I got mini-cancelled for quoting Game of Thrones on Twitter

Image: Game of Thrones/HBO
Image: Game of Thrones/HBO /

Not long ago, I, Dan Selcke, proprietor of the WinterIsComing fan blog, responded to a person on Twitter. There was a discussion going on about Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones, and someone requested an example of a time Dany had talked about burning cities to the ground. Because I’ve watched this show way too often, I remembered a time she did that. Writing under the official @WiCnet account, I fired off a quick tweet where I quoted her word for word, included a link to the video clip where she said the line, and hit “Tweet,” happy to be part of the conversation.

Over the next day, I was told to kill myself, called all manner of nasty names, and was accused by literally dozens of different people of “defending slavery.”

What is going on here? Let me set the scene: A couple weeks back, Federica Bocco wrote an excellent article for WiC where she argued, to quote the splendidly provocative title of the piece, that “Daenerys Targaryen did nothing wrong in Game of Thrones season 8.” It outlines what Federica sees as problems with the final season of the show, particularly as regards Daenerys’ arc, and led to a lot of spirited discussion among fans on Twitter.

One of the oldest discussions around this topic is whether Dany’s pyromaniacal turn in “The Bells” was properly foreshadowed by the rest of the show. Were we to take the sack of Astapor, the crucifixion of the Great Masters of Meereen, and other incidents as an indication that Dany was capable of burning down King’s Landing, or was that an out-of-left-field choice we couldn’t have seen coming? (I’ve argued that it’s closer to the latter, for the record.)

That was the talk a couple of fans were having on Twitter when one of them wrote this:

"Show me where in those seasons (aside from 8) where SHE talks about burning cities. And try honesty. I know Dany haters hate that."

Now, I should have known not to get involved in this. That tweet is already pretty hostile, accusing “Dany haters” — whatever those are — of hating honesty. These are not the words of someone ready to have a good faith discussion about a TV show, but because I’m an idiot, I just looked at the substance of the tweet — show me an instance where Dany talked about burning cities — and did exactly that, complete with direct quote and link:

I’m quoting Daenerys from the season 6 episode “Battle of the Bastards” after Tyrion asks her what she intends to do about the invading forces from Yunkai. It’s not a value judgment, it’s not an argument for or against anything in particular, it’s a response to the prompt: name an instance where Dany talked about burning cities, here she is talking about returning “their cities to the dirt,” i.e. destroying them.

I thought it was a pretty self-explanatory tweet. But this is Twitter, where nuance goes to die, where dog-piling is a favorite past-time, and where narratives are more powerful than facts. And the narrative that emerged among the over 100 responses to my tweet was that WiC was “supporting slavery.”

Let’s take a look at some of what I mean. And just so you know, I won’t be directly embedding any of these tweets, because when you talk about people who willfully misinterpret what you say to justify abusing you, the polite thing to do is to keep their identities as obfuscated as possible to prevent anyone from turning around and abusing them, since abuse in either direction isn’t okay. And I recognize that what happened to the WiC account happened on a small scale — we got well over 100 abusive tweets, but not thousands — and that not many people will read this article. But I’m gonna take this precaution anyway; consider it training for when WiC is popular enough to actually get cancelled.

Anyway, on to the accusations, and remember that each line is a different tweet from a different person:

"Certified accounts defending slavery nowA verified account is defending slavery.. I’m done lmaoverified twitter user @ WiCnet defending slavery again huhwhy are you defending slavery?We defending slavery now huhSlavery defender confirmed lmaoare you defending slavers mf?Not this verified account defending slavers IM SICKNot a certified account defending slaverynot this sight once again defending slaveryNot WiC defending slaveryIs this what we’re doing now? Defending slavery. I knew you were weirddon’t you have any other content to provide for your 127k followers that isn’t pro slavery?Listen, I’m not even a Dany stan, I can take her or leave her but defending slavery on main isn’t itwhoever is running the acc is so fucked in the head.Uhhhhh I’m VERY okay watching slavers get annihilated, what is wrong with this dipstick?How is this account verified ?!? It’s clearly biased and a known Dany hater , now a known pro slaver . Tell the facts and gojust say you support slavery and go."

And literally on and on and on like that; you can read the responses at your leisure if you wish.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: clearly, the tweet is not “supporting slavery.” Even taken on its face, that’s a ridiculous interpretation. Dany didn’t just talk about killing the slavers in that quote; she talked about killing “every last one of their soldiers and return[ing] their cities to the dirt.” Yunkai exclusively uses slave soldiers, and lots of slaves live in the cities she’ll be returning to the dirt, more slaves that masters, and she’s not making distinctions. This is basic reading comprehension stuff.

And even if the tweet was exclusively about the slavers, which it’s not, going from “Here’s a thing a fictional character said about killing fictional slavers” to “you support the institution of slavery” is such a huge leap that you could only make it by interpreting what I wrote in bad faith. And as I’ve said on a loop now, my tweet was a response to a request to name a time Dany talked about burning cities. As requested, I named a time Dany talked about burning cities, but the way people responded you’d think I gave a full-throated endorsement of chattel slavery. Either the people responding to me didn’t see the full context of my response, or they did and didn’t care.

And why wouldn’t they care? Because…

Narratives are more compelling than facts

Earlier in the article, I called the “WiC supports slavery” idea a “narrative.” I think that’s the best word for it. It’s certainly not based on fact; to confirm, neither I nor anyone involved with the site supports slavery, which you’d think would be obvious but you find yourself having to state the obvious sometimes when Twitter gets involved. And it’s not based on the tweet, either, as shown above. It looks to me that the “X supports slavery” narrative is one this particular group of fans has deployed before, because more than one person trotted out a “Dany antis defending slavery again” graphic. It was all ready and everything.

But why are dozens and dozens of people willing to accuse me of something as heinous as defending slavery based on absolutely nothing? And people got passionate about this. I only got one request I kill myself, but that’s one too many. There was a demand that I deactivate the account (complete with a couple of butcher knife emojis). One fan concocted a conspiracy theory related to a poll we ran the other month, another demanded we change our Twitter header, another that we delete the tweet.

The short answer is that I don’t know why people are wiling to be this openly hostile and threatening to someone who’s done them no harm, but I have some ideas. Clearly these folks are very invested in the character of Daenerys Targaryen, and in the idea that there are “anti-Danys” out there trying to tear her down. I suspect they identify strongly with this narrative and are quick to call out anything they see as threatening it, even if no threat exists. They want an “enemy,” because they want to feel they’re fighting on the right side of a noble battle defending their Dragon Queen against those who would destroy her. And if they don’t have an enemy, they’re willing to invent one.

Honestly, it kind of reminds me of what you hear about conspiracy theorists who believe in coo-coo bananas stuff like Pizzagate or QAnon. And just so we’re clear, no, I don’t think these folks are anywhere near as harmful as Pizzagate or QAnon believers, but they do seem to be operating on similar principles: they create narratives that are at odds with reality, identify strongly with those narratives, and then attack anyone they see as threatening them, using their belief in the justness of the narrative as rationalization for why it’s okay to do so. After all, if these fans didn’t believe that I supported slavery, then telling me to kill myself would be overkill. They have to believe this absurd thing about me in order to justify saying the hurtful stuff they say. So they believe it.

I also think there’s a dog-pile instinct at work. Towards the end of the cancellation, people started commenting a lot on “the ratio,” that is, the high amount of replies and quote tweets compared to the low amount of likes, a signal that the tweet was being savaged. “Adding to the ratio,” one wrote. “Bruh that ratio,” wrote another. I think that once it becomes clear that lots of people are ganging up on someone, it gives others license to join in, and the facts become secondary. After all, a crowd wouldn’t be throwing tomatoes at someone in the stocks if they didn’t deserve it…right? Might as well join in and have some fun.

And that’s the final point: I think it feels fun to gang up on someone when they’ve done something wrong and your group is in the right, serving up just desserts. The problem is that notions of who’s right and who’s wrong can be completely fabricated, particularly in a nuance-free place like Twitter. I think it’s important to keep the seductively fun side of public shaming on our minds when we see stuff like this, lest we be tempted to indulge. At the least, we should give things a second thought, cause that first thought can’t always be trusted.