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A Minor Modern Greek Tragedy

Be careful, your 15 minutes of fame may sneak up on you.


I was reading the newspaper last Thursday, marveling at the European debt crisis, the latest Berlusconi scandal, and the speculation that Iran may soon have a nuclear bomb.  Before heading into the office, I made a lame joke on twitter:

Exhibit A: The virus

A couple hours later I checked my twitter feed. Very oddly, there were a couple flirty tweets about my profile pic, from men.  I searched for “mentions” and found that a gay porn star with several thousand followers had forwarded my Greek joke. As a result, it had been retweeted some 75 times by his fans. I laughed and went back to work.

Later Thursday afternoon, during a meeting, I checked to see if my new gay fan base was still enjoying the joke. By now, the retweet count was over 200. A random check of the profiles, and the comments, revealed my tweet had spread to evangelical Christians. I found this nicely ironic, and returned to the meeeting.

On the way home, I saw there were over 100 new followers and the retweet count was up to 500. This time it was the Turks who were passing on the Greek joke. Schadenfreude?  Ironically, the lame joke had legs.

Later in the evening I was sent a notice that my name was trending in London. My new follower count was up by 400.

Friday morning, the tweet was still going. No longer lame, it was sprinting. I had emails from friends informing me it was the “Top Tweet”, meaning Twitter had designated it the most popular tweet in the world at that moment. It stayed that way for most of the day.

That evening, over drinks, I was telling some friends about the strange journey of my joke when the phone rang. My father-in-law (who has never even heard of twitter) loudly read out my tweet over the phone. It had appeared in his local paper.

By Saturday morning, the tweet was now translated and being circulated in French, Spanish, Greek, and Turkish. The retweet count was over 2500 and the new followers were over 570.

Want more followers? Two words: Bad. Jokes.

On Sunday, it was still going, steadily being retweeted every couple of minutes. On Monday morning, I had emails telling me it had been quoted on BBC.  The retweet count topped 3000.

According to one site, the little lame tweet that could has reached 1,993,912 followers. That’s only 14% of Justin Bieber’s followers, but still a larger audience than anything I’ve ever said or written before.

Think about that for a second. 40 some years on the planet, and when my 15 minutes of fame arrived, when the great planetary megaphone was passed to me, I told a bad joke and handed the megaphone over to @LadyGaga.

What would I have rather said? With an audience of some 2m I’d probably ask them to donate to the famine in Somalia. Or to support aid reform. Or maybe just tell them something more banal but nonetheless more important, like “Be nice to each other.”  Almost anything would have been better than a bad (and historically inaccurate) joke about a financial crisis that means little to me.

We used to say “Everyone has one great novel inside of them.” I think now all we can hope for is one good tweet. Unfortunately, mine was last week.


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1 Comment

  1. Maria Post-Fitzgerald says:

    I originally decided to follow your tweets after reading about the organizations you support, and your rush to the airport. I can relate to wanting to have a positive impact with your blogs/tweets, but if I may present you with a silver lining perspective…
    You have an increase in those who follow you, due to your ”bad joke” tweet. Maximize this opportunity immediately. Best Wishes.

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