What’s more likely is that most of us say five or six provocative things a day about our friends, co-workers, the baristas at our coffee shop, ethnic groups, athletes, celebrities, politicians, other public figures, and anybody else who falls into our sightlines. Depending on the subject, we either mutter the comments so nobody can be outraged, or we pick an audience sympathetic to our views, thereby staying out of trouble.
In the pre-Twitter days, nobody could attract an audience of a hundred or a thousand instantaneously unless they hosted a radio show or commandeered a stage. Even daily newspaper columnists, who mine controversy for a living, had to triple-jump over an editor, a copy desk, and space constraints to deposit a barbed idea in print. Blogs have always had the potential to “offend,” but I don’t recall them having provoked the sort of responses tweets do. Perhaps composing more than 140 characters at a time pushes the id back a little bit, as my colleague Timothy Noah says.
The thing that makes tweets most vulnerable is that the Twitter interface lends itself perfectly to expressing the anger of the busybodies who take umbrage at the simpliest statement. They can amplify the original comment via retweets and re-retweets to the point that they spark a technological lynching.