Justine Bateman called to talk to us about how she called some Twitter users "human waste" and "jackass" the other day. And, in about a half an hour, the screenwriter and prolific Tumblr-er distilled some important lessons for everyone.
The conversation, then, was not entirely unlike Bateman's old show Family Ties. Bateman learned something. Twitter learned something. We learned something. Everyone grew, just a little.
Bateman's name calling yesterday began after she started seeing posts in her incoming Twitter stream from people — and, crucially, businesses — she had not subscribed to. West Elm. Vanity Fair. Then blogger John Gruber, and a Twitter engineer, and an online humorist. There was, she says, no indication that of where the content came from. Bateman thus figured Twitter was selling placement to these people, whom she quickly branded "shitheads" and so forth.
It turns out Twitter Inc. had accidentally pushed out a very incomplete version "Project Re-Tweet," a previously-announced feature that changed the formatting for posts republished by your Twitter friends. Instead of having your friends' names and pictures attached, the re-posts would use the name and picture of the original author, while attributing it all to your friends. In Twitter's accidental deployment, the feature had no attribution.
Bateman feels badly about what happened. So does Twitter, which reached out to the celebrity. And Bateman think there's a lesson in this for us, too: That she's not the technological bumbler Gawker has made her out to be. In fact she's testified to the U.S. Senate on the geeky political issue of Net Neutrality, and has staked her future on her online production company. We did not know that! Let's review the various lessons.
For Bateman: Bateman said she loves that Tumblr offers her the opportunity to speak directly, including to critics and people she's upset with, without going through layers of publicists. "Do I write back sharply? Ya, it comes off like that." In this case, that strength became a liability:
"Did I react too quickly? Yes... I'm used to the Tumblr community. I forget people in the media are following my blog... It's like [on Tumblr] saying to your friends, 'Can you believe this shit?'"
"I had an immediate reaction... it reminds me of when they put ads at head of feature films. It's like an incessant streams of ads before you see your movie." Bateman later elaborated on the differences between the two situations, but you get the idea.
"My lesson is: next time I'll email the founders of the company. And wait 24 hours before I do." Bateman has since contacted the people she name-called and, in deference to their good names, she says, removed her posts about them.
For Twitter: Bateman said the microblogging service's co-founders assured her that the incident was a glitch, and that they don't intend to monetize Twitter through post placement, despite those tweets from West Elm and Vanity Fair. She wrote about the conversation on her blog, and co-founder Evan Williams has acknowledged a "bug" involving a premature re-tweet rollout. This is basically just more of the same technical hiccups the service has become famous for, but amplified by the large celebrity user base it has grown over the past year or so. Lesson: When you're a hangout for Hollywood glitterati, your screw-ups make much bigger waves.
For Gawker: We've written about Bateman's technological lash-outs in the past: Over Tumblr re-posts, a comment calling her an excellent "white whine"-r and referencing an internet meme, and now the Twitter thing. These incidents don't represent Justine Bateman banging her head against the internet, Justine Bateman says, so much as Justine Bateman asserting her relatively deep knowledge of the internet. Bateman says she's tech savvy, far savvier than she's been made out to be in Gawker (of which she says (savvily) she's a fan).
Bateman's worried our portrayal of her is going to hurt business: Her s online production company, FM78.tv, is looking for sponsors. "It's my whole life, my whole future." Bateman points to her online marketing campaign for Ikea, as well as to her testimony to a U.S. Senate committee (see below) to promote the cause of Net Neutrality, which concerns how ISPs handle internet traffic and which is an issue that tends to preoccupy mainly, well, internet nerds. Internet nerds like Justine Bateman.
We'd add another lesson: We wrote that Twtter's "labeling wasn't clear enough for Bateman," and this was wrong: it turns out Twitter did no labeling at all. There was an assumption about Twitter's engineering embedded in our error, and it turns out, you really can't assume things about people or companies on the internet. Just ask Justine Bateman!