SCIENCE/TECH

The NYTOnIt Account is Hilarious. Shame the Times Can’t Take a Joke

November 21, 2012   ·   0 Comments

Source: The Guardian

New York Times digital subscriptions have seen an 11% rise

Above: The New York Times -- does it think we can't tell a joke? Photograph: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

By Jeff Jarvis:

It's sad that the Times' lawyers should have gone after what is clearly fair comment – and perhaps sadder that Twitter caved in.

Lawyers. God save Twitter and the rest of us from these literal-minded twits, the kind who plaster the world with caution signs so they can say "we told you so" when we fall and sue; the kind who write 40-page terms of service not to be read but only to cover their corporate asses; and the humorless kind who send cease-and-desist letters to the creators of parodies, crying trademark violation.

The New York Times is staffed with just such lawyers. They complained to Twitter about a hilarious account, @nytonit, created by law student Benjamin Kabak (in real life @bkabak), with surely only one purpose: to skewer the never-ending flow of terribly obvious trend stories that breathlessly discover some grand truth of everyday life in the big city, as if New York were nothing but a gigantic anthropology lab filled with cute and clueless rats. A recent sampling:

We could go on forever, because so do New York Times trend stories.

But Kabak made the apparent mistake of using an Old English "T" in the mock logo for his mock account, which he clearly labeled as mockery. So The Times claimed trademark violation and went whining to Twitter, which promptly suspended @NYTOnit, unleashing a flood of further mockery on Twitter, leading, after a long night, to reinstatement.

In its victory-after-surrender statement, Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy (@NYTeileen) tweeted: "@nytonit has been restored without our logo and clearly labeled a parody, which is all we asked."

This exact scenario has been played out before. Eight years ago the Times' legal department shut down @RobertCox's op-ed corrections satire (the satire being that the Times op-ed page has no corrections) until a similar peace and new logo were negotiated. Clearly, like peace in Israel and Gaza, it didn't stick.

It's funny. But it's also offensive – that the Times would go after speech that is clearly fair comment and succeed in shutting it down, and that Twitter – which, as Columbia University journalist professor Emily Bell said when interviewing Twitter's CEO recently, is now the platform for the world's speech – would so soon fold to the paper's demand (what will it do when dictators come calling?).

But what's most offensive is that the Times would insult the intelligence of all of us, presuming that we cannot recognize the real Times from the funny Times – that, like a lawyer, we can't tell a joke.

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