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Opinion
Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

Backlash On Twitter Can Be Intense, But I Experienced Civility After My Mistake

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When it comes to civilized discourse, Twitter probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But a recent experience on Twitter gives WFAE’s Tommy Tomlinson some cautious optimism.

The other day, I did something dumb on Twitter. Sometimes I think the whole purpose of Twitter is for people to go on there and commit the verbal equivalent of stepping on a rake. I have certainly stepped on more than one rake on Twitter. But this time, what interested me is how my dumb thing ended up playing out.

Here’s how it started: Somebody had tweeted out a video clip of Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina senator, being interviewed about Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who testified before Congress that Supreme Court candidate Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her. In the clip, Graham said this:

“This is what you get when you go through a trailer park with a $100 bill."

The original tweeter described the quote as “Lindsey Graham on Christine Blasey Ford.” I retweeted it, and added a little commentary on the distressed state of Lindsey Graham’s soul.

It upset a bunch of people. Some of them said I was just wrong, that Graham wasn’t talking about Ford at all.

I went back and listened again, paying close attention that I should’ve paid the first time. They were right.

"This is not the first time this has happened," Graham went on to say. "James Carville. See, most of y’all are too young to remember this..."

Carville, Bill Clinton’s old campaign chief, did in fact say something similar back in 1991 after Paula Jones accused Clinton of exposing himself to her. Graham was making the point that Christine Blasey Ford isn’t the first woman to be politically attacked for accusing a powerful man of sexual assault.

The original tweet was wrong on the facts, and so was I. So I sent out a second tweet apologizing for the first one. My feelings about Lindsey Graham hadn’t changed – they’re based on a lot more than one video clip – but I wanted to correct the record.

That’s where it got interesting.

A couple of the people who gave me grief for the original tweet wrote back to thank me for my apology. One of them, a guy named Chuck, apologized back and said this: “My selective outrage trigger’s sensitivity must be set a little on the light side today.”

I knew exactly what he was talking about. I try really hard to think about what I’m saying, especially on social media, where it’s so easy to fire without bothering to aim. When I talk to college classes, I always tell students to think before hitting send. But this time my outrage twitter was set on stun. I didn’t listen to my own advice.

But I have to say, in a country that feels so polarized, it was gratifying that a few people thanked me for admitting a mistake, instead of stepping on my neck for showing weakness.

I walked away from the whole thing feeling just a little bit more hopeful that we’re going to make it through the next few years OK. That’s a rare feeling to have these days. Especially if you spend much time on Twitter.

Tommy Tomlinson’s commentaries appear every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. They represent his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to his commentaries in the comments below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.