Nothing seems to unleash people’s carnal outrage quite like an ill-conceived joke on Twitter.
Detroit Free Press reporter Zlati Meyer learned that the tough way Monday night after she tweeted that West Virginia should deal with its incest problem.
“#WestVirginia has its tainted water problem under ctrl. Now, it can work on incest,” she tweeted, referring to a chemical spill that had contaminated tap water for 300,000 residents.
There was no undoing it. By the time Meyer removed the tweet, it had gone viral. She and the Free Press apologized, but that didn’t quell the onslaught of attacks – even death threats.
What Meyer tweeted was indefensible, and she knows that and acknowledged it. But what’s perplexing is the malignity and viciousness behind the attacks.
I worked with Meyer at the Free Press for six years, and she was anything but intolerant or bigoted. She’s an enthusiastic and insatiably curious reporter who bursts with compassion and zeal. And she has an abrupt, self-referential sense of humor. Only this time her joke fell flat – and she’s paying for it with thousands of tweets from offended West Virginians.
It’s a stark reminder that in this digital age, we can’t take back our stupid comments. But we should also remember that our stupid comments don’t always reflect who we are.
We make mistakes; we apologize; we move on.
Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.