Tuesday, April 16, 2019


Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a rising star in the Democratic Party, and she’s got a huge edge over many of her colleagues: A savvy understanding of social media.

AOC, as she is known, is prolific, sending out dozens of tweets and retweets on Twitter each day, as well and posting on Facebook and Instagram. But on Sunday, she announced that she’s quitting Facebook and plans to cut back on all the others. “Social media poses a public health risk to everybody,” she said in a “Skullduggery” podcast. “I think it has effects on everybody — increased isolation, depression, anxiety, addiction, escapism.”

Now, I won’t say this often about AOC, but she’s absolutely right.

I don’t get much hate on social media, but all that changed Monday when the grand Notre Dame cathedral was burning in Paris. A friend sent me a picture of the inside of the stately medieval Catholic church, and — parroting what CNN was at the moment reporting — told me that everything inside was lost.
So I posted a tweet on Twitter: That same picture, with the words: “This is gone. Very sad.”

Turns out the picture was not of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, but of the Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal (to my friend I say, “no big”). I certainly never noticed, but then, I went to the Paris tourist trap just once 36 years ago, in 1983, and the other dozen times or so I’ve been to Paris I’ve skipped the site (I visited the Montreal basilica, too, but that was in the 1990s).

Well, you would have thought I murdered Mother Teresa with a machete in cold blood right on the street. The outpouring of anger flowed heavy. When I realized my post was wrong, I decided to leave it up anyway, just to watch (and catalogue) the vicious comments that came in. After all, it was a simple sentiment: It’s sad this beautiful place is gone (turns out CNN overstated that too, but that’s a different story).

By the numbers, my post has been retweeted more than 7,500 times and more than 24,000 people have pushed the little “heart” button. Some 1,100 people took time to comment. That’s by far my most “popular” post (I’m not a big Twitterer and have just under 10,000 followers).

So here now, in no particular order, are some of the things that were said:
Kevin M. Kruse, an author, was factual: “That cathedral is in Montreal and it’s still there.” Right you are, KK. My bad.

John Harwood, the economy and national politics for CNBC, wrote in response: “thank God they were able to save it.” Very funny, John.

“Curtis Stigers,” whose Twitter page says he is the Emmy nominated writer/singer of the “Sons Of Anarchy” theme, said: “You’re a stable genius, Joe.”

“Madbreaks” wrote, “Gone, along with your credibility.” Darn it! I worked 30 years as a journalist and I threw it all away by posting a picture of the wrong Notre Dame. D’oh!

There were some really funny ones, the kind that singed but didn’t burn. Pictures of the castle at Disney World (or Disneyland) appeared often, ID’ed as Notre Dame. Ha. Someone posted a picture of the Eiffel Tower — the one in Las Vegas. Good one. Someone posted my caption — “This is gone. Very sad.” — with a shot of an old Blockbuster movie rental store. Another used the caption with a shot of an old Underwood typewriter. Pretty funny.

Some people were a little mad, some people were big mad. Of course, a bunch of the responses were too graphic to post in this family newspaper. The emails, too. But “Dan Mitchell” emailed to say: “How do you just leave that Montreal cathedral tweet up, saying it’s ‘gone’? Unlike other falsehoods, it doesn’t seem to serve any propaganda purpose, and seems like just (yet another) boneheaded mistake. I know you people have very little capacity for either shame or pride (or basic competence), but do you actually have *zero*? How are you not humiliated?”

It was a “boneheaded mistake,” Dan, but again, I left it up to allow the flow of hate to stream in, to see where this one tiny error in a tweet with a sweet sentiment would go.

Others deemed my erroneous tweet as shoddy “journalism.” “Lulu in Canada” wrote: “‏Nothing is gone, but also we’re all safe here in Montreal! Super ‘journalism.’ ” “C. Sabetta” wrote: “It is good to see you did an in-depth investigation and corroborated information before sharing. Top notch reporting……NOT.” “Tim of Ottawa,” who called me “dude,” said, “you’re NO sort of journalist at all.”

For the record, Twitter ain’t journalism.

Everyone seemed super-concerned about me deleting the tweet, as if my leaving it up meant that hundreds, possibly thousands, of false reports might follow declaring that Montreal’s Notre Dame had burned to the ground. “Frank Thorp V,” whose Twitter page says he’s “Producer & Off-Air Reporter covering Congress at @NBCNews,” wrote: “How long are you gonna keep this tweet up?” Later, clearly very concerned about the adverse effect my tweet was having worldwide, wrote: “Are you going to delete your incorrect tweet?”

To all of you who commented, you’ll be relieved to know that I have now deleted the tweet.

To be clear, I did get something wrong. And I’ve been doing this a long time, so I’ve got a plenty thick skin. You had a good laugh at my expense. But it was a small error — the interior of one Notre Dame instead of the other — and my sentiment was simply expressing remorse that something so beautiful might be lost.

But I’d like to give a shout out to “Cameron Campbell,” who wrote, “I feel so sorry for you.” Well, thanks CC. Yeah, it was, I’ll admit, a little embarrassing. And to the guy who tweeted, “That’s Quebec, NOT Paris,” dude, it’s cool. Little mistake. It’ll pass. No big, brother.

Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at josephcurl@gmail.com and on Twitter @josephcurl.

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