A silly social video by Vanity Fair that suggested New Year’s resolutions for Hillary Clinton drew harsh backlash from #Resistance Twitter myrmidons who can’t take a joke, sparking a faux scandal dumb enough to neatly encapsulate social media in 2017.
The mind-numbing episode began on December 23 with a 63-second clip, the type of cheap, made-for-virality content publishers are pumping into social channels to momentarily snag users’ attention or eke out a few pennies in ad revenue. This particular video showed staffers of Vanity Fair’s digital vertical HIVE (I don’t get the name, either) sharing mostly unfunny but basically harmless suggestions about how Clinton should spend 2018.
“Take up a new hobby in the new year,” tech writer Maya Kosoff deadpanned. “Volunteer work, knitting, improv comedy—literally anything that will keep you from running again.”
There wasn’t much of a fuss for the next three days as people were celebrating the holidays, consuming better internet content, or otherwise enjoying their offline lives. But on December 26, noted Clinton stan and Verritt co-founder Peter Daou began coordinating a counteroffensive campaign against Vanity Fair as if he were Patton. Myriad others soon followed him onto the Twitter battlefield, crying that the magazine tailored for rich old people who tend to vote for Clinton Democrats—which has also spent the past 18 months repeatedly lambasting Donald Trump for everything down to his hand size—said the wrong thing.
To start: I’d be shocked if the tens or hundreds or even thousands of #CancelVanityFair tweets amounted to anything more than a miniscule blip on the publication’s bottom line, as the typical Vanity Fair subscriber might not even know what a hashtag is.
But that hasn’t stopped some of these Clinton fans, including Chronicle of Philanthropy columnist Tom Watson, from going so far as to place Vanity Fair’s 63-second Twitter video in the sprawling pantheon of existential problems and actual scandals to which we in media should devote precious time and attention. Watson offered some “serious advice” for the storied magazine’s new editor, highly accomplished journalist Radhika Jones, on how she should respond:
Watson went on to single out Kosoff, just one of the staffers in the video, who writes critically about sexism in tech and is outspoken about women’s issues on Twitter. (He has since grudgingly deleted his tweet):
Taken together, it’s a familiar play in five acts: Journalists make vaguely edgy remarks; politically-motivated social media users read those statements with the least generous interpretation possible; self-styled captains of this army portray said remarks as evidence of institutional rot within those journalists’ entire publication, organizing a campaign to hurt it financially and politically; individual journalists are also singled out for criticism; and individual journalists—in this case Kosoff, who said she’s done with Twitter until the new year after the targeted harassment—are silenced.
Where else do we see such tactics? If we look all the way back to early this month, when MSNBC momentarily fired contributor Sam Seder after an alt-right smear campaign singled out a dumb joke he tweeted in 2009, you’ll see remarkable similarities. When your bad faith tactics start to become indistinguishable from literal Nazis on Twitter, you know you’ve gone a bridge too far.