On Tweetbombing and the Ethics of Attention

Something weird happened on Twitter yesterday. It was annoying and upsetting at the time, but now it's meaty fodder for behavioral analysis discussions. Ethan Zuckerman wrote a blog post about it that extracts some of the more interesting questions raised about social media and activism.

* Postscript: I've since traded tweets with the two guys behind the stunt, and we're cool.


  1. It’s terrible, but sort of seemed inevitable that this kind of behavior would happen to Twitter. Years ago there was the Penny Arcade post that explained this kind of activity in the realm of gaming (language warning) at http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2004/03/19 , and that just seems to be the way that people are (the summary of that strip is basically that anonymity + audience = bad behavior). While the web has enabled so many people to connect, to find others like themselves wherever they may physically be, to share ideas and build communities and all of those wonderful things, it also still seems to enable the howling ape that resides just beneath the surface in most of us.

    In the end, people (like you) who do bold, personal things in the public square will always have to square off against jerks. The plus side being that the long-term trend seems to be against the jerks and that good actions cause more good action in others to rise up over time.

  2. How suprising. People try to start a shitstorm and find out that trying to control it gives them nothing but brown hands.

  3. Is the only problem that some of the tweets were abusive? Or is it also a problem that this was a coordinated use of twitter to send unsolicited messages (aka spam)?

    Sure, as an ‘awareness’ raising tool (or whatever) it may have been a terrible and ineffective idea, but that issue aside, does it break the ‘rules’ of twitter to organize or participate in a campaign like that? By ‘rules’ I don’t mean “terms of service,” rather I mean “the unwritten codes of conduct, violations of which are deemed rude.”

    Zuckerman seems to imply that if Xeni was Oprah, it would be different. But is that really the case? And how is an individual to evaluate when it would be acceptable to spam someone on twitter?

    One example that springs to mind is when Conan O’Brien announced that he was only going to follow one person on twitter, and randomly picked a non-famous person. That person’s account exploded, they gave interviews, and I’m sure received more than a few unsolicited messages. At the time it seemed cheeky and cute (oh… CoCo, you can do no wrong), but as Conan stated in the announcement tweet, he basically decided to massively change someone’s online life without warning or consent. So was that cool….?

  4. Of course, the problem with tweet trolling is that your account name is there for all to see. Which reminds me of  Margaret Cho when right wingers e-mail bombed her in-box, & she published the e-mail names.  Her fans responded to each account in kind.  The trolls were begging Margaret to take their names down real quick.

    1. As Ethan Zuckerman points out, many of the more hateful posts were sent on brand-new, single-use Twitter accounts that were obviously created just for trolling Xeni. Anonymous hate mail, essentially.

  5. This is the first that I’ve heard of twitter bombing or attention philanthropy. Seems like there’s enough info in the social graph to filter it – I hope this triggers some new development from Twitter, the company. 

    For every pathetic griefer, are a multitude who think you’re cool.

  6. This really saddened me….
    I have been a participant in Athene’s antics before, especially during his Christmas event. Athene basically sent his community to join lonely people on videochat during Christmas Day, wishing them a Merry Christmas. The faces of those with 2 or 3 chatters jumping up to 100’s (at one point one person had 1000 watchers) wishing them a jolly season, was amazing.For me, it helped me get through a rough patch as I had just found out I was losing my job.The fact remains that along with the good, the idiots come out and ruin it for so many others. Athene’s cause is just and his efforts are to be applauded…Just forgive the trail of Internet Losers that must follow along…

  7. When I saw this yesterday I was horrified. A few minutes ago I was confused — thinking, um, how could people trying to get recognition for this cause be so two-faced? Now I understand that these assholes were just in it for the grief they hoped to inflict. Glad to hear, at least, that the organizers of the tweetbombing don’t approve.

  8. In 2010 the little-known rock band Imperial Stars turned a truck sideways to block the 101 Freeway in Hollywood, and played music on its roof to the blocked motorists.  The band claimed that the “viral marketing” stunt was done not so much for publicity for the band but in an effort to raise awareness to child homelessness.  The top of the truck read, ‘Over 1.5 million homeless children in the USA. What are we doing?’

    Their stunt did not end well, and certainly did not get them any support from anyone trapped in their traffic jam.  Nor did it get them anything but contempt from the rest of the world.

    There’s a difference between putting up a sign on the side of the road to promote your cause, and blocking traffic by putting your sign in the middle of the road.  Athene and Reese did the latter.

    1. You forgot the part about how they took the keys so that it would be harder to remove the truck.

    2. I missed the story in the past and when I read your post I thought, whilst that is certainly illegal, it is a pretty clever form of protest that would have drawn far more attention than the banner on the side of the freeway.

      However, then I watched their Traffic Jam 101 video (or as much of it as I could stomach) and I realised this was no protest about starving children, certainly starving children weren’t even mentioned in the first minute or so. It was just a bunch of talentless hacks that figured they would garner more attention and sympathy by claiming they were protesting something when really they were just showing the world how much they fucking sucked.

    1. None. All money goes straight to Save the Children. However, i wonder how hard it is for someone to accuse and for someone to get the view on both sides?
      http://www.dailydot.com/news/xeni-jardin-athene-wins-twitter-fight-spam-charity/Your blame is very..simpleton. Do you blame something as a whole, when there’s only a few bad?  As people would say, a few bad apples?

      Accusing someone of taking something without not knowing their background..well played. 

      More so, believing a person who just pulls out a few tweets from a thousand (the few, are a whole different story, explained in the link that i have provided, if you care to leave the box that you surround yourself in) as the whole community being devilish, is more well played. Indeed.

      Alas, Xeni has understood their point of view, and that i see as a peace calling.

      PS. I find Athene arrogant, and not a fan of him, but never would i accuse someone of such. Not to mention that i am a fan of net neutrality, and what his crew has done for it is nothing short of amazing.

      PSS. My English is bad, but i try. Do not mind my mistakes

      1. While all the money may be going to Children in Need, it’s obvious much of the attention adheres to Athene. A publicity stunt for a good cause is still a publicity stunt.

        1. So you take everything that i said out the blue and blame it on a publicity stunt. Everything is a publicity stunt. Cancer is a publicity stun, me typing this is a publicity stunt. Buying a 100k car is a publicity stunt.

          But you completely rule out my entire post. Ill throw some facts in :) :)

          A. Even by doing this, Athene is losing subscribers on his youtube channel (A video posted this). He might say it is an error in the youtube system, but his channel is not what it used to be but he will not change into his old ways.

          B. Athene has been donating before any sort of “publicity stunt” act. He has donated money he has earned from poker to many small agencies (such has 20k to shawn, thousands to the free presss)

          C. You will have create a sort of publicity stun if you do want to raise 500k (500k donated by dc entertainment, really think hes gonna steal it?)

          D. He has learnt from his lessons “so to say” (however, using twitter gives people the invitation to actually “spam” (way out of context” )) and is now just privately sending messages to news station

          E. If a 40 day hunger strike is a publicity stunt, then i guess it is.

          F. Reese has spent his whole life working towards such a community in order to motivate it and make it do such things (see EEE, net neutrality, ipower). I guess his whole life is a publicity stunt. 

          I am amazed by such simple “callings” in this whole “thread” (is that the right word?)

          Thank you, and feel free to read my post above.

  9. Twitter is blocked at work. Could you please explain what happened? Notice that this is public, I am anonymous, and I am not spewing. That is normal.

    1. Read the post on EthanZuckerman.com, it has a very good explanation with a few screenshots.

      Short version:  some knuckleheads decided to ask everyone on twitter to bombard people designated as “celebrities” with tweets about the knuckleheads’ self-promotional charity efforts.  Xeni was unfortunately targeted as one of the celebrities, she got ridiculous numbers of pointless tweets (because the whole idea is stupid) and at some point she was annoyed enough to tweet “fuck off”.  Then it turned really ugly and personal – enough so that the original knuckleheads were ashamed and appalled, and any charities involved are probably completely mortified.

  10. Those responsible for the tweet-bombing suffer from a sickness far worse than that which we have both survived. They have my pity. You have my admiration. ^..^~

  11.  Twitterbombing, if successful, is going to wreck somebody’s access to twitter until it dies down, because they have to wade through all the noise to get at the tweets they want to see.  Xeni was right to call it “spam” – it reminds of a lot of Canter and Siegel posting their green card spam separately to hundreds of Usenet newsgroups instead of one big crosspost.  It’s obviously rude, even if it does get the target’s attention, and you don’t need to be in on the s3kr1T unwritten rulez to know; you could have just asked your mom.

    Twitterbombing Oprah’s business account is probably annoying to her staff, but it’s presumably not something she’s reading personally, any more than she reads the email to oprah@oprah.com.

  12. The “bombing” part is a bit more unique here, but the whole “dumping on” part is pretty pervasive everywhere.  Once someone goes down the cruel or snark path, it’s a dash to see who can be “more.”  And rarely can it be stopped unless a pretty loud voice of reason can speak up.  

    You see it here when the OP or a moderator jumps in squarely on a side or with a snarky put down.  It’s effectively a wink and a nod that it’s OK to dump on someone or some topic, even if that’s undesired behavior. When anyone with power comes in hard (or harsh), people just naturally fall in; often with excessive zeal.

  13. I hope those unicorn strippers made it to your house all right, Xeni. They’re not very good with directions, especially when they’ve been eating special medical brownies. 

  14. I would be curious to see if it really was “outside” agitators who took it to the bad place or if it was people who decided Xeni needed to be “punished” for not doing what they demanded.

    Reminds me of the stupid stunt with the ugly ass robot head.  Hi random person vaguely involved in the tech we pimp.  We want you to wait for a certain day and time to type in a code in our website.  Now when we can’t get our shit together and actually accept your code, please enjoy our rabid followers flooding your twitter and the website you work for with their hate.  Don’t expect them to care you didn’t ask to participate, that you did put the code in and we screwed up, but relish in the hate we have unleashed on you.  And the reward for all of the codes going in?  Still a multiple day wait for them to have a chance to win the latest greatest superphone we will be discontinuing and replacing in 6 months.

    It is one thing to have a cause you believe in, it is another to share that cause with another but if they don’t share your viewpoint that should NEVER be a reason to be a raging cock about it.  Just look how well that tactic has worked for the **AA’s.

  15. Wow. Just imagine how many shit sandwiches those griefers must have to eat to be that toxic. Poor sad fucks.

      1. You’re classier than most.

        But then I am classic troll-bait, I’d have been up all night bashing in replies to those sick degenerates; capslock engaged.

  16. Twitter is a strange place.

    When I think of Twitter (in terms of content etc.) what manifests is actually the aggregated  posts of the people I follow, not the overall landscape.  Whenever I venture outside of my ‘bubble’ I see hate, bad grammar, ignorance and bile – it’s horrible out there!

    It’s like reading YouTube comments, or watching PopIdol; suddenly you realise that educated, empathic, socially/morally/culturally aware people are the minority.

    Which is actually really quite depressing.

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