I stared at my phone in shock. The notifications would not stop. For literally 90 minutes straight, my phone was lit up from people sharing the tweet, liking it and leaving comments. For the next 27 hours, there was a steady stream of notifications — several per minute — before they finally ceased.
What would cause something like that to happen? Well, I went viral on Twitter and felt the online wrath of the Trump-loving right. The night before, Tim Murtaugh, director of communications for Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, had tweeted a photograph of an overflow crowd who could not fit into the arena where Trump was having a rally. He claimed there were 10,000 people inside, and 5,000 outside in his picture. I re-tweeted the photograph and added my own comment: “A sea of idiocy.”
Now, this isn’t the space to defend if what I did was right or wrong; good or poor taste is subjective. I sent my tweet, went to bed, and woke up to a firestorm. A screenshot of my tweet was posted by an account called @TrumpWarRoom, which claims in its bio to be “highlighting ... #PromisesKept, fighting #FakeNews.” They also offer the warning, “This account punches back 10 times harder.” It also says they are “Managed by #TeamTrump 2020 campaign.”
They took a screenshot of my tweet and added, “An editor at @wvgazettemail newspaper in Charleston, @chris_slater, calls @RealDonaldTrump supporters idiots. RETWEET if you are a PROUD DEPLORABLE!”
Let’s just say that there are a lot of real proud deplorables out there, as it was shared more than 1,100 times. In what feels like a common theme from this group of right-wing trolls, the attempted character assassination began. They first began going through my tweet history, trying to pull up offensive things I had said. People were sending tweets to the Gazette-Mail that they were canceling their subscriptions (never mind the fact that none of these people were from West Virginia, nor had they likely ever read the paper). They were posting doctored images claiming that I had deleted my original tweet.
And then came the personal attacks. My appearance — mostly about my forehead (which apparently is so big, it’s a fivehead) and my nose. Several of them implied that I was gay, due to my long hair and earrings. Probably the weirdest thing I heard throughout the day was that I had a diet high in soy; which I’m assuming is trying to imply I’m a vegan (and as a result, gay) — as if that’s some sort of slur.
The insults came in waves, and it was time consuming to go through all of them, but I’m still trying to figure out how many of them were real people and how many were bots designed to throw out a far-right insult. This seemed like an army of Trump supporters with a Pavlovian response — that tweet set off the bell, and they immediately jumped up in blind anger.
I hope most of them weren’t real. I would hate to believe that more than 1,000 people have this kind of existence — waiting around for their MAGA rallying cry and jumping into action blindly.
I wonder what was the desired outcome? Did they want to just upset me? Ostracize me? Did they want to get me fired from my job? When I came into work that day, I found somebody higher up on the food chain than myself and asked if there had been any weird calls about me.
At that point, I still had no clue how far these people were going to take it. Knowing I was a journalist, I had a few tweets calling me “the enemy of the people,” a term the president has used often. Reading those angry tweets made me think of the 2018 shooting in a Maryland newsroom — five journalists were killed and two more wounded by some crazy man with a vendetta. I didn’t respond to a single tweet, and didn’t do anything to provoke them past lobbing insults at me.
People have assumed I was gay since the sixth grade, so hearing it in 2019 didn’t faze me. I’d never thought my forehead was that big, but whatever. Those insults were harmless, for the most part. But, imagine if I had not been a cisgender white male — what if I had been a woman, or African American, or Muslim?
I posted about this on Facebook. Michael Ihle, former mayor of Ravenswood and a schoolmate of mine, commented, “I don’t think it’s any more acceptable for them to insult you as it is for you to insult them.” I’m going to trust Ihle on this one — he knows a thing or two about making inappropriate comments on Twitter.
If there is a lesson to learn here, I guess maybe we should try to be nicer and more civil toward each other. Will it work? I don’t know. Did I learn my lesson? No, not really. The only thing that experience taught me is the sea of idiocy I tweeted about is far worse than I ever imagined.