Swift Notoriety: The Guide to Going Viral
Poopcutie is a really dumb name, I know. Don’t ask me how I thought of it because I can’t entirely remember. I’ve been @poopcutie for a long time, only revealing my real identity here and there. My name is Emily and I live in Central California. I’m 20 now, but I was 19 years old when Taylor Swift threatened to sue me over something I created that went viral on the Internet.
I’ve been on Twitter since April 2011, during my last semester of high school. I started off using Twitter as a miniature Facebook, but eventually I strayed away from local people and found entertainment with people I have never met. There is something remarkable about the ability to converse with people from numerous countries at one time, and it’s even more amazing that I can do all of this from a glowing rectangular device whenever I so choose. Twitter gave me this great communication gift, but I didn’t think about the ways in which that technology could backfire. I didn’t think about how it could be bad for anyone on the planet to have instant access to me.
On August 29th, 2013, at 7:02 p.m., I sent out this tweet:
It never crossed my mind that any of the things I tweeted would spark a media circus. I don’t know any average person of average origins living in an average town who participates in social media and thinks “Oh yeah, this tweet right here is a real winner. Better keep an eye on it because it’s sure to get famous!” That just doesn’t happen. I have 93,000 tweets and before August 29th, 2013, none of them had ever received this much attention, so why on Earth would I assume that tweet would be any different?
I only say that because some people think I should’ve seen it coming. Both on and off-line, I have been told I deserved to be harassed and threatened, because somehow, I should have known that my tweet would get attention. By their reasoning, my tweet was a publicity stunt.
Are you fucking kidding me? I absolutely did not ask for any of what happened. The act of tweeting is not the same thing as standing on a street corner, waving a sign around and screaming. Yes, Twitter is public, but I wasn’t talking to everyone. I am not so arrogant as to believe that every tweet I write is directed at the entire world. I know the entire world is not listening. My “audience” is the small group of people who actually interact with me.
I created that thing known as Hitler Quotes Attributed to Taylor Swift. It was a joke, a criticism of pop music and Internet quote-sharing. It was funny I guess.
BuzzFeed. The Daily Mail. The New York Post. The Daily Dot. The Atlantic Wire. Jezebel. Relevant Magazine. Mashable. Smosh. Someecards. Reddit. E! Network’s TV program The Soup’s Facebook page. Director Kevin Smith’s podcast. Irish Independent newspaper. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency. There are a lot more newspapers and websites that wrote about me but I can’t remember all of them or pronounce them, like newspapers in Germany and France, for instance. People from South America, Russia, and Saudi Arabia sent me messages of support, so they must have heard about me somehow. It felt good to be recognized but at the same time I hated it because I was being exploited.
Not a single website, newspaper, or magazine that wrote about me gave me even the slightest warning that they were publishing information about me or using my content.
BuzzFeed was the first. Good ol’ BuzzFeed, famous for its list-articles and using Mean Girls GIFs to explain stuff like wars or political scandals. Oh yeah, and they employed Benny Johnson, who turned out to be a plagiarist. Sure, they don’t blatantly plagiarize on a daily basis (that we know of). But taking all the content from someone’s Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, blog, etc and then re-posting it with a link citation and 200 words of “commentary” is hardly journalism.
BuzzFeed UK found me and posted about my tweet/corresponding Pinterest board at around 2 or 3 in the morning, California time. It would have been nice to understand where the sudden rush of traffic was coming from, as it was very confusing when hundreds of people from the UK started tweeting at me in the middle of the night. It wasn’t until an acquaintence discovered I was on BuzzFeed that I actually found out about it.
When I took a journalism class in high school, we got in huge trouble if we reported on something without adding quotes. Without interviewing people, you can’t have an article — we simply could not publish it. Modern journalism appears to have changed. Not a single one of the dozens of media outlets that wrote about me asked for a comment or gave me an opportunity to explain myself. Go ahead and look if you don’t believe me. BuzzFeed started the whole mess, and instead of asking “hey, Emily, why did you put Hitler quotes over pictures of Taylor Swift?” they left it open to interpretation. This severe journalistic misstep led to hundreds of people harassing me, dozens threatening me, and plenty of rumors that I was a Nazi. I COULD NOT ESCAPE IT. My phone buzzed at all hours of the day. The tweet I sent out took less than 24 hours to get picked up by the global press, so all of this attention was happening literally overnight. I couldn’t talk to any of my Twitter friends because the notifications were happening every few seconds. People called me a bitch, hog, whore, cunt, dickhead, slut, and a whole bunch of other things, and I had no way of stopping it. It’s really hard and time-consuming to block hundreds of people on Twitter. It’s easier to give up and let the harassment run its course.
All this happened because these idiots did not understand what I was doing and they had a direct link to my Twitter profile, thanks to BuzzFeed embedding my tweet on their post. These strangers did not comprehend the satiric nature of my Pinterest project and retaliated. I can understand stupid people being stupid, but this was entirely preventable. A sentence or two of explanation could have stopped the relentless bullying and pain I went through for over a week. What pissed me off even more was when The New York Post and The Daily Dot used quotes from my Twitter, as if that was the same thing as interviewing me. Nothing I could say in 140 characters could ever fully explain my thoughts and feelings, let alone be used as an alternative to a press statement. To sift through a 19-year-old girl’s Twitter page and publish out-of-context tweets is really a shameful practice. Maybe I could forgive them if they had tried to reach me and went with the next best thing, but that isn’t what happened. What they did is downright lazy.
I tried to stop the press by deleting my Pinterest board. But BuzzFeed kept the page up, and so did all the other places. When that didn’t work, I re-opened my board, because at that point some people were trying to steal my work. I was torn between wanting all of the attention to go away and not wanting random assholes to steal my ideas.
I am not a public figure. I do not have an agent or a publicist. I think it’s safe to say that pretty much 99% of the population doesn’t, either. It’s very strange to me that the websites listed above all had access to my Twitter account, yet could not bother to contact me. It would have been extraordinarily simple to send me a message, especially since at the time I had an email address in my Twitter bio. From this example, I can only deduce that the online media simply does not care about anything other than rapidly creating new, clickable content. My sanity and safety were not considered because my sanity and safety don’t produce ad revenue. In the grand scheme of things I am just a small, unknown person, and that was my 15 minutes of fame. So giving me a tiny amount of common courtesy was never a priority.
My experience should be troubling for everyone who uses public social networks like Twitter. We are all essentially producing free content for websites to scoop up and plaster their names on. It’s been a year since this happened, and I’m still trying to get over it. I don’t know what to do with myself. Should I stop using Twitter because there’s always the possibility that if I say something funny, I’m going to be exploited by the media? I’m still trying to figure that out. But as of this moment, I have nothing to show for what I dealt with. Taylor Swift threatened to sue me in September of last year, and she didn’t, but Jesus Christ, that was a nightmare that I didn’t need to go through.
Was it worth it, BuzzFeed? Did you get a nice payday? I certainly hope so. I hope you took those 650,000+ pageviews you milked out of me and bought yourself something nice. Meanwhile I’m still here, a broke college student, but hey, at least now I know that I’m interesting. I never want to do anything cool or interesting ever again. Being interesting is too damn stressful.
(Update: I forgot to mention that Kotaku did a piece about my experience. Patricia Hernandez was very kind and understanding of my ordeal and I’m very grateful that they were on my side. Check out Going Viral Sucks, which explores other viral situations too: http://kotaku.com/going-viral-sucks-1282348530 )