17 Feb 2015

How one tweet ruined my life

This is the first time I speak about my ordeal with Twitter mobs in public, and I do it with a sense of duty and to raise awareness about the dangers of this kind of online bullying, in hope that we could learn something from this unpleasant episode.

The story begins yesterday around six in the evening, when I came across a website called It's Back To The Future Day! which proclaimed that today (yesterday) was the day that Marty McFly went forward to in Back to the Future, along with a picture of the dashboard of the car showing the actual day. So I tweeted the image with a line that said "If you want to feel really old, today is the 'future' in Back to the Future", not expecting that this single tweet would change my life forever.

Shortly afterwards someone tweeted me saying: "Today is a day for ANOTHER rude photoshoping. (sic) The real date is 21.10.2015." The tweet was disturbing for two reasons. Firstly, someone knew the actual date McFly went to in 2015 by heart, and by actual I mean pretend of course because it's a bloody movie in which nothing is really actual, and secondly, this was considered 'rude photoshoping'. I didn't make much of it however, and thought it was an over-zealous fan.

Soon after I was flooded with similar messages, of varying grammatical standards, but all saying pretty much the same thing. "No it isn't It's a hoax resurfacing for the 1000th time. The real date is Oct 21st." "no, it is not. Back to the Future day is October 21, 2015. Google before you tweet is the new think before you speak." and even more zealously: "21 October 2015. 21st October 2015. HOW HARD CAN IT BE TO JUST FUCKING WAIT?"

I quickly realised that I had inadvertently stumbled into the unpleasant underbelly of Twitter, infuriating a powerful lobby of Back to the Future truthers and accuracy guardians. The flood of corrective tweets didn't stop, I couldn't keep up with the mentions on my Twitter feed. The accusations were coming thick and fast, aiming at my most cherished attribute: my integrity. I couldn't eat or sleep as the burden of this ugly incident weighed on me. Those 45 minutes were really difficult.

Then things got even more complicated. Most people said that the real date was 21 October, but some said 16 October, and some others 26. I felt completely disorientated. What was the truth? What is the images people were sending me were also 'rudely photoshoped' and the real date wasn't 21 October at all? Maybe the 16-Octoberists were the holders of the truth and they were being silenced by the more powerful 21 October conglomeration? What future was there for humanity if we couldn't agree on this one date? I was experiencing a sense of loss in authority and intellectual framework very similar to what the West experienced after the end of the Cold War.

The someone tweeted me saying: "October 21, 2015. Watch the damn movie" and another "it's like you guys never watched the movie.....10/21/2015!" and another and another. I felt so worthless, my self-esteem hit rock-bottom. How could I have forgotten a date in a movie I had seen 25 years ago? I am clearly a loser. All those self-confident, attractive looking people had memorised this important date, and I had forgotten. My priorities in life were all wrong.

I considered deleting the offending tweet, but I remembered people are advised not to do that. Then I thought of deleting my Twitter account and disappearing from the public eye. But was there as escape in this age of social media and surveillance? Someone even threatened me: "I'm going to hurt you." Will I be able to run away from them?

Fortunately by now my bus journey was over and I had arrived home. In total I had spent an hour and a half in hell. All because I missed out the actual date by 8 months. I had been up against jihadi fanboys and dictator trolls on Twitter before but they weren't anywhere near as cruel or as savage as the Back to the Future zealots. This has left me completely broken. My therapist says I am making quick progress and I will, learn how to live with the trauma. I probably won't be able to watch Back to the Future ever again, but it's ok because the special effects were crap.

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Karl reMarks is a blog about Middle East politics and culture with a healthy dose of satire.

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