Tweeting the Refpocalypse
Chris Peterson joins CMS on leave from MIT's Office of Undergraduate Admissions, where he spent three years directing digital strategy and communications. In addition to overseeing all web and new media activities for MITAdmissions, Chris liaised with FIRST Robotics and had a special focus on subaltern, disadvantaged, and first-generation applicants.
Before MIT Chris worked as a research assistant at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School and as a Senior Campus Rep for Apple. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the National Coalition Against Censorship, as a Fellow at the National Center for Technology and Dispute Resolution, and as the sole proprietor of BurgerMap.org. He holds a B.A. in Critical Legal Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he completed his senior thesis on Facebook privacy under Professors Ethan Katsh and Alan Gaitenby. He is interested generally in how people communicate within digitally mediated spaces and occasionally blogs at cpeterson.org.
Tweeting the Refpocalypse
This past Monday night the Internet exploded.
It does this from time to time due to some seminal cultural moment, when everyone, it seems, swarms online to post their reactions and thoughts right this moment.
On Monday night, it was due to an incredible, horrible, no good very bad call to end the Packers-Seahawks football game. On the last play of the game, down by five points, Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson threw a Hail Mary into the end zone, where the ball appeared to be intercepted by Packers defensive back M.D. Jennings.
"Appeared to be" because, as you can hear Mike Tirico exclaim above, the catch was ruled a touchdown on the field.
It's actually a bit more complex than that. See, while ref #26 rules touchdown, ref #84 signals touchback, meaning an interception where the defensive player came down out of bounds.
Because of the discrepancy of the calls, and because the play occurred in the final two minutes of the game, the play was automatically reviewed via instant replay. It was widely assumed that upon review the call would be reversed and the Packers awarded an interception and the win.
Instead, after an inexplicable, interminable delay, the refs announced that the ruling on the field stood, and that the Seahawks had won.
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, reddit, and all of the other social intermediaries around and through which so much of the experience of the Internet is organized all exploded at roughly that moment.
Some began making gifs, in order to capture the pivotal play and educate the viewer as to why and how it was messed up:
Others began making image macros, expressing their shock and confusion by leveraging pop culture references and simple text:
The general reaction was infused by what we might call a political element as well. These referees are replacements (or what, in my UAW days, we would have less graciously called "scabs"). The "real" refs are locked out by the owners because of a dispute over pension benefits (and, many argue, simple power). It has been read, by some, as a proxy battle for organized labor. Even the President is getting into the game, with Obama personally tweeting "NFL fans on both sides of the aisle hope the refs' lockout is settled soon. -bo" earlier today.
Nor are the politics limited to the partisan variety. Football is a subculture, a society within a society, with rules and norms and traditions and hierarchies. Football Outsiders aptly characterized the blown call as transforming a minor conflict into crisis of legitimacy, whereby the rules of order and respect for authority which define a society begin to break down.
This is how one seemingly simple event - a blown call on a pivotal play in a football game - can contain within it so many fascinating sociopolitical and media elements. In the immediate reaction to the "Immaculate Deception", as a local sports talk station has taken to calling it, we have people taking source media, editing it, and reproducing it for educational ends. Others take different media and remix it with cultural references with a wickedly satirical bent.
My favorite instance of what might be called "Civic Media" as it relates to the Monday Night Mistake was this microlocated Twitter feed from developer Eric Mathews. The "NFL Live Feed", as it is called, tracks and displays tweets not by topic, but by location; in this case, all tweets originating within 500 meters of CenturyLink Field in Seattle. Tools like these can help ground the ephemeral (tweets) in the physical (stadium) and truly add value and insight to these sorts of bubbling, complex conflicts.
edit: shortly after penning this post, I discovered my favorite thing about all of this: Replacement Google, now sponsored by the NFL.