Another day, another inadequate Note response.
Yesterday, in a lengthy Facebook post, actress Kristina Cohen accused Gossip Girl‘s Ed Westwick of raping her. Today, in a not-so-lengthy tweet, Westwick denied Cohen’s allegations. ‘I do not know this woman,’ Westwick wrote in a Note, ‘I have never forced myself in any manner, on any woman. I certainly have never committed rape.’
Why did Westwick respond on Twitter, and why did he respond in a Notes app screenshot? The response is safely under the 140-character limit on Twitter. Westwick could have conveyed the same message in a tweet. If he wanted to lend the message extra gravitas, he could have just pinned it.
This fall, allegations of sexual harassment have reached us through a lot of different channels. We learned about the accusations against Harvey Weinstein the old-fashioned way, through the press, but other women have levelled accusations via Twitter, essays, and, in the case of Cohen, via Facebook. These platforms have assumed new legitimacy in the wake of accusations against Harvey Weinstein. In 2017 B.W. (before Weinstein) it was possible to write off posts like Cohen’s as ‘stories.’ Now they’re serious accusations, and they require serious responses. And to a celebrity, nothing is more serious than a Note.
The long history of celebrities using the Notes app to deliver mea culpas and personal news has been well-documented by Bobby Finger, who calls the Notes app ‘an essential supplement to any social media account run by a celebrity.’ There’s an assumption among celebrities that a message delivered via the Notes app is more dignified than a tweet, and they’re not wrong: A screenshot of a Note is treated very differently than a tweet. A Notes apology is the Twitter equivalent of laminating something. Where celebrity tweets are often full of spelling errors, Notes are edited. They are thoughtful. They use fewer hashtags. If we’d had Notes in 1998, Bill Clinton probably would have put ‘I did not have sexual relations with that woman’ in a Note.
Today, every hour of radio silence in the face of an accusation is incriminating. The old ways of addressing the masses — namely, negotiating with different media outlets for days before ultimately deciding to talk to Diane Sawyer — take too long. A simple tweet is too informal, but responding through the press is too formal (and too permanent) so we get a Note.
While Notes might have the appropriate gravitas for a response to petty beef or an apology for an ill-conceived Instagram (looking at you, Debra Messing), Twitter is still a totally inadequate forum for addressing something with actual consequences. The response to Kevin Spacey’s tweeted response after actor Anthony Rapp accused him of sexual assault has been variously described as ‘weak’ and ‘wrong on so many levels.’ Westwick’s tweet has been met with breathless support from fans and skepticism from everyone else.
Times have changed since season one of Gossip Girl. Everyone has iPhones now, for starters. And when Chuck Bass attempted to sexually assault Jenny Humphrey at the Kiss on the Lips party, Chuck didn’t have to respond to accusations — they just blew over. The fact that Chuck tried to rape someone was a non-issue for the rest of the show. And by season two, he was a protagonist.
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