Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Controversy: Twitter for Tat

This morning started off like any other. I awoke at dawn to the call of my trusty rooster, Magnifico. As I rubbed the sleep and other crud from my eyes, my helper monkey, Vito, arrived with my customary cup of hot herbal tea, which--as is also customary--he proceeded to spill all over my crotch. Now alert, I shuffled into my sun parlor where a soggy bowl of Froot Loops was waiting for me. (I prepare the Froot Loops before I retire each evening so they're nice and mushy by the time I wake up.) After breakfast, I mounted the Ironic Orange Julius Bike and rode down the hall and past oil paintings of my favorite "Three's Company" characters to my office, where I opened my 19th century roll-top desk and fired up my computer, Ol' Buckshot. While waiting for it to "boot up," I sipped from a cocktail--only to spit mint julep all over my screen when I saw what awaited me.

But first, I should provide a bit of background. As everybody knows by now, this past weekend the North American Handmade Bike Show (otherwise known as "Lugfest 2010") took place in Richmond, VA. What many people also know is that on Thursday a bold and mysterious heist took place when a folding bike belonging to Mike Flanigan of ANT was stolen from in front of the Marriott hotel. The caper was "re-tweeted" widely and show-goers were advised to be on the lookout:

Incidentally, if you're unfamiliar with ANT, the name stands for "Alternative Needs Transportation," and Mike Flanigan was recently profiled in a popular video:

In addition to the many "tweets" concerning the theft, Flanigan himself posted a photo of a bicycle similar to the missing one on his blog as well as some additional background:

Then, four days passed, during which Flanigan and other builders exhibited their wares in Richmond, I traveled to a remote and bike-free land via airplane and rental car (Ford Focus SES, complete with cosmetic spoiler and rear drum brakes), and other real-life things that were actually important such as earthquakes and health care summits also happened. Yesterday I resumed posting, and last night someone posted in the comments a link to the following Craigslist post:

clown bike for sale - $75 (downtown)
Date: 2010-03-02, 7:32PM EST
Reply to: [deleted]

found this out side of the Marriot Friday and it looked like it had been there awhile so I took it home but it's kinda gay. I really don't want to lose my hood pass so I'll let it go cheep.

It was immediately obvious to me that the post was a fake. First of all, the photo was the same one posted by Flanigan on his blog, and besides that the "kinda gay" and "don't want to lose my hood pass" comments reeked of wise-assery. While the post was certainly a cheap joke, it was also topical, and being a "curator" of both topical bike-related jokes and a Twitter account I figured the fake post was worthy of a "tweet:"

In doing so, I simply assumed anybody looking at it would immediately realize it was a fake. Even though the post was basically a cheap joke about an unfortunate situation, it wasn't exactly malicious, and I figured no harm would come from referencing it. There's a difference between a cheap bike theft joke and, say, an earthquake joke. We've all been victims of bike theft, and apart from the loss of property fortunately nobody was hurt. Moreover, it seemed to me that it was a good thing that the incident had entered the cycling "zeitgeist" to the point that someone was parodying it. If anything, this would only make it more likely some cyclist in Richmond might actually spot it. The same thing happened back in 2008 with that Michael Green guy when websites everywhere started posting about his stolen bike--which he ultimately got back.

Little did I know my "tweet" would not elicit chuckles but would in fact set in motion a series of events that would change my life irrevocably--or at least for a few hours. Unfortunately, it seemed that some people who saw the "tweet" did not realize the Craigslist post was a fake. Furthermore, some of them also thought I actually created it. One of these people was Mike Flanigan himself, who in addition to emailing me also posted the following on his blog:*

It was at this point that I spat the mint julep, for while I notice Flanigan has subsequently redacted the "fucking asshole" comment it still came as quite a shock. Apparently some people close to Flanigan thought the Craigslist post was real and called him late at night, waking up his family! Had I any inkling that would happen I would certainly have never "tweeted" the link, but now it was too late. Not only did a respected (and now sleep-deprived) bike builder think I was a "fucking asshole," but he was also under the impression that I create phony Craigslist postings, and my blog was indeed now stricken from among the "Killer Bs" in his blogroll:

I was now in a state of emotional crisis. Had I gone too far by "tweeting" the spurious link? Perhaps in spending my days thorax-deep in cycling-related absurdity I have lost touch with what the ordinary person is able to recognize as parody. Perhaps I've also lost touch with when it is appropriate to call somebody on the phone late at night (I would think the "I may have found your bike" call could have waited until morning or at least been delivered by email) but then again it didn't occur to me anybody would think the Craigslist post was real in the first place. Here's a blog post from Marty Walsh at Geekhouse, who also reveals the fake Craigslist ad even set a sting operation in motion!

I only hope the damage wrought by this whole regrettable situation is not irrevocable, and it has certainly sent me fishing within myself for even the smallest mackerel of decency. Fortunately, I have received a nibble in the form of an email from Sergio Gonzales, the winner of The Great Meh BSNYC Free Scat Contest!, who has now taken delivery of his bicycle and sent me a photo of himself with his prize:

Looking at this photo and the joy on Sergio's face eases all the pain of "ANTgate." I know I picked the right winner. He says he sees "a bright future" before him and his new bike, and I am proud to have helped in a tiny way to facilitate his single-speed travels down the path of world domination.

I only wish I could elicit similar pleasure from Mike Flanigan--perhaps I should try to "pull some strings" and get him a free Scattante.

*Postscript: It seems Mike Flanigan has forgiven me. Whew!