Yesterday's social media sh-tstorm -- and it's getting to the point that there five or so every day; it's getting to the point I'm starting to worry that social media exists solely to create them -- involved the one mystery voter that gave Carmelo Anthony his/her MVP vote over LeBron James. It was the only top vote LeBron didn't receive, giving him 121 out of 122 and denying him the honor of being the first unanimous MVP in NBA history.
As tends to happen these days, the comparatively insignificant detail -- one person out of 122 didn't vote for James -- outweighed the actual news happening, and that one voter became all that people cared about. ESPN, as they do, made the "controversy" that Carmelo Anthony had received the 122th vote the lead and centerpiece of their LeBron Wins MVP story. (One wonders if they would have covered the moon landing as "'Disappointed' Aldrin must settle for second as Armstrong inches out top prize.") The hunt for the rogue voter was on.
I was at the Knicks-Pacers playoff game yesterday when the vote was announced and everyone in the press area began speculating about the culprit. (And by "everyone in the press area began speculating," I mean, "everyone in the press area started typing speculation into Twitter" not "everyone in the press area started talking about it to each other." Jeez, who talks to each other anymore, c'mon.) Miami writers accused New York writers, New York writers accused Miami writers and you heard the same faux outrage (TAKE HIS VOTE AWAY THIS IZ A TRAVESSSTYYYY) you hear every time someone does something even slightly out of the ordinary.
Dan LeBatard, the Miami Herald columnist and radio pot-stirrer, decided to put himself in the middle of the conversation, as he has proven a master at doing. He sort of pretended to be the person who voted for Carmelo (though I've yet to figure out how all this got started in the first place; all of a sudden yesterday afternoon everyone just seemed to start believing he did it), just to see how people would react, as some sort of social media experiment. He somehow fooled Deadspin and began retweeting angry responses and radio show requests to his non-vote. I like LeBatard, but I'm not sure I understand what the point of this stunt was. Social media isn't always accurate in quick short bursts, mainly because it's individual human beings typing unadulterated thoughts into a little box and hitting send before they've had a chance to think about what they're saying. I thank Mr. LeBatard for this blinding insight. At the end of the day, LeBatard wrote "I feel like a sh-tty twitter Andy Kaufman." That sounds about right.
Anyway, overnight, the voter outed himself. It was Boston Globe writer Gary Washburn, saying that he voted for Carmelo because he brought an injury-riddled Knicks team back to relevance, that LeBron was obviously the best player in the league and that he was "flabbergasted" that he was the only non-LeBron voter. His rationale feels specious to me -- the award is not called Most "Relevant" Player -- but it is a rationale. Out of 122 people, it is not unreasonable that one person would feel this way. For crying out loud, if you asked 122 people on the street which way was north, at least five of them would point at the ground. There have been worse thought processes.
But it's strange: The individuality that all of us are encouraged, demanded, to display through social media is starting to coagulate into a restrictive, depressing sameness. For years, right wing radio was accused of creating an echo chamber in which the same viewpoints just rattled around, unchallenged, demanding blind acceptance. But they weren't nearly as good at this as Twitter is. On Twitter, dissenting viewpoints, honest disagreements with the majority whole, they aren't treated as a person expressing his or her thoughts and opinion. They're treated as trolling. They're treated as someone trying to grab all the attention themselves, as getting off on being different. And they are lambasted.
They're piled on, actually. (It was very wise for Washburn to wait to defend his vote in the paper this morning, and THEN on Twitter. It allowed everyone to punch themselves out last night.) I'm beginning to worry that the freedom of social media has provided us is beginning to constrict us, to turn the very thought processes that make us individual human beings into cautious self-restriction, us all shushing unpopular thoughts lest we upset the hivemind. (I'd love if this were what LeBatard were trying to satirize, but I doubt it.) If someone voted for anyone other than LeBron, well, what is wrong with them? Everyone here on Twitter KNOWS LeBron was the MVP. Don't you? DON'T YOU?
That was the clear vibe after that vote yesterday, the notion that someone had strayed, that someone would have to be punished, publicly shamed. The only reason they could possibly have for not voting for LeBron was blatant self-promotion, right? So let us on Twitter -- people who are solely altruistic in our aims, people who would never dare think of self-promotion on such a sacred place as Twitter -- find you and call you out.
Look, it seems crazy to me that someone would vote for someone other than LeBron as MVP too. But the human condition contains multitudes, you know? There are in fact millions of other viewpoints than one's own. On Twitter, it is easy to isolate those that are in the minority, and to point and mock and chastise and shame. It is too easy. It is frighteningly easy. A dumb little MVP vote isn't that big of a deal. But the way we're using Twitter now, this is going to keep happening more often. And eventually it'll be something that matters a lot more. The mob mentality has always been a central organizing principle in human behavior. Now we can just do it quicker. Twitter has millions of different voices, by its very design. So why is it every time I log on, they all sound the same?