.

You said wee... Is it time to go home yet?

Obviously.

See you next week. GSTQ.

In This Chat
Monica Hesse
Monica Hesse is a staff writer for the Post Style section. She frequently writes about culture, the Web and the intersection of the two.

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