Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Hot TwittAir

One of my students sent a link that wisked me to a webpage celebrating a counter-protest by a bunch of folks outside Twitter offices in San Francisco.   The instigating protest was staged by Westboro Baptist Church, those folks who bring you fallen soldier funeral protests, among other obnoxious protest behaviors.  The church believes all the world's ills are a result of our tolerance of homosexuality, and other blasphemous behaviors. 

And they apparently believe they've been singled out like Jonah to bear witness.  Unlike Jonah, however, they don't shy from their task, and they do it with all the panache and guerilla marketing technique they can muster.

Westboro's exploitation of other people's pain strikes me as particularly indecent and malicious - anything but God-like - but it is one of our beautiful American values that one may proclaim one's views, no matter how abhorent.  Freedom of speech, guaranteed.  No questions asked.

Westboro's antics were the topic of one of the first case studies in my ethics class this semester.  The Church had threatened to picket outside the funeral of Christina Taylor-Green, the eleven year old who was shot along with Congresswoman Gabby Giffords in front of a supermarket at a neighborhood meet-n-greet.  A deal was struck, although I'm not clear that it finally happened, for a spokesperson from the Church to appear on two Phoenix talk shows in exchange for staying away from Christina's funeral. 

My class talked about whether it is the better part of ethics to make this deal to protect the well-being of Christina's family, which has already been deeply hurt, or whether it is worse to reward this group's compassionless antics by giving them an on-air bully pulpit.  My class understandably was split down the middle.  This is one of those "lesser of two evils" type choices with no right answers. 

By contrast, WBC's Twitter protest did not mark a solemn occasion.  In fact, it's hard to be solemn when pronouncing the word "Twitter."  It's a darn funny word.  Twitter, and all the terms it's spawned into our lexicon - tweet, retweet, friendapoluza, twitterer, twitterzine, tweeple and more, just seems to motivate fun and creativity.  Maybe because of the inherent levity, the tweeps' counter-protest solutions were better than the solution proposed by the City of Tucson. 

Indeed, the twitter generated signage brilliantly drew media attention away from the Church's tiresome blather and shifted it to their own parallel display of jabberwoky

The counter-signs were vaguely about nothing at all.

"I was promised donuts," said one.  "ME," said another. 

And by being about nothing at all, managed to impart to onlookers how meaningless and empty-headed a slogan can be.   Signs, the display said, are just words.  They do not impart authority or moral truth.

Say what you will, the brattish signs taunted, none of it means a goll darn thing. 

Sometimes, the best defense is a good laugh.

WBC Tries to Protest at Twitter from Ed Hunsinger on Vimeo.

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