Twitter Firestorms: Bullying or Not?

By: Morgan Wilkes

We see it all the time on Twitter. The “Show This Thread” option that unveils hundreds, sometimes thousands of replies filled with commentary based on the original tweet. Sometimes these threads are funny. But other times, they unveil a firestorm attacking like a mob.

Recently, a New Jersey woman attending University of Alabama was the star of one of these threads.  Harley Barber, now a hashtag on Twitter and the start of many threads is the latest person to experience a true Twitter firestorm. In a video captured by screen recording her ‘sinsta’ or ‘finsta,’ a secret second Instagram popular among many young people due to the ability to post more vulgar or extreme content on. In the video, racial slurs can be heard along with her sorority name.

The replies were in such large quantities that the school’s president came out with a statement on the issue  and her former sorority has made their Instagram account private to subdue the public outcry.

Scrolling through the replies and retweets, Barber is called almost every profanity imaginable. The threads enumerate those who are genuinely disgusted by what she did, highlight other examples of her less than wholesome nature and at some points greet her with the same level of hostility and aggression she herself gave in the original content.

There is no doubt, what she did is not okay. Even her mother stated that she deserved to be expelled.

At a certain point though, it has to be asked, how much of a response is too much? People often find being in a group more affirming of their actions, no matter how extreme. While what Barber did definitely is not by any means acceptable or okay, is the response a prime example of how ‘an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind’?

Controversial content is expected to be met with a barrage, or firestorm, from people who do not agree because of the ease of speaking out on Twitter, but is that always the right option? The firestorm mentality is a tricky one because there is a certain level of anonymity in a crowd of like-minded people. When people band together over one common goal, in the case of controversial Twitter threads, they begin to mimic the often depicted blob of a mob in cartoons, you can only see the first row or two of people, then they become a generic hue, all becoming one, cohesive shape.

Is this mob mentality bullying? Is a firestorm of tweets really the appropriate way to handle these issues? Is it really fair to respond with equal force? When are those responding crossing the line?

Photo Source: https://www.ua.edu/about/history

This Article Has 3 Comments
  1. Milla Hansen says:

    This is a great post and I think it is a very hot topic right now because so many people are logging into social media sites (as themselves or as a fake account) and going off on others. I think that Harley Barber should have known as soon as she posted this to her social media, even her finsta, that there was going to be backlash. It is just common knowledge to not harass anyone (verbally or physically) and ESPECIALLY if you are going to post it on social. I believe that maybe some of the comments are a little harsh but if she is old enough and “mature” enough to post that video, she is old enough and mature enough to take what she deserves. Each case is a little different though in regards to how rude the comments are.

  2. Milla Hansen says:

    This is a great post and I think it is a very hot topic right now because so many people are logging into social media sites (as themselves or as a fake account) and going off on others. I think that Harley Barber should have known as soon as she posted this to her social media, even her finsta, that there was going to be backlash. It is just common knowledge to not harass anyone (verbally or physically) and ESPECIALLY if you are going to post it on social. I believe that maybe some of the comments are a little harsh but if she is old enough and “mature” enough to post that video, she is old enough and mature enough to take what she deserves.

  3. Aubree Tolley says:

    Great post Morgan! It’s interesting to think about how all mob mentality is in a way bullying. The actions of Harley Barber were not okay and she deserved the severe consequences (kicked out of school etc). But I think some of the social media firestorm mob mentality turned into bullying. The tweets that were not educational and informative about racism etc. but just hatred saying, “go die in a hole you racist SH*T” is not furthering the conversation, but adding hate and promoting bullying.

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