Guilty by association? Twitter thinks so.

Increasingly a breed of news reporting, that started as an easy way to include public opinion, is deciding what is news itself. This is, of course, the tweet-littered article with little original reporting to be seen. In my experience, journalists who use this tactic seem to have an uncanny ability to somehow filter their search to find the most toxic and extreme tweets and including them in lieu of the more nuanced (and less angry) tweets.

Now, I’m not saying that all tweets are without value in reporting. Tweets can be quite effective in including what people of many countries and cultures are thinking in a concise way. Not being limited to those willing to be interviewed in the local community, Twitter provides an avenue to include a multitude of voices to an article otherwise without context.

What I do find issue with though, is journalists culling tweets to create a hurricane out of raindrops and a breeze. Far from bringing a spotlight to original reporting coming about on Twitter, these stories take internet discussions and blow them up to be news stories that should’ve just stayed in their original medium.

The latest example of this is the recent backlash against Ellen Degeneres for being seen sitting next to President George W. Bush at Texas football game. Many stormed to twitter angered by the sight of a queer icon laughing next to the former-president who championed a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, among many other reprehensible actions.

What I saw when I delved into this story was that it all apparently began with this picture, some angry tweets, and journalists giving it the platform it needed to explode.


This is what infuriates me. This story began because it gave these angry tweets not just attention, but credence, bringing in hundreds of thousands of more to the conversation. Even worse, this didn’t start with (as I thought before delving in) Ellen praising Bush for being a great president or saying that we should forgive his actions in an unprompted statement. Instead it began with a picture of Ellen sitting next to President George W. Bush and people spinning a seating arrangement to equate to an endorsement or acquittal.

“Ellen DeGeneres will not be Twitter-shamed for who she spends time with.” —CNN

Putting aside whether you agree or not that you can be friends with those you disagree with, this story struck me with its underlying message of guilt by association. While now we know that Ellen doubled-down and called the former-president a friend, it was a response to the story that was already churning out pure vitriol at a woman who dared sit next to someone that the Twitter Left hates.

This is the true danger, not Ellen for sitting next to someone with an abysmal record on LGBTQ+ rights at a football game, but rather allowing callout culture to thrive and expand. To “cancel” someone simply for sitting next to someone with views you disagree with is reminiscent of authoritarian tactics that punish not just those who go against the state, but anyone they are seen with.

Extremist ways of thinking are dangerous and it’s irresponsible to leave them unchecked, regardless of what side of the ideological spectrum they’re coming from. Though it’s Twitter today, these frame of thoughts can slowly build up and reach a place that rationalizes guilty-by-association verdicts.

What journalists should be wary of is giving credence to thoughts of the loudest by reporting them and in the process making them newsworthy. By doing so, these sort of tweets are given an audience to readers without analysis or context by the writer to mitigate harmful takeaways. I’m no expert, but this seems like something the Twitter search function is fully capable of all by itself.


If you’d like to read an article that resembles my perspective on the story itself, here’s one titled “What the friendship of Ellen DeGeneres and George W. Bush should teach us.”
And if you aren’t bored yet, here’s one that I agree with entirely: Ellen Degeneres and George W. Bush are friends. So what?


2 thoughts on “Guilty by association? Twitter thinks so.

Add yours

  1. I feel that this is an important conversation to have. I’m actually glad that this picture, and criticism about what it shows, took off on twitter. I don’t predict that Ellen is going to suffer a massive fallout because of her choice to sit next to Bush. She’s still going to have hundreds of millions of dollars and a hugely popular talk show, she’s just going to have a few less fans now. I can’t think of very many instances in which “cancel culture” has actually ruined someone’s career. I think that comparing it to authoritarianism is extreme. Ellen has the right to sit next to whoever she wants, and people have the right to criticize her for it. I think that journalists discussed this issue because it is extremely culturally relevant to us at this moment in time, not just because it was a popular topic on Twitter.


  2. I feel like so few people understand that Ellen is closer to being friends with George W. than with them. People personalize Ellen, believing she’s their friend when they’re nowhere near her financial or social circle. George W. Bush may have run on the fact that he was going to outlaw gay marriage, but at the end of the day, Ellen is so far removed (wealth wise) that any law put in place will only marginally affect her. Ellen being in Twitter’s poor favor doesn’t even matter, either. She’s still on the air, she will still go on.


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