But what has changed, of course, is the scale and speed of such behavior, as well as the costs of taking action. Back when remote controls were connected to TVs via cords, if a talking head said something stupid, the chatter and fist-waving of viewers usually stayed within their immediate social groups. To take action, you had to drive to the grocery store, buy some cardboard and markers, drive home, think of a compelling slogan, make a sign, drive to the network’s headquarters, stand out in the rain, catch a cold and miss three days of work.
Now @daddy_san and countless other Twitter cops can instantaneously trash CNN’s King over his reporting, and then watch the retweets and replies pile up, get embedded in stories by other media outlets and multiply the outrage.
“I respond off an internal moral compass. If it’s inherently wrong and I feel so very deeply, I call it out,” said @daddy_san, who is 33 but declined to have his name published. (Another important tool of the Twitter Police is undercover operations.) “I can ping John King directly to tell him he was a colossal idiot, and chances are, he’ll see it. He may choose not to respond or dismiss me as a troll, but he’ll see it. Awareness is the first step.”
And it’s not just nameless @daddy_sans of the Twitterverse that take part in big-time busts. After King’s errant report, PBS NewsHour host Gwen Ifill tweeted this: “Disturbing that it’s OK for TV to ID a Boston bombing suspect only as ‘a dark-skinned individual.’ ” She became a Twitter cop and then, after generating more than 800 retweets, a Twitter Police victim. “The hounds of Twitter hell were unleashed,” she wrote on her blog, saying “conspiracy theorists” on the right and left interpreted her comment as being about race, when in fact, “I was talking about journalism.”
Victims of the Twitter Police think that officers tend to shoot first and ask questions later. Consider one early offender, former CNN analyst Roland Martin, whose tweets during the 2012 Super Bowl sent SWAT teams to @rolandsmartin, decrying him as homophobic. Martin still maintains that his tweets — saying that “real bruhs” shouldn’t like a David Beckham underwear commercial and that “if a dude at your Super Bowl party is hyped” about the ad, “smack the ish out of him!” — were part of his long tradition of soccer-bashing, not gay-bashing.