Yep, Twitter is ruining the conversation. But not because everyone talks in short burst text speak now. No, that's fine. That old Danish guy once said something about brevity, souls, and wit, and he was right. What's ruined the conversation is folks who can't speak the language trying and failing, in embarrassing and sometimes even creepy fashion, to participate. Politicians, corporations, those kinds of folks. The Internet conversation is a self-eating entity, it's ephemeral and mercurial and sentiment can often completely reverse without warning. It's tricky water to navigate; you have to be sharp and self-aware to avoid ridicule and scorn, and that's hard. Too hard, it seems, for goofy politicians and cookie companies.
And yet they try nonetheless, with either self-deprecating acknowledgment of mistakes or gaffes, or trying to cleverly get out ahead of something that needs no getting out ahead of. (There's no way to win at Royal Baby, Oreo. The Super Bowl thing was a fluke.) This new form of awkward, and maybe insidious twittering — maybe social media's version of embarrassing dad dancing, except with something sinister behind it —has most recently been employed by none other than the Weiner campaign, no stranger to faux affability in the face of something darker. It gives us the gross, unsettling sense that, right now, somewhere there's very likely a group of grown adults sitting around trying to figure out how to most winsomely and wittily cool down a mini-scandal with a cute tweet.
Yesterday, New York City mayoral candidate and scandal-prone gaffe-maker Anthony Weiner found himself in more embarrassing hot water, as his communications director Barbara Morgan went on a profanity-laden tirade about a former campaign intern. There were some pretty bad words in there! So that was certainly a big goof-up — maybe not quite a debacle, but approaching that territory. Today, in an effort to defuse the situation, Morgan tweeted out an apologetic little joke, saying "Should've known better, been better. Gotta pay up," then posting a picture of a swear jar with hundred dollar bills and a credit card in it. Cute, right? It makes Morgan seem easy-going, more relatable, like a regular person who speaks a little out of turn and then feels bad about it later. It's clever, well-played.
Well, at first. But then you get to thinking about it. Remember when Weiner's big Twitter scandal was lurching into existence and he first tried to laugh it off as a hack job, tweeting "Tivo shot. FB hacked. Is my blender gonna attack me next? #TheToasterIsVeryLoyal."? That was also cute and clever (I mean, for a middle-aged politician), but of course it turned out to be, well, a total lie. Had the scandal somehow blown over, though, in many ways Weiner would have won the day with his goofy little joke. But in the light of the truth, that Weiner was in fact doing some sexy chats and lied about publicly sending a message that was meant to be private, it all seemed so weasley, didn't it? There's something especially smarmy, and almost creepy, about the effortlessness of his charming little lie.
Given that Morgan works so closely with Weiner, there's an air of that same smarm to her jokey little apology today. Look, what she did really isn't that big of a deal, and she certainly didn't lie about what she said or did the way Weiner did. But they're so casual in their affable, jokey candor that it all somehow seems even more effortful; it's cold calculation that's more cynical than anything else. Yes, these are just tweets we're talking about, but couldn't they be seen as representative of a larger problem, of faux-light, breezy humor crafted by committee, all meant to mask or distract from or brush off what are actual cock-ups? The Weiner camp is a little too good at the tossed-off "Pobody's nerfect!" deflections. It's all a little too slick. Isn't it?