BuzzFeed, Meet The Oatmeal

Last night just before I went to bed I was scrolling through my Twitter stream — as you do — when I came across Jim Dalrymple’s post titled after a line from Mathew Inman’s article Dear Jack Stuef, “You bitter, uninspired, bottom-feeding ass”. All the more curious once I discovered Jim’s link was to an article written by one of my favorite webcomic authors, I spent the next half hour reading in varying degrees of disbelief and disappointment — disbelief that the issue managed to escalate this far, and disappointment that Mathew Inman received enough flak to take time out of his life and away from creating his excellent webcomic to respond.

The issue in question regards Inman’s recent comic strip, the last panel of which has since been removed from the website but nevertheless can be found in a Democratic Underground forum post, in which Inman humorously explained his “delicate relationship” with various keys on his keyboard. In doing so, Inman compared the F5 key to a rape victim in an attempt at humor that although was certainly borderline inappropriate, did not cross any sort of imaginary, not-well-defined line. The rape joke was a poor choice when considered in the 20/20 vision of hindsight, but we — the collective “we” of the Internet — should not crucify him for an off-color joke. Unfortunately, this is exactly what Jack Stuef did in his article posted on BuzzFeed titled The Secrets of the Internet’s Most Beloved Viral Marketer where he used the rape joke as his “way in” to tearing apart Mathew Inman himself as well as his work. Laughably inaccurate, as Inman pointed out in Dear Jack Stuef, nevertheless we the internet have climbed up to our lofty pedestal, adjusted our toupee and twirled our handlebar mustache, and begun pontificating to this one man even as with the hand not outstretched in condemnation we retweet Inappropriate Tweets because their latest quip is just oh-so hilarious.

Hopefully you can see how asinine this is. I’m not excusing the joke, but it’s important to draw a line between the joke Inman made and portraying him as having said that “rape is no big deal” or “trivializing something so awful for the sake of puppeting a joke”, which is simply not the case. And unfortunately, as of this morning it seemed that Mathew Inman was the only one capable of realizing this. When I opened Tweetbot earlier this evening though, a different scene unfolded before me: the discussion has ceased to be permeated by Inman’s idiot detractors as The Oatmeal’s more reasonable readers have written actual responses to the issue. Jeff Roberts of GigaOM collected a number of these opinions in his article posted in response to BuzzFeed releasing “an apology, of sorts”. Despite claiming to have removed the erroneous portions though, for some reason the article, chock-full of errors and inaccuracies, remains as an apparently permanent stain on BuzzFeed’s reputation in the minds of the undoubtedly numerous readers who before last night only knew of BuzzFeed as one acknowledges the fact that Yahoo! and RIM still exist.

Beginning with the plagiarism controversy I discussed in Credibility and Bullies with Blogs and picking back up in the flame war Marco Arment and John Gruber started with Josh Topolsky of The Verge not long afterwards, this debacle marks the third ugly Internet incident I have witnessed in the past few months. Despite being over completely different topics though — how the advent of a particular system in taxi cabs has greatly increased cab drivers’ revenue, properly crediting Apple as the source for the majority of today’s tech designs, and inappropriate jokes on a webcomic, respectively — these three events do possess one common trait: poor writing. In Joshua Gross’s case with his article The $144,146,165 Button, a complete lack of principles and editorial oversight resulted in his article ending up on The Next Web nearly verbatim; the attribution argument is not as clear-cut, but simple credit given where it was due would have prevented the entire Arment-Gruber-Topolsky outburst; these past few days have seen a combination of these factors to the worst extent possible: first, we have a writer completely devoid of any principles. See Stuef’s joke about Sarah Palin’s son with Down syndrome for proof of that. As if that was not enough, whatever editorial oversight present at BuzzFeed seems to have taken the day off when Stuef’s article was published. How else could something so blatantly inaccurate, wrong, and stupid ever get out the door? And then the attribution aspect enters the fray in the form of accurate research, which Stuef clearly did anything other than in preparation — what little of which occurred — for the release of his article personal attack, posted on BuzzFeed of all places. Hopefully the third time’s the charm here and this will be the last time I have the chance to make this sort of comparison again, but I find that woefully doubtful.

I originally intended to close this article with Josh Topolsky’s final remark aimed at John and Marco, just as I closed Credibility and Bullies with Blogs: “And that’s too bad, because I think you both have a lot more to contribute.” As I thought about it though I realized just how out of place that would have been here: while I do believe Mathew Inman does have a lot more to contribute to the web, I think we can all agree that Jack Stuef has contributed quite enough already.