Ah, social media. Without you, how would we be able to see wedding pictures of people we vaguely remember from high school, or tweet angry messages at complete strangers? It would all be impossible without the magic that is the Internet and social media. We also wouldn't have these sometimes funny, sometimes downright depressing controversies to look at. Here are some of the biggest social media controversies of 2014.
Context is key, but on social media (especially on Twitter, where users must condense their thoughts into 140 characters) there is little of it to be found. You can thank lack of context then for one of 2014's most infamous social media firestorms, when thousands rallied to the banner #CancelColbert after reading what they perceived to be an incredibly insensitive and racist tweet.
It all happened when the person over at Comedy Central running the @ColbertReport (not Stephen) tweeted part of a segment from the previous night's show that made obvious fun of Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder and his refusal to change the team's name. Instead, Snyder created a charity for Native American's (with the name Redskins in the title) in an effort to show his organization's support for Native Americans.
In response, Colbert had the following to say, but when seen on Twitter without the context of Snyder and the Redskins, it looked as if Colbert was just kind of being a jerk.
"I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever."
Of course, Colbert didn't get canceled, but it would only be a short time later before he announced he would be leaving the show to take over Late Night from David Letterman. Maybe they canceled Colbert after all.
Bill Cosby Memes Backfire (Big Time)
Perhaps social media has never backfired as spectacularly as it did for Bill Cosby in November. The 77-year-old comedian (or whoever runs his social media accounts) asked fans to "meme" him on Twitter with an official Cosby meme generator, and even provided a few lighthearted examples.
Then things went downhill. Fast. Instead of making wholesome, funny pictures of Cosby, the Internet lashed out at the actor for his numerous rape allegations, blasting him for sexual assault allegations that date back to the 1970s and continue today. In 2004, reports surfaced that Cosby had sexually abused at least 13 women. "Look at this wacky shirt I'm wearing, also I am a serial rapist," one meme reads. Another says, "My two favorite things: Jello pudding and rape."
Needless to say, the meme generator quickly was taken offline and the initial "meme" invitation tweet deleted.
Shaq Mocks Disabled Man
Pro tip: If you are a celebrity, it's probably not a good idea to mock random strangers. Nonetheless, that is exactly what Shaquille O'Neal did on Instagram earlier this year when he posted a side-by-side picture of himself contorting his face to look like that of fan Jahmel Binion along with the caption "SMILE TODAY." Turns out Binion has a disorder known as ectodermal dysplasia, which causes his hair and teeth to grow abnormally.
It's not likely Shaq knew that at the time, but making fun of fans (regardless if they have a disorder or not) is never a good idea. Shaq took to Twitter to say he personally apologized to the man, but that didn't change the fact that all his followers got to see him act like a total jerk.
Creepy James Franco Hits On Girl Via Instagram
Another celebrity pro-tip: If you are going to try and pick up extremely young women (in this case, a 17-year-old) it's best not to do it on social media. After James Franco met a girl named Lucy at an autograph signing, the two took an Instagram video together with Franco saying "Tag me."
She did, and Franco then proceeded to follow her on Instagram before sending a number of direct messages asking for her age, phone number, where she was staying and when her birthday was. Creeper status, engage.
The two then swapped numbers and text messages, with Lucy telling Franco to prove his identity with pictures. Which he did. Twice. Then she promised not to tell anybody about their conversation. A promise she totally ignored. Maybe Instagram isn't the best place to be hooking up with women? Since then Franco apologized, kind of, and admits to flirting with the underage girl. Then a few months later he started posting semi-nude photos of himself on Instagram and it was weird.
All of #Gamergate
Oh, boy. Where to even begin? What at first started as an angry ex-boyfriend's blog post spilling private information about the life of female game developer Zoe Quinn soon became an Internet crapfest the likes of which few have lived to see.
Quinn, the creator of the game Depression Quest, was quickly turned into a target for having a relationship with video game critic Nathan Grayson. Some claimed Quinn slept with Grayson (and others) for favorable coverage of her game. Very little of that turned out to be actually true (Quinn is in a relationship with Grayson, but the "coverage" is virtually nonexistent) but that didn't stop gamers from attacking Quinn on social media, sending her death threats, giving out her personal information and claiming gaming websites were corrupt to the core.
In what can only be described as incredibly poor timing, feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian released the latest episode of her "Tropes vs. Women in Video Games" episode around the same time as the Quinn incident. Her YouTube series criticizes many video games for their lazy depictions of women and the violence displayed toward them. Already riled up by the liberal, feminist Quinn and the failure of the video game press to crucify her, gamers lashed out and harassed Sarkeesian on social media as well, though for Sarkeesian this was hardly new.
But the movement would truly be born with the release of a series of news articles discussing the idea of the "gamer" as a social identity. The articles appeared on a number of major video game news sites and discussed recent blog posts from video game critics that talked about the stereotypical gamer identity and the hostility toward outsiders that it seemed to create. Many sites claimed the identity of the gamer was no longer needed.
It was in many ways the last straw for those already fed up with the gaming media. Supporters of #Gamergate flocked to the hashtag with renewed fury. In truly ironic fashion, they proved gamers were not in fact dead by proceeding to prove the hostility and "boy's club" mentality that critics like Sarkeesian and others have long spoken against by shouting down any who disagreed with their viewpoint. The harassment was so bad that the New York Times even ran a front page story about the movement, after Sarkeesian canceled a lecture at Utah State University when she received an anonymous email from a person that claimed they would shoot and kill Sarkeesian if she was allowed to speak.
#Gamergate supporters claim they are against harassment and are a "consumer revolt" fighting for ethics in video game journalism, but the hashtag will long be remembered by everybody else as the banner of an angry social media mob.
Patton Oswalt's Fake Tweets
If there is one social media controversy that can truly be labeled "the best," it has to be the Internet rage created by actor and comedian Patton Oswalt.
Back in May, Oswalt sent out a number of apology tweets that appeared to be Oswalt making up for poor judgment. He said he deleted his previous offensive tweets, while at the same time "recapping" the essence of what those tweets said. Below are a few examples.
Yikes. Had to delete another Tweet. I crossed a line on that one. Also, I thought 12 YEARS A SLAVE and THE BUTLER were brilliant.
— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) May 7, 2014
Forgive me. Previous Tweet deleted. Sorry. Yes, we all know what "grape", "ape", "tape" & "cape" rhyme with. I'm an asshole. — Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) May 7, 2014
Fans (Oswalt has nearly 2 million followers) were up in arms. How could Oswalt be so insensitive, many claimed? And of course, because this is Twitter we are talking about, he received numerous death threats and calls for him to "fall into a fucking dumpster."
But the joke was on them. Oswalt decided to try a "social experiment" to see what people's reactions would be. Oswalt never deleted any tweets, and he never tweeted anything offensive. All of his "fake" apology tweets were simply a means to draw out the trolls and bask in their wonderful ignorance. Bravo, Mr. Oswalt. Bravo.