Skip to main content

Why I live tweeted #roofbreakup

By Kyle Ayers
December 3, 2013 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
Is it OK to live tweet other people's conversations? To an extent, yes, says Kyle Ayers.
Is it OK to live tweet other people's conversations? To an extent, yes, says Kyle Ayers.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Elan Gale, producer of "The Bachelor," is under heat for his live-tweet-turned-hoax
  • Kyle Ayers: Fiction aside, it is OK to post other people's conversations on Twitter
  • He says there's no harm as long as the personal identities of the people are anonymous
  • Ayers: A story with no specific names attached is no less fake than fiction

Editor's note: Kyle Ayers is a comedian and writer living in Brooklyn, New York. He posts essays, videos and other work on his website.

(CNN) -- Elan Gale, producer of "The Bachelor," is under heat for his live-tweet-turned-hoax aboard US Airways over Thanksgiving weekend. His live tweets about a feud with a disgruntled passenger went viral and garnered him tons of attention and sympathy.

Turned out the whole thing was made up. Gale admitted it on Twitter. Should Gale not have made up the woman in 7a whom he called Diane? Maybe. But then again he's in the creative industry. He's a writer.

To me, what's more fascinating is how quick we are to jump on any interesting human interaction. Gale conceived of a short story on Twitter and it was so good that hungry media outlets seized on it and spread the story like wildfire.

If Gale wanted publicity, he got it. If the media wanted a good and verified story, it should have done its job of fact-checking.

Kyle Ayers
Kyle Ayers

Gale just happened to live-tweet a fiction. But the bigger issue is: Is it OK to live-tweet other people's conversations?

Based on my own experiences, I'd say yes, to an extent.

A few weeks ago, it was an unusually warm night in Brooklyn. I had a friend in town and we went up to the roof to enjoy the view. More groups of people came up and cluttered the smallish space.

Suddenly a couple burst on to the roof. Simply put, they began breaking up on the roof, in front of everyone. It all seemed so familiar to me, the back and forth, the arguing between the couple. I'll tweet out what they're saying, I thought. I didn't think too much about it. It just seemed like a relatable situation.

The breakup, #roofbreakup as it became known, started to pick up steam, and eventually went viral. I began to receive messages and tweets and e-mails from all over the world, with the overwhelming majority expressing their delight and joy in reading the tweet-sized transcript.

But not everyone condones this behavior. Nisha Chittal, a social media content editor at MSNBC, posted an essay on Medium entitled, "Please stop live-tweeting people's private conversations."

Chittal mentions my #roofbreakup, Gale's airplane feud (before it was revealed to be a hoax), a date someone overheard on Amtrak, and the time where Tom Matzzie overheard former NSA director Michael Hayden's phone conversation with reporters. Chittal says she believes it to be "unethical and unfair to regular people to broadcast their lives to an audience against their will."

She's right in some ways. However, except in the case of Michael Hayden, the people in her examples are anonymous. They just as easily could have been fiction, as in the case of Gale's airplane feud, where the characters existed in an invented scenario to evoke people's sympathy.

But there is no harm if a conversation with universal appeal is shared publicly as long as the people remain anonymous.

For example, with my own live-tweeting of #roofbreakup, I didn't give any clues as to who the couple were. When sifting through the endless responses sent my way in the wake of #roofbreakup, time and time again I came across "oh I've been there before" and "sounds like my last breakup." The only explanation for the level of exposure that my #roofbreakup got is that people connected with the situation.

It was gossiping in the 21st century, except instead of using specifics and pointing out the people, it remained "guy" and "Rachel."

I didn't live-tweet a couple's private conversation; I live-tweeted any two people's breakup conversation.

Technology is quickly changing our lives and we are adapting accordingly. It's so easy to communicate and share information and knowledge instantly. And now we have to deal with having private conversations in public spaces. But private and public are not always distinctly drawn lines. Sometimes the two mesh and things get blurry.

As humans, we're intrigued with the lives of other people. When other people's lives parallel ours, we feel less alone in the world.

The media knows this. Just as often as you read a headline about a natural disaster, you will see a headline about a personal disaster. Elaborate proposal videos go viral daily. Couples fighting in public get on YouTube.

Go ahead and share the story you overheard on the street or cafe, just make sure to not give away the personal identities. A story with no specific names attached is no less fake than fiction.

You may wonder: Did the #roofbreakup really happen? You can believe me or not, but I promise you it did.

Had I witnessed the breakup on my roof five or six years ago, I would have told everyone I knew about the crazy exchange. I would have walked back into my apartment and re-enacted it for my then roommates, embellishing and recalling every line I possibly could.

But I witnessed the breakup in 2013, and I communicated it in a way that seemed just as normal as any other. It just happens that I can tell the story to more people.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Kyle Ayers.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 0127 GMT (0927 HKT)
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT