Someone I’ve interacted with on Twitter was recently involved in a Twitter “beef” with some other parties that were unfamiliar to me. It was mostly pettiness that started over a comment with racial overtones. The exchange went on for hours, which is the equivalent of the Mesozoic Era in Twitter time, and I had happened upon it already in progress. As I scrolled to read the full back and forth, I found myself repeatedly cringing at what the person I had previously interacted with was saying. Still, as opinionated as I am, I was not directly involved, and so I went on about my business.
Later on, the person who had made me cringe messaged me that they were disappointed that I hadn’t spoken up if I had seen the interaction. Their disappointment told me that they had never even considered that I might have disagreed with them in that moment and therefore not have fully backed them up.
I frequently find myself in the position of having someone with whom I’ve interacted on the internet thinking that our thoughts and values are all aligned based on previous agreements. But we are all multifaceted humans, and I believe that each individual scenario deserves its own evaluation. Of course, there are core values that most of us in civilized society can agree on, and within that there are personal principles upon which I will not waver. But having been of a like mind with someone that one time when so-and-so did such-and-such on social media is not an accurate litmus test for their every future response.
One might be able to make an educated guess, sure. One might make a hopeful inquiry, even. But assumptions do not make for happy endings. And then there’s the social media defense strategy wherein someone calls upon you for forced backup, based on them feeling that they have somehow helped you in the past. This might sound like a cold absence of loyalty on my part, but I’m not talking about genuine friends where loyalty has been earned and is not in question. Angrily being told that you owe someone when their back is against the wall is something else entirely. I’ve had this happen to me as well, and I couldn’t help but think of it this weekend as I watched an exchange on Twitter go horribly awry.
Jeff Halevy had been laboring in relative obscurity as a fitness correspondent for NBC’s Today Show when he decided to air his personal political views on Twitter. As one does. I was not aware of him before this weekend, and I can only imagine that his right-leaning conservative viewpoint had certainly colored his commentary in the past, but it seems that he either took a harder stance this time, or got more attention for it than ever before, or both.
On Wednesday, Halevy tweeted the following, about Kajieme Powell, the 25-year-old black man shot and killed by the police in St. Louis, Missouri, two weeks ago. Powell was accused of having stolen from a convenience store and had allegedly brandished a steak knife when confronted by the police. He was shot 12 times and killed instantly, less than two weeks after the tragic killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, and those who knew him said that he had mental illness that was likely affecting his behavior that day.
Halevy was met with understandable anger, and he doubled- and even tripled-down on his stance, adding every flavor of insult to his injury. In one of his first responses to a particular tweeter he went all in and dropped the code word “thug”.
The hashtag #FireJeffHalevy began making the rounds, and he continued to let’em rip, childishly lashing out at everyone who expressed dissent, no matter how respectfully they had done so. Such as:
Days had passed since Halevy’s initial tweet mentioning Kajieme Powell, but he was still responding to tweeters with vitriol of various flavors. Then, on Sunday, a curious thing happened: Halevy tagged Kevin Powell in to the conversation. Kevin Powell is a political activist and public speaker, as well as an accomplished writer with eleven titles to his name so far. As he would later say, he was minding his business when Halevy tweeted this:
How deeply doth this tweet fail? Let me count the ways. Though Hulk Hogan has made a catchphrase of it, be mindful of whom you address as “Brother.” Are you a white man in the public eye rampantly mishandling accusations of racism who’s openly kicking in the digital door of a prominent black man expecting undeserved support? Maybe don’t start with “Brother…”
The glib third-person reference to himself and the wholly unwelcome winky-face emoticon when the subject at hand is his glib and wholly unwelcome insult of a young, dead black man? Absolutely not. And his attempt at sarcasm in jokingly calling himself “terrible” falls flat on its face when large swaths of the internet are actually calling him terrible, clearly visible in the tweet he’s linked to.
Kevin Powell was having none of it. Feel free to scroll the actual stream here, but I’d like to highlight the clarity with which he dispatches Mr. Halevy here:
As we see above, Halevy takes an insulting tone the moment it is clear that Powell was not on the clock as Black Friend™, saying that Powell had previously “begged” him for “financial and material support,” presumably for his previous Congressional campaigns. He then responds to a concise statement about the situation at hand with a pejorative jab mentioning The Real World.
Powell was an original cast member of MTV’s The Real World 22 years ago. In the space of four tweets to him, Halevy went from calling Powell “brother,” then “friend,” to a beggar and then a reality-show trope. Four tweets.
While I find everything I’m learning of Halevy since first becoming aware of him this weekend objectionable, I wanted to highlight Powell’s ability to stay on course in the face of borderline trolling. Perhaps it is because I empathize. It isn’t exactly the same, but I dated a Problematic Celebrity five years ago and someone on the internet reminds me of it almost daily. People seem to think that regurgitating what they’ve read about what I’ve lived will hurt me, or that their best comeback when disagreeing on the internet will be the stale comeback of an ex as quoted from a tabloid from five years ago.
You can see how this strategy is a non-starter, but it is sad that people are still so pathetic in this regard. I wearily shook my head as I thought of all that Mr. Powell has accomplished, the 22 years that have passed, and of how often he has The Real World hurled his way as an (unnecessary) insult. And it is especially sad when Halevy did it to Kevin Powell, since it turns out he is a bit of a crusader against ad hominem attacks himself. Who knew?!
Halevy frequently tweets about Gaza to express his militant pro-Israel stance, and just a month ago he reminded us that ad hominem attacks are “Debate 101 faulty logic”:
Okay, so he contradicted himself once. We’re all human. But then imagine my surprise to find that he’d written an entire essay just a year ago on his blog about what he calls a “Twitter-debate-gone-bad” with another, unnamed fitness personality in which he details what he calls her “JV Debate Club Mistakes,” citing “fallacious arguments,” “ad hominem attacks,” and expresses disdain for anyone who would rest on the undeserved laurels of their status as a public persona, particularly in discussions of a serious nature.
Which makes this particular tweet in reply to someone calling his views un-American this weekend all the more puzzling:
CNN’s Jake Tapper replied to Halevy via Twitter on Monday, and their exchange was brief but similarly adult on Tapper’s end and childish on Halevy’s end. As of this writing, NBC has yet to address this issue publicly, and we’re on day seven. We may not know when it will end, but one thing we know for sure: Kevin Powell is not Jeff Halevy’s friend.