Twitter? I hardly know her!

Married actor Brian Presley spent some time flirting with model Melissa Stetten, and she live-tweeted the whole experience. A good example of how you should be careful with what you say to strangers and why social media is like a gun you might want to keep holstered.

For those of you who don’t know, I tweet. A lot.

I joined Twitter in 2007, just a year after its launch. The service, which now boasts 140 million active users, was a bit of a ghost town in the beginning with only 20,000 tweets daily worldwide. Companies hadn’t yet realized it was a hip, free way to advertise their brand. News organizations hadn’t yet determined it was a way to instantly update the masses on current events. Celebrities weren’t yet using it to fill their aching need to constantly be heard.

As for me, I used Twitter to shout into the abyss about what I was doing, where I was going, and what I was eating (I wasn’t a member of Facebook yet and wasn’t aware that it was the proper place for such banality).

But then I started sprinkling some jokes in among the tepid tweets. Inappropriate jokes. The kind you shouldn’t make in mixed company or in front of your own mother. The kind of jokes I’d always told to friends and coworkers, much to the dismay of all.

But, here! Here there was a whole populace who hadn’t heard those jokes! These people didn’t roll their eyes at my puns. These people didn’t walk away when I used the word “tits” as the punchline to every joke. These people weren’t yet sick of hearing me talk about my penis.

And so I started to pick up readers. The thing about Twitter is, growth happens exponentially. The more followers you have, the quicker you gain new followers. Like the old shampoo commercial used to say: “I told two friends and they told two friends and they told two friends and so on.”

Soon I had a pretty good following. I mean, I was no Lady Gaga, with her army of more than 25 million “little monsters,” but I did alright and even got recognized from time to time here in my adopted hometown of Richmond based on my 1-inch-by-1-inch avatar picture.

I’ve learned, and continue to learn, the hard way what my followers are open to. My motto has always been: “I’d make fun of myself for a sandwich, but I wouldn’t make fun of you for a million sandwiches,” and my followers hold me to that. Should I step outside of poking fun at my own shortcomings to poke fun of someone else’s, there is no shortage of miffed replies–and that’s fine. Twitter followers are an audience, and much like telling a joke on stage, gauging the laughter then fine-tuning that joke for next time, replies are one way of figuring out if I’m doing it right.

But not everyone on twitter is sensitive to other people. It is, after all, the Internet.

Take, for instance, last week’s “situation” between model Melissa Stetten and actor Brian Presley. Brian and Melissa sat next to each other on a red-eye flight last week. Brian–who’s married, a recovering alcoholic, and was allegedly tipsy at the time–came on to Melissa (also allegedly) while she tweeted the whole interaction as it was happening.

If you’re like me, you’ll shift in your seat uncomfortably as you read Brian’s cheesy pick-up lines, his self-important views on artistry and inspiration, and his outright lies about being married. But, if you’re like me, you’ll also feel uncomfortable about Melissa’s apparent glee in sharing this information–even after finding out via her Twitter followers that Brian has both a wife and a drinking problem. One of her last tweets before the interaction is over is a cavalier: “Did I just ruin Brian Presley’s life via twitter?”

So Melissa picks up thousands of Twitter followers, and Brian picks up, well, no comment from Brian as of yet. I assume that things are pretty bad at Brian’s house, though.

I guess a good rule of thumb in the age of social media is don’t say anything to one person that you wouldn’t shout to the whole world. But another rule might be don’t shout to the whole world something that could possibly destroy another person’s life. If Melissa felt that Brian’s wife should know about his sleazy behavior, then she could have found and told her (someone tweeted Mrs. Presley’s name to Melissa mid-interaction) privately without humiliating her in front of millions of people.

Social media is a bit like the wild west at this point, but I think “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31) is a good place to start when figuring out if you’re going to wear a black hat or a white one in this new territory. Both Melissa and Brian might have done well to remember that rule.

As for me, mine is the only fat ass I’ll discuss from now on. If I forget, I have seven thousand people who won’t hesitate to remind me.

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The Checkout Girl

The Checkout Girl is Jennifer Lemons. She’s a storyteller, comedian, and musician. If you don’t see her sitting behind her laptop, check the streets of Richmond for a dark-haired girl with a big smile running very, very slowly.

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