Public figures, companies, and everyday people often have a habit of prolonging the controversy they happen to court. It isn’t enough to extinguish a fire with an apology or deleting an account, so instead we tend to dive head-first into the vortex and attempt to climb out by wielding more combative tweets or comments.
Of course, I’m talking about the concept of “tweeting through it,” which follows a near identical playbook whenever it occurs: Say something stupid, draw backlash, deflect blame from said backlash by criticizing everyone else pointing the finger at you, and implode spectacularly and embarrassingly.
What does ‘tweeting through it’ look like?
For a timely example, take a look at recent tweets from e-commerce giant Amazon, which has been quibbling with politicians on Twitter all week. In particular, the company has been employing the kind of snark that’s characteristic of big brands on the platform, albeit in reference to allegations of appalling labor conditions at one of its fulfillment centers.
Amazon is clearly groused by this week’s flak, and has continued to lock horns with public officials over separate issues, with even CEO Dave Clark getting in on the act. It’s been a monumental exercise in tweeting through it, employed by a corporate monolith that could have probably let the pile-on slip into the internet’s vacuous memory if it had only kept its mouth shut.
There are plenty of other examples people—both prominent and humble—who’ve treaded this dangerous, predictible, and hilarious path. There’s Elon Musk, former president Trump, the journalists Glenn Greenwald and Allison Roman, in addition to ephemeral villains like Bean Dad and Cheese Wife Guy.
Since this is a faux pas that anyone can commit, regardless of their online platforms, it’s worth it to examine what you might do instead of tweeting through it in disastrous fashion.
What to do instead
Perhaps it’s instinct to claw back immediately from a spectacular downfall, but it rarely works. Committing a grave error on social media—whether it be falsely accusing someone of being a pedophile or publishing ableist tweets—and the fallout that inevitably ensues, has become its own cultural canon at this point, with at least one New York Times best-seller dedicated to the topic.
We should know by now how the dynamic works and how to approach it: Instead of defending yourself to a bunch of strangers on the internet, delete your app, or your account entirely. Decompress and allow yourself the serenity of existing in the organic, physical world where people thousands of miles away aren’t directing their ire squarely at your transgressions. You can breathe fresh air and perhaps approach the situation with clearer eyes. From there, you can begin to clear your name, atone for the dumpster you’ve set alight, or choose to continue to ignore it altogether.
Think about the situation from other people’s perspective
Perhaps hubris is the driving force behind all those who tweet through it. If you’re waging a social media offensive in an attempt to defend your actions, chances are you’re not thinking about anyone else but yourself—and that’s not how you win an argument.
You’ve clearly offended someone, so now the question you might ask is why. Once you start to look at the specifics of your actions and the response it’s garnered, you’ll notice that doubling down isn’t very productive.
Consider the merits of apologizing the right way
People who tweet through it often perform an about-face and muster some kind of simpering mea culpa. I frame those apologies as such because it’s possible to use a defense-mechanism in your apology that puts the onus on your enemies, rather than yourself.
As a general practice, never say “I’m sorry if people were offended,” or “I’m sorry if your feelings were hurt.” This will only spur more outrage, because it makes the situation about the response to your words or actions, and not about your actions. Remember, apologizing is an act of catharsis, and it demonstrates personal growth, or at least the initiative to learn.
If you’ve really churned the waters and garnered a tidal wave of retribution, write down on apology in a Word document, or on an online publisher like Medium, then share that with the world. Thoughtfully engage with the substance of the gripes aimed at you, and do your best to redeem yourself. That’s ultimately a lot more endearing than firing off angry and incredulous tweets at your detractors, which, as we know full well by now, never works.