‘The Office’ actress latest to be slimed by toxic Twitter and moronic media

You can be living your life as a responsible grownup, and suddenly find yourself pilloried over some dumb thing you said as a high school student, or some faux flap from two decades ago. …

Haven’t we all had enough of trial by Twitter?

It provides a platform for so much toxic garbage, spreading the stench through its “trending topics”—even when the trend is caused by pointless personal attacks or stuff that’s just made up.

I love the real-time punditry on Twitter, giving everyone a virtual microphone, the feedback loop for journalists who would otherwise be unreachable. But Twitter has become the media’s new assignment editor, with the result that news outlets are now filled with pseudo-controversies and manufactured outrage.

And there’s no such thing as a statute of limitations. You can be living your life as a responsible grownup, and suddenly find yourself pilloried over some dumb thing you said as a high school student, or some faux flap from two decades ago. 

The latest victim is Ellie Kemper, the actress from “The Office” and “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” This thing—though it’s not really a “thing”—has gone viral across the web.

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The Daily Beast: “Yes, The Office’s Ellie Kemper Was Beauty Queen of a Racist Ball — and She Was Escorted by a Bush.”

Daily Mail: “Ellie Kemper Faces Backlash After ‘Racist’ Pageant Photo Resurfaces.”

New York’s Daily News: “‘The Office’ Star Ellie Kemper Called Out for Once Attending Debutante Ball with Racist History.”

New York Post columnist Kyle Smith, who cited these examples, blames “some idiots on social media” for subjecting the actress to a modern-day Salem witch trial.

What actually happened is not even new news. As a teenager back in 1999, Kemper attended something called the Veiled Prophet Ball, which is a big tradition in St. Louis, and was crowned the Queen of Love and Beauty. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote about it at the time, and so did the Atlantic a half-dozen years ago.

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The ball was founded in 1878 by an ex-Confederate, and never had any connection to the KKK (the hooded costumes originally worn were similar to those adopted by the Klan decades later). The ball was segregated until 1979, but that’s before Kemper was born.

Ellie Kemper, who was 19 when she attended the ball, didn’t do or say anything racist. 

As Smith explains, one Twitter guy with 192 followers wrote “i mean…ellie kemper was apparently crowned in a legit kkk beauty pageant.” Others followed suit. Suddenly it was trending. And while a second wave of stories is knocking down the Klan angle, the unfair tarnishing of Kemper’s reputation has already taken place.

Twitter has tried to add context to its trending blurbs, with mixed success. Many conservatives think the social media giant, which has banned Donald Trump, more often plays up slams against Republicans. And sometimes it’s just flat wrong. As Mediaite points out, Twitter ran this summary under the heading “YOU VOTED AGAINST IT.” 

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“Many point out that Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar voted against the $1.9-trillion COVID-19 relief bill, after she called it ‘my bipartisan relief bill.’” In fact, the Republican congresswoman did not take credit for any part of the Biden bill.

With Twitter, it’s a numbers game. If enough people—even anonymous randos—tweet about something, it gets trending status.

But the media ecosystem is also to blame. Too many news organizations jump on these clickbait trends without checking them out, and the allegations—even if false, even if ancient, even if irrelevant—quickly spread across the web and cable news. Twitter needs to do better, but so do we.

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