You see the headlines this morning? Publishing titan Simon & Schuster kills six-figure book deal with @GSElevator, the Twitter feed that bashes Goldman Sachs and all of Wall Street.
The Twitter account professed to report the real overheard exchanges of rapacious GS plunderers. It was said to be the puckish work of an anonymous writer who purported to be a Goldman Sachs insider. “Things heard in the Goldman Sachs elevators do not stay in the Goldman Sachs elevators,” the @GSElevator bio says, ripping off the Las Vegas ad slogan.
Just one problem: It wasn’t true. Oh, S&S won’t say as much, killing the deal between the tweeter—a no-name named John Lefevre—and the publisher’s Touchstone imprint. No explanation. But it turns out Lefevre wasn’t some well-placed Goldman master-of-the-universe—he never was a full-fledged employee there. He had worked as a temp for three months in Asia, the Times says.
Yet look at the impunity in his dismissive defense, to Business Insider, regarding questions of whether he had plagiarized tweets from elsewhere: “For the avoidance of any doubt, any person who actually thought my Twitter feed was literally about verbatim conversations overheard in the elevators of Goldman Sachs is an idiot.”
So now he tells us? And we are the idiots?
A few truths emerge in this mini-scandal about Twitter mistruths.
First: The Simon & Schuster imprint signed the deal for @GSElevator without having ever met Lefevre in person. I don’t know, even in the Internet age, would you offer a six-figure contract to a guy you haven’t met? Had these publishers never heard of the MTV series “Catfish”?
This invokes a parallel to a great story a few weeks ago in The New Yorker on the Twitter account @Horse_ebooks: here http://nyr.kr/18xlAy3. For a year or more, a couple hundred thousand followers thought it was a bot putting out surprisingly apt, truncated thoughts. Some were crestfallen to learn the tweets were the well-coined works of a human prankster.
Second: We think the Internet yielded a wellspring of fresh, original content. But in reality, the Internet is 90% echo: People re-tweeting and re-sending and forwarding content that already existed anyway. Rather than using this great new platform to create new content of their own. Media and Internet types have a buzzword for this rash of rehash: “curation.” The @GSElevator guy invoked it in defending his alleged plagiarism to The Times. “I run a Twitter site that aggregates commentary that is supposed to embody the 1%,” he said. “I am a curator, so I’ve never tried to take credit for any of it.”
Right: six-figure book deal, but you never claimed credit. Liar liar, pants-on-fire.
Third: Populist lies thrive in the marketplace because of popular prejudices. We-the-people wanted to believe the negative Wall Street bashing, so we were only too eager to take as legitimate such tweets as this nugget on @GSElevator on Christmas Day:
“Only Neanderthals resort to violence. I prefer crushing one’s spirit, hope, or ego.” Yeah, and we all fully believed that GS bankers speak that way. In elevators.
Fourth and finally: An underlying problem here is the Internet’s addiction to anonymity—and the public’s blasé acceptance of it. Remember the adoring profile of Wikipedia in The New Yorker a year or two ago? It quoted a Wiki advisory board member who mediates entry disputes online, and who had great credentials—two PhD’s blah blah…
The magazine fully accepted that he had to remain anonymous—academia can be so violent and treacherous, after all—and printed his quotes without even knowing who the guy really was. And Wikipedia itself let him be an advisor . . . without insisting on knowing his true identity.
Punch line: The guy turned out to be an undergrad… and a liar.