For all of its assets, Twitter is a pretty terrible place to have civil conversations.
This is none more apparent than in the Twitter Q&A, a kind of open forum for idiocy and mayhem, especially when the subject in question is a controversial figure.
Take Jameis Winston, for example. The Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, accused of sexual assault in an extremely high-profile case, was the subject of a question-and-answer session based around the hashtag, #AskJameis. The conversation, hosted by Florida State University, Winston’s school, digressed into obvious lampooning and trolling.
There were jokes about Winston shoplifting crab legs earlier this year.
Some questionable combinations of Winston’s most infamous incidents:
And some that just viciously attacked his intelligence:
It was instantly received as a monumental failure and an opportunity for users to assail the college quarterback. And this is far from the first time something like this has happened. VH1 hosted a Twitter Q&A with Robin Thicke, an R&B singer of irrefutably misogynistic nature, in late June.
Some confronted him about the backlash over the treatment of women in his music video for “Blurred Lines.”
Others criticized Thicke’s efforts to repair his marriage with Paula Patton:
While one person simply cut to the chase:
The inclination for institutions to host these kind of public dialogues seems to come from a generally good place, albeit a naive one. The distance between celebrities and denizens of the normal realms of Earth has quickly closed with the proliferation of social media. And the Twitter Q&A is supposed to trim the fat on that even more, giving a higher chance of response than a random comment on an Instagram picture.
Celebrities, musicians and athletes are not alone in these pointless endeavors as it is now completely common to see people like Hillary Clinton and even companies like J.P. Morgan having them as well. The only thing they all have in common is the sheer pointlessness of each outing. It speaks to some innate anonymizing power that the Internet possesses, the same sort that makes YouTube comment sections a warzone of misogyny, bigotry and trolling.
It becomes a hapless gesture of uninformed social media departments who perceive the potential of engagement without consequences. Twitter has advanced to a point at which it’s such an insider baseball machine that nothing short of breaking news comes without a tinge of sarcasm, where earnestness is devalued and humor encouraged. It’s no longer a dialogue but rather a dialogue about the dialogue. There are thought pieces on the inevitable outcome of Twitter fights (likely a stalemate, depending on who you read).
So individuals like Winston and Thicke are bound to fail, offered like a hunk of meat on a rope dangling above the lion’s den. But people still value the perceived proximity they have to figures like this, or at least that which is granted to them with these uniting hashtags. In cases where these subjects have troubled pasts, it becomes like a proxy public witch burning ceremony, where the torches are replaced with smartphones. It’s funny and pointless and ephemeral and so is the Internet. So God bless everyone putting in the effort.