Death Threats on Twitter Are Meaningless. You Should Ignore Them.

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Oct. 30 2013 5:20 PM

Death Threats on Twitter Are Meaningless. You Should Ignore Them.

Pay no attention to Twitter death threats.

Photo by LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images

Dearest Slate reader: I’d just like to let you know that I intend to kill you.

Calling 911 yet? Why not? I just threatened your life! If not a police call, then my threat at least merits a blog post, right?


Just about every week, it seems there’s a story about a celebrity, athlete, or politician receiving death threats from morons on Twitter. The media often treat these frivolous incidents like they’re a fatwa on Salman Rushdie. The latest example: New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs, for performing poorly on fantasy football teams. (Fitting there be fantasy threats for a fantasy sport.)

The stories often give the impression that this is some kind of shocking event for which we should pity the “victims,” but anyone who’s spent 10 minutes online knows that these assertions are entirely toothless.

What’s surprising isn’t that death threats on Twitter are happening, but rather that the media seem to be covering them more and more frequently. It’s one thing if public figures are actually being hunted down and attacked by @Chad_Bro697 on the regular, but exactly 0.00 percent of these celebrity threats have even resulted in an assault. It’s like reading on a regular basis that a meteor could in fact crush Mandy Patinkin today.

Erin Andrews, Ted Cruz, Selena Gomez, pretty much every NFL player … They’ve all been in harm’s way of these entirely harmless threats, followed by handwringing coverage in prominent places like Yahoo, the Washington Post, and Mashable. Anna Gunn made a big note in her New York Times op-ed about receiving death tweets for her role as Skyler White in Breaking Bad. Type the name of any public figure and “death threat” into Google or “kill” into Twitter. There’s a good chance you won’t be disappointed—except for, well, with humanity.

As the world becomes more interconnected, it's easier and easier to catch up with old friends, keep in touch with your parents, and, oh yeah, tell the president that you want to chop his head off. (You can un-flag this, NSA.) Ten or fifteen years ago, death threats were a much bigger deal (i.e., newsworthy), because in the pre-Internet age, if you wanted to tell, say, Tobey Maguire that you were going to dismember him in a dark alley, you really had to go to quite an effort. You'd have to somehow track down his phone number or mailing address, which again, would be very difficult without the Internet. These days, though, death threats are just a few keystrokes away. "@TobeyMaguire Sider house rules sucked. Wach ur back nxt time u come 2 denver. I'll b waitin." Send! All of a sudden, you've given 50 blogs some nice page view-generating click-bait.

In a piece in the Atlantic last year, Jen Doll wrote: “If there's anything to be afraid of, it's this idea that death threats are this kind of new online norm.” They are, in fact, the norm. However, I think it’s also safe to assume that these wannabe Tony Sopranos only represent the lowest trenches of society. Sites like Gawker and BuzzFeed, which like clockwork dredge up dozens of ignorant tweets in response to some major event, often try to paint a vast swath of society as holding these crazy views—like the racists epithets thrown at this year’s Indian Miss America winner Nina Davuluri or reaction to U.S. gymnast Gabby Douglas’ hair. However, it takes large sample sizes and proper polling methods to establish a widespread belief system, not mere cherry-picking from the unsurprising bottom of the Internet cesspool.

So how do we stop this trend of pointless reporting? There really aren’t any clear solutions. There will always be a dark corner of the Internet, so you can’t stop the source. And you can’t tell websites to stop publishing these stories, because they surely generate boatloads of mindless page views. Maybe the solution is to just let the Internet continue to be the Internet, and people will eventually grow bored of this “news.” Or perhaps we should just send death tweets to the writers who report on these occurrences. It seems like they take these threats rather seriously.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.



Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Natasha Lyonne Is Coming to the Live Culture Gabfest. Are You?

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.


How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

Tattoo Parlors Have Become a Great Investment

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Honcho Says Celebs Who Keep Nude Photos in the Cloud Are “Stupid”
  News & Politics
Oct. 2 2014 11:01 AM It Wasn’t a Secret A 2013 inspector general report detailed all of the Secret Service’s problems. Nobody cared.
Business Insider
Oct. 2 2014 11:16 AM Some McDonald's Monopoly Properties Matter More
The Vault
Oct. 2 2014 11:07 AM Mapping 1890 Manhattan's Crazy-Quilt of Immigrant Neighborhoods
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
Brow Beat
Oct. 2 2014 10:36 AM How Bad Will Adam Sandler’s Netflix Movies Be?
Future Tense
Oct. 2 2014 11:01 AM Surge Pricing Is Not Price Gouging
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 2 2014 9:49 AM In Medicine We Trust Should we worry that so many of the doctors treating Ebola in Africa are missionaries?
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?