Defending Mr. Peanut
There’s a person behind the shell.
by J.S. Stansel
Recently VICE News published an article entitled “I Was Banned From Twitter for Threatening to Kill Mr. Peanut.” In it, the author, fledgling Chicago comedian Luke Taylor, details his experience in trolling the @MrPeanut Twitter account and “systematically harassing the peanut man for about four months.” This harassment included death threats such as “I want a bullet in your brain” and “I will fly anywhere in the world to kill you. Just name the place.” Taylor claims that this was all in the name of online performance art and that he only attacked the “character of Mr. Peanut, never the corporation or the human beings behind the account.”
But here’s the thing. Whether it was his intention or not, he did attack the person behind the account. Social media managers deal with abuse daily. Sometimes it’s an angry customer who’s had a bad experience with a product or someone who doesn’t like their work and feels the need to let them know. Sometimes it’s a group of people angry at the brand they represent because of actions that the social media manager has zero control of. These things are all a part of the job. A good social media manager knows this and has built a thick skin. However, death threats and systematic harassment are not something a social media manager, or anyone else for that matter, should have to deal with.
Taylor’s actions were unacceptable and he deserved to be banned from Twitter. He’s lucky he’s not facing criminal charges.
Taylor’s claim that he was only attacking a brand and not a person falls short. There are real people running brand Twitter accounts. These people work very hard for long hours and are often woefully underpaid. They often field hundreds of questions and comments daily. They have learned not to take criticism personally, but when someone Tweets “I want a bullet in your brain” to them, they rightfully take it seriously. The world is a scary place right now and there’s no way to tell if that person who just Tweeted a death threat to your company is just a crank with a sick sense of humor or a mass shooter with an AR-15 outside your office. I repeat; death threats are not a joke. Taylor’s Tweets were threatening, dangerous, and cruel. Regardless of his intent, he likely made someone feel threatened and unsafe in their workplace.
“I targeted Mr. Peanut because I thought replying to a brand as though the brand were a real person was funny. Brands already act like real people on Twitter, so I decided to give a brand the same treatment almost everyone else receives on that platform: Strangers sending them death threats.”
First, if this is how Taylor views Twitter as a platform his view of the world is severely skewed. While abuse and harassment are a major problem for Twitter, it should not be viewed as the norm and in no way makes this behavior acceptable.
Taylor states that he is only attacking a character and a brand acting as if it were a real person. But as a performer himself, Miller should be the first to know better than this. Miller bills himself as a comedian and part of the Chicago based sketch troupes The Shrimp Boys and Helltrap Nightmare. My question to Taylor, is how is his behavior towards the Mr. Peanut Twitter account any different than a heckler attending one of his shows? If someone stood up during one of Helltrap Nightmare’s performances and shouted death threats towards the performers on stage would they be allowed to remain in the theatre and continue their shouts? After all, the heckler could claim that they are only threatening the character Taylor is playing, not Taylor himself. Would Taylor defend the heckler’s right to “free speech” as he does to justify his own behavior?
Just as Taylor is in no way obligated to give a platform to a heckler at one of his shows just Twitter, as a private company, is in no way obligated to give him a platform in the name of free speech.
Taylor seems to view himself as something of a hero of late-era capitalism. He unrepentantly ends his article with:
“The most messed up thing about this whole saga though, is that throughout my tireless fight against corporate America, getting banned for my bravery, and now trying to fight back, no one’s even asked me how much money I would pay Planters for one bare-knuckled round against Mr. Peanut. Just name your price.”
But really, if you want to fight the power, there are better ways to do it than making a social media manager’s life miserable. Sending death threats to a corporate social media account doesn’t make you a working class hero sticking it to the man, it makes you a criminal and a garbage human being.
Regardless of your view of brands on social media, Taylors’s actions are inappropriate and his ban from Twitter is completely justified.
If you are also angered by Taylor’s actions, you may be inclined to make your feelings known to Taylor on Twitter. But, as his account has been justly banned, you can no longer do this. So instead of spreading more anger on social media, I recommend that you send Tweets of kindness and support to the @MrPeanut Twitter account. I’m sure the social media team behind it would appreciate your kind words.