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Don’t feed the trolls: The ridiculous outrage over Sarah Jeong’s old tweets

Those that fail to learn from Gamergate are doomed to repeat it.

Sarah Jeong in a tweet from May 9, 2017. (Twitter/@sarahjeong)
Sarah Jeong in a tweet from May 9, 2017. (Twitter/@sarahjeong)

The New York Times announced that Verge senior writer Sarah Jeong would be joining its editorial board on Wednesday, and it didn’t take long for conservative Twitter to dig up her old tweets and claim evidence of racism that should be disqualifying.

Though Jeong apologized and explained her rhetoric was “counter-trolling” racist and misogynistic online harassment directed at her, the right was quick to recall how Kevin Williamson and Quinn Norton were fired for comments that had been made years before they were hired as columnists.

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Splinter’s Libby Watson pointed out the absurdity of those comparisons:

“Kevin Williamson was fired when it was revealed that he said on a podcast, and tweeted, that he supported hanging for women who get abortions. It wasn’t a purposeful misinterpretation of Williamson’s tweets or words on a podcast that got him fired; by Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg’s own admission, it was the fact that Williamson actually meant it that got him fired, as well as the fact that his “language was callous and violent.” So no, jokes about how Breaking Bad is about a sad white guy is not the same thing as advocating the murder of women who get abortions. This is not a challenging concept.”

A statement from the New York Times defending Jeong drew near-unanimous condemnation for not going far enough. Conservatives dug in and accused the Times of condoning racism for not dismissing Jeong:

Huff Post’s Ashley Feinberg and Sludge’s Jay Cassano criticized the Times for entertaining the common conservative scare tactic of removing context from old tweets to manufacture outrage:

The Verge defended Jeong in an editorial that noted the similarities to the “disingenuous tactics” of Gamergate and urged other publications to take a stand:

“But as the editors of The Verge, we want to be clear: this abusive backlash is dishonest and outrageous. The trolls engaged in this campaign are using the same tactics that exploded during Gamergate, and they have been employed in recent years by even broader audiences amid a rise in hostility toward journalists… So we’re not going to fall for these disingenuous tactics. And it’s time other newsrooms learn to spot these hateful campaigns for what they are: attempts to discredit and undo the vital work of journalists who report on the most toxic communities on the internet.”

But the conservative angst about Jeong hasn’t slowed down, as it reached Fox News’ Tucker Carlson before Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., President Donald Trump’s sons who are running the family business and definitely not involved in politics, got in on the act.

However, many of the people who were outraged about Jeong’s old tweets appeared to have engaged in actual racism on Twitter. Writer Owen Ellickson and Gizmodo’s Matt Novak were among the first to spot this pattern:

The hypocrisy wasn’t limited to unverified Twitter accounts. New York Magazine’s Andrew Sullivan has been up in arms about Jeong:

Sullivan, whose latest column has been criticized by multiple co-workers, sent this cringeworthy tweet in 2013:

Sullivan also shared a story about Jeong from the Gateway Pundit, a pro-Trump blog that is notorious for spreading baseless conspiracy theories.