Three simple words. But the pain and fear these words cause to out of work journalists is unimaginable to the average, working class stiff.
Shortly after it was reported that over 1000 people were laid off at Buzzfeed and the Huffington Post, Twitter users expressed their Schadenfreude by tweeting “learn to code” at laid off journalists and their commiserates.
While dunking on recently laid off people is not the most thoughtful use of social media I can imagine, it seemed relatively harmless. The origin of the “learn to code” meme is the countless articles that appeared as the coal industry was undergoing massive layoffs. The mainstream media’s reaction to the laid off coal miners’ predicament?
You guessed it: “learn to code.” Many stories in 2015 by media outlets took the same approach to the coal mining industry crisis: “Hey, you troglodytic chumps, turn those frowns upside down! Just learn to code and join us in the tech revolution!”
Now things aren’t so good for media companies, and the layoffs have begun. Many good journalists lost their jobs last week. Many social justice activists who were masquerading as journalists lost their jobs too.
Now, I’m not in the business of celebrating when people lose their livelihood. It’s happened to me, and I would not wish what I went through on anyone else, even those with whom I profoundly disagree. But I am in the business of pointing out hypocrisy.
The reason people decided to taunt these now out of work journalists is because many of them have spent the last decade being scolded by them on issues of identity politics. Buzzfeed, the Huffington Post, and many other "woke" outlets were the home to countless think pieces that led to mobbing and shaming.
Don’t care for the Ghostbusters reboot? You’re sexist. Don’t feel comfortable in a change room with someone of the biological opposite sex? You’re transphobic. Don’t like the latest James Bond casting rumour? You’re racist. And so on.
Many people who have felt completely exiled as a result of the culture wars took some relief in taunting the journalists and op-ed writers who lost their jobs. I’m not saying it’s right or appropriate behaviour. It's not. It's wrong. I’m just providing context.
There is another factor at play here: the Covington factor. A week before the media layoffs, there were numerous journalists and members of the cultural elite who willfully misrepresented the Catholic school boys in think piece after think piece and tweet after tweet. Many journalists and celebrities openly called for physical violence against 15 and 16 year old schoolboys.
All of this was based on the debunked narrative that the schoolboys harassed a native elder. We now know that this never happened. The native elder approached the boys and banged a drum in their faces. He then went on a media tour and lied about the incident and falsely claimed that he was a Vietnam veteran.
Some clear-eyed members of the media apologized for jumping to conclusions. But many others doubled down, comparing the kids to the KKK and making up insane conspiracies such as photos of Covington High School basketball players flashing the three point sign at basketball games was actually a secret white supremacist symbol. I’m not kidding.
Conspiratorial nonsense like this seems to rule the day on social media, so it’s no surprise that journalists who were properly irked by the “learn to code” meme, quickly labeled it “alt right” and blamed 4chan trolls.
Then, today, Jonathan Levine of The Wrap took to Twitter to share that someone at Twitter HQ had told him that “tweeting ‘learn to code’ at any recently laid off journalist will be treated as ‘abusive behavior’ and is a violation of Twitter's Terms of Service.”
Levine has since walked back his declaration after Twitter went into damage control mode, with a spokesperson saying, "It's more nuanced than what was reported. Twitter is responding to a targeted harassment campaign against specific individuals—a policy that's long been against the Twitter Rules."
This ridiculous chapter in the increasingly absurd and desperate culture wars should be provide everyone involved with a valuable lesson. Journalists spent over a week berating, threatening, harassing and doxing underage boys from Kentucky in the name of social justice. Some of these journalists then got fired because the businesses they work for are suffering.
People who are sick to the back teeth of the berating, threatening, harassing and doxing tactics of journalists took the opportunity to get some payback on Twitter with a simple, three word meme. The journalists then cried “harassment” and went running to Twitter.
I can’t think of one thing about this story that is redeeming. It sucks that people lost their jobs, and it sucks we can’t be kinder on social media. In this particular case, it’s also clear who the hypocrites are. Maybe we should all learn to code.