Anatomy of a Social Media Firestorm: The Fascinating Case of @DCGopGirl #ElizabethLauten

Side-by-side photos of Elizabeth Lauten and President Obama with Sasha and Malia at a turkey pardoning ceremony

If a lit match falls in a forest, does it make a sound?

It does if it sparks a wildfire!

Rarely do I find myself on the nascent end of a social media firestorm.

But the day after Thanksgiving, I happened upon a Tumblr post created by jadebrieanne, which is the Tumblr persona of Ashley Wike, a 30-year-old writer from Atlanta.

The post featured a screenshot taken from the Facebook account of an Elizabeth Lauten, in which she had posted an unsolicited letter to the First Daughters:

Screenshot of a Elizabeth Lauten's Facebook post, which reads, "Dear Sasha and Malia, I get your both in those awful teen years but you're a part of the First Family. Try showing a little class. At least respect the part you play. Then again, your mother and father don't respect their positions very much, or the nation for that matter, so I'm guessing you're coming up a little short in the 'good role model' department. Nevertheless, stretch yourself. Rise to the occasion. Act like being in the White House matters to you. Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar. And certainly don't make faces during televised public events.

Since I’m normally not hip to the latest insert-foot-in-mouth stories until weeks or months after they’ve made their social and digital rounds, I presumed this Lauten story was old news – albeit no less cringe-inducing.

So in my flabbergasted state, I turned to Google in search of news articles related to “Elizabeth Lauten.”

I was amazed to find that the story hadn’t hit the news sites or networks yet.

So I turned back to Tumblr and, upon further investigation, discovered that Wike’s post was only about two hours old.

And yet, it had already amassed more than 8,000 notes!

I then turned to Twitter, where the #ElizabethLauten tweets were already on one fireball of a roll.

I was shocked and delighted to find myself in the initial throes of a social media firestorm.

Suffice it to say, my journalistic curiosity kicked into full gear as I dropped what I was supposed to be working on to instead slide down a social media rabbit hole of tracking down the origins of and the key people involved in making sure that Lauten’s ember of cray-cray did not go quietly into the night.

Which turned out to be one helluva fascinating case study into what it takes, and potentially how long it takes, for a solitary social media post to go viral.


HOUR ZERO DARK ZERO

Around 3 am PST on November 28, 2014, Lauten posted the aforementioned rant on her public Facebook page, which had around 130 followers.


HOUR ONE 

Eight hours later, at 11:12 am PST, @karsh, a writer from Atlanta who has 1,700 followers, sent a tweet to @YeshaCallahan:

Karsh's tweet reads: "Oh my GOD. That hateful woman."

Up until that moment, Callahan, who is an editor at The Root and lives in the DC-area, had been musing about the ideal crunchiness of greens and grimacing at a recent boxing photo of Mickey Rourke.

But seven minutes later, at 11:19 am PST, Callahan, who has 8,000 followers, replied:

Callahan's response reads: "I've never wanted to punch someone so much before."

Based on my research, Callahan shared a mutual Facebook friend with Lauten. And this mutual friend, via her own Facebook wall, had shared a link to Lauten’s post with Callahan and others.

Four minutes later, at 11:23 am PST, Callahan posted the tweet that would spark a social media firestorm:

Callahan tweets, "@RepFincherTN08 you may want to tell your employee Elizabeth Lauten to stop bullying teens on FB https://www.facebook.com/elauten/posts/10102160412473103?comment_id=10102160980035703&notif_t=like …

Because this is the first tweet to call out Lauten by name, I’m going to christen Callahan, Tweeter Zero.

Now, what would later come to light, glaringly so, is that Lauten wasn’t just any ole’ Congressional staffer, she was Representative Stephen Fincher’s Communications Director; and a self-proclaimed “digital and media relations specialist” and consultant who touted her skills as a social media maven.

Oh the irony!

And if that weren’t bad enough, Lauten’s boss represents the 8th congressional district in Tennessee, which has a constituent base that is 22% African-American.

At any rate, when Callahan mentioned @RepFincher in her tweet, because Lauten directly handled Fincher’s social media accounts, it wasn’t long before she started scrubbing her Facebook account and changing her privacy settings to block Callahan and others:

Callahan's tweet a reply: "@NaYaKnoMi @RepFincherTN08 No..she deleted the comments & changed her privacy settings. My friend is friends w/her & it still shows up."


HOUR TWO 

At 12:20 pm PST, Callahan tweeted a screenshot of the odious rant, which had been sent to her by the mutual friend. In the tweet, she included both Rep. Fincher’s handle and Lauten’s Twitter handle, @DCGopGirl:

Callahan's tweet in which she includes a photo of Lauten's Facebook rant. Above the photo, Callahan wrote: "In her spare time when @DCGopGirl is not doing work for @RepFincherTN08 she shames teenagers on Facebook"

For the rest of the day, till around 9 pm PST, Callahan would go on to post dozens upon dozens of tweets and replies regarding #ElizabethLauten… before resting up and picking up where she had left off bright and early the next morning.

Oddly enough, however, despite the fact that Callahan is an editor at TheRoot.com, which is a popular digital news site and sister site to Slate.com, an article about Lauten’s Facebook tirade did not appear on The Root for quite some time. How long? More on that later…

A picture is, indeed, worth a thousand words

…As evidenced in the way Callahan’s photo of Lauten’s rant spread like a California wildfire across the Twittersphere and blazed over to other social platforms as well.

Callahan’s colleague, Demetria Lucas, @abelleinbk – a blogger, life coach and columnist at The Root – not only tweeted the photo to her 35,000 followers…

But at 1:00 pm PST, Lucas shared it with her 50,000 followers on Instagram, as well:

Beneath a photo of Lauten's tirade, Lucas writes, "So... in today's #unbelievablystupidmoves... Elizabeth Lauten, the communications director for a Republican Congressman (Fincher) thought it was a good idea to go in on the First Kids on FB, from their so-called attitudes to the length of their skirts. She suggested Sasha + Malia "try showing a little class" and "dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at the bar." O_o Um, ma'am. These are CHILDREN. You don't publicly attack kids!!! What is wrong with you?!!! This chick gotta be drunk on egg nog or high on stuffing. Wonder if she'll have a job come Monday. Hmmm."


Continue to Part 2 >>


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