Twitter is a tool for sharing. Sharing a link, a photo, a thought. Twitter is at its best during shared experiences. When we’re all talking about the same thing. The Grammys, Mad Men, the collapse of the National Football League.
No other medium can touch Twitter’s capacity for hosting a digital riot. The very idea of a “trending topic” is to funnel people into herds, and once people get into herds, that’s when bricks start flying through storefront windows.
So we wonder, did Twitter save the NFL?
The league got digitally ransacked Monday night, when the Botch Heard Round The World gave the Seattle Seahawks an undeserved win over the Green Bay Packers. It was chaos. So chaotic, actually, that by the wee hours of Tuesday morning the NFL had decided it wouldn’t be fining players for their public criticism of the officials, which included a tweet by Packers lineman T.J. Lang that became the most retweeted tweet in the history of tweets. The mob was too big and too out of control to be passing out parking tickets. The NFL just needed to get the fire under control.
By the wee hours of Wednesday night, the league and its officials agreed to a deal, ending the era of the replacement refs starting with Thursday night’s game in Baltimore between the Ravens and Browns.
Twitter, the Millennial Generation’s own personal “Detached Snark Machine,” may have actually ended a labor negotiation. How about that?
Or it may not have. There is, of course, no way to tell. For one thing, only about 10 percent of Americans have active Twitter accounts. And the people who actively use Twitter tend to be a little younger, and a lot more likely to feel like they need someplace to express their thoughts. Combined with the way Twitter functions, with the hashtags, the trending topics and the ability for each user to completely customize the feed he sees on his screen, and you have the perfect soup for digital mob creation.
Which makes it perfectly dismissable to those with an interest in dismissing it. These are just the crazy ones.
We have seen this effect before. Quite recently, in fact. NBC got pounded on Twitter, day after day after day, for its tape-delayed coverage of the Olympics. Anybody who uses the Internet as a normal part of their day – especially Twitter users – found it nearly impossible to watch NBC’s coverage of major events without having already learned the results. And this was infuriating. I was personally infuriated, and I vented about it on Twitter. Everybody did.
The essence of the network’s response was, “Our ratings are higher than ever, so … sorry.” NBC’s Michelle Beadle actually used the condescending and unrealistic, “If you don’t want the results spoiled for you, stay off the Internet,” argument, which is sort of like when people say that if you don’t like the price of gas, you can just stop driving your car.
NBC could not have cared less. Because, as Deion Sanders once said, “If it don’t make dollars, it don’t make sense.” We crazies on Twitter were treated like Occupy protesters or a toddler in a tantrum – if you ignore us, eventually we’ll scream ourselves out and fall asleep.
I couldn’t blame NBC for that. It is in the business of attracting eyeballs to its programming, and if it was doing that better than ever, well, what argument do I have against it?
So I was skeptical the public outrage would make much of a difference to the bulletproof NFL. As Steve Young said it on the broadcast that night, the demand for the NFL product is inelastic.
There was a lot of bluster from a lot of people out there about how they were “done” with the NFL until the real referees were back, and I was prepared for the NFL to call that bluff. I was calling it myself. The Monday Night Football game was a mess, but Monday night was one of the most entertaining sports nights of my life. I didn’t want it to end. I didn’t want to wake up on Tuesday and see all the fires extinguished and the streets cleaned.
Don’t act like you didn’t love hating the replacement refs. And don’t act like you wouldn’t have tuned in next week, secretly hoping for another debacle. You sado-masochists, you. You’d have joined the herd once again.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s defining characteristic in six years on the job has been insecure self-importance. He is The Great and Powerful Oz, great balls of fire shooting out around his head. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
I did not see an NFL led by that man paying any mind to us brats on Twitter. And maybe it didn’t. Maybe the owners themselves were just as fed up as the rest of us. Maybe they’d have reached this conclusion on their own. But I doubt it.
Because sometimes it takes a riot to get people to listen.