Conservative New York Times columnist Bret Stephens deleted his Twitter account Tuesday morning after a social media flare-up over being called a “bedbug.”
The conflict started Monday afternoon, when a Times editor tweeted, “There are bedbugs in the NYT newsroom.”
“The bedbugs are a metaphor,” Dave Karpf, an associate professor at George Washington University, replied. “The bedbugs are Bret Stephens.”
The tweet itself barely made a ripple. But four hours later, Karpf described an email Stephens sent to him and his boss.
Karpf later posted the full email, which accused Karpf of “setting a new standard” for personal attacks, and asking the professor to come to his house, meet his family and then repeat the insult to his face.
The revelation of the email led to rounds of mockery from other users, and making Stephens the second highest national trend on Twitter.
Some rewrote the first line of Kafka’s “Metamorphosis,” in which a protagonist awakens to find himself transformed into a roach, to be about him, while another prankster changed Stephens’ Wikipedia entry to include “bedbug.”
Others pilloried Stephens not just for having thin skin, but also for perceived hypocrisy.
Stephens has written extensively in defense of speech that provokes “discomfort,” especially against what he has characterized as the “siege of the perpetually enraged.” Some on Twitter accused Stephens of wanting discomfort for others but not for himself.
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