Suey Park has simmered down. The activist who in 2014 launched the #CancelColbert hashtag and for a hot minute split the Internet into warring camps — roughly "show some respect" vs. "lighten up" — has, in the past year, slowed her Twitter trigger finger. New Republic writer Elizabeth Bruenig caught up with Park in Chicago, where she seemed a bit remorseful, a little subdued, after her dust-up with Steven Colbert fans. Park tweets more slowly now, avoiding getting swept up in moments that trigger the “two-minute hate.”
By calling for one of the most popular comedians on television (and online) to lose his job, Park earned the enduring ire of the Internet. Bruenig looks at Park's situation and wonders whether, online, people can be allowed to change:
I asked Park if there were aspects of her Web presence she would prefer to disappear? Would she exercise the right to be forgotten?
“No,” she said, laughing a little. “I don’t want to lose all my digital history.”
What about a right to change? Would she want that?
I was hurrying to catch up to her as she answered me, the breeze lifting her hair back from her cheek as she smiled, looking ahead.
“I really like the sound of that.”
Tweets may seem ephemeral, but the Internet is slow to forget or forgive its designated enemies. Once we establish an identity online, can we alter it, or ever hope to erase it? Park at least ponders the former, and even the rest of us social-media nobodies ought to imagine the long-term consequences of our dumbest tweets and status updates, when we had either too much to drink or too little to think.
The degree to which social media posts represent their creators is an ongoing point of research and debate. It’s not difficult to understand the logic: Clever tweets come from clever people; insightful posts from insightful people; and while we're all capable of bouts of stupidity, a mass of dumb tweets are likely the work of a genuine dullard. But that's still a narrow view, in so far as it discounts the real possibility of personal growth. Look no further than Trevor Noah vs. His Old Tweets to see the conundrum. A person may change, but the past remains tattooed onto us as Facebook status updates and Instagram photos. In some cases, actual tattoos are easier to explain away.
Suey attracted the vitriol of the Internet last year by advocating (then later claiming it as some distorted type of satire) the cancellation of The Colbert Report. What fired Suey up was an ill-written tweet based on a sharp segment against the Washington Redskins and their insincere effort to buddy up with Native Americans.
All it takes to avoid a lasting mistake in either case: a bit of patience. The tweet that set Park off last year was in fact an anti-racism joke, cloaked in the same layer of in-joke irony that has always defined The Colbert Report. Jay Caspian Kang’s recap of the situation from March 2014 is a nice refresher; basically, Park saw an obviously ridiculous tweet from the account of a comedy show (the offending 140 characters: “I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever,”) and treated it with a deadly degree of seriousness.
To anyone who didn’t see the original segment — which Park admitted that she did not — the tweet makes The Colbert Report, adored as a paragon of progressive comedy, seem as if it had reduced itself down to the dumbest common denominator. Five minutes on Google could have saved Park from starting a year’s worth of headaches.
The fact that her online infamy could've been avoided doesn't mean it's just. “You do one wrong thing,” Park told The New Republic, “and you’re tainted. You’re out forever.” It's the nature of the Internet not to forget. That shouldn't prevent it from at least forgiving.