On Monday, something happened which I feel the need to address. I found a picture of a particularly depressing piece of pizza on Twitter. I saw a couple other folks making jokes about this pizza. And I decided to make a joke about something I’m very familiar with: Journalism.
Little did I know that I would be responsible for creating a tweet so viral that it had the potential to crash my phone.
Every headline on the internet pic.twitter.com/v3YqSSk08E— Ernie Smith (@ShortFormErnie) February 26, 2018
Now, 175,000-some likes and 60,000 retweets later, I’d like to share some of my thoughts about this unusual incident, which I think need to be discussed.
- No, I didn’t see this coming. I saw an opportunity to make a joke that would play well with my other followers, who are mostly fellow journalists, media people, or people who know me from this newsletter and website. Most of my jokes fail to draw any attention whatsoever.
- No, it wasn’t my pizza. I saw other people tweeting it and assumed it was the second coming of guy-looks-at-girl-in-front-of-his-girlfriend. Fortunately, about a day and a half after I posted it, the guy who did take the photo surfaced, brought in by an Anthony Fantano retweet. (Side note, I enjoy the work of Mr. Fantano.) I was quick to give him credit—as soon as the thing picked up I was looking for the original creator, and he had been hard to find. If you post a meme and it goes unexpectedly viral, you will run into this.
- An effective meme can be applied to any situation. I think the thing that surprised me the most about this tweet was how malleable it was. Yes, it worked for journalists like me who sometimes get puffed-up headlines placed on stories by their editors. But also, people who hate clickbait. People who feel like the news media misleads them. People who ignored my joke and decided to add one of their own instead. And people who think mainstream news is “fake news.” I was most uncomfortable with the folks who used the tweet to push forth their political opinions (Sebastian Gorka, for example, retweeted this tweet), but in the end, it was just a tweet with a joke that could be applied in a lot of ways.
- Your phone will become useless. When I noted to my wife that my phone was flashing repeatedly with notifications, preventing me from going to sleep, she made a point that it was the definition of a first-world problem, far from the worst thing to happen in the last month. And while it was frustrating, she was certainly correct. But if this does happen to you, a couple of recommendations: One, mute the thread, so all those notifications will stop coming in. And two, don’t get caught in the thread. Ultimately, this is happening on your feed, but you can’t keep looking at your phone. You have a job and other things to worry about.
- Yes, your joke will get stolen. Deal with it. I wasn’t responsible for the photo, but I did write the words. And inevitably, those words showed up, without my name, on Reddit and a bunch of other places. You will get no joy from worrying about this. It’s a meme. Just appreciate that you made a few people laugh for three seconds.
I’ve been joking in the last couple of days that this tweet has gotten more retweets than my entire career up to this point. And perhaps it has. But in the end, it’s a diversion.
There are tweets that I put up all the time that I personally think are more interesting than that pizza. Those don’t get 0.0001% of the notice. Should I change what I find interesting because I got lucky with some tweet? No way.
It was fun to see something on my feed go super-viral. But personally, I’d be fine if it never happened again.
Do things that matter to you. Don’t chase the next dumb joke.