It was a social media saga that took the form of a three-act play: First a mother’s politicized Twitter post about her son, featuring a picture of him posed ridiculously and her complaints about his lack of dating life due to “the current climate of false sexual accusations,” went viral. Soon it inspired a wave of parodies: people posting about their “sons’ ” problems in the “current climate.” (Marty McFly can’t go on dates because his mother made a pass at him at prom!) Then the actual son at the center of it all spoke up to clarify that he had no idea what his mom was talking about. What a weird confluence of events involving a bunch of people we had never heard of until five seconds ago!
The original post, since deleted along with the account that posted it, read as follows: “This is MY son. He graduated #1 in boot camp. He was awarded the USO award. He was #1 in A school. He is a gentleman who respects women. He won’t go on solo dates due to the current climate of false sexual accusations by radical feminists with an axe to grind. I VOTE. #HimToo.” The indignant tone was accompanied by a picture of a young man in a Navy uniform, posing theatrically with one leg up on a bench and his chin resting on a fist.
That the post would get pilloried was all too predictable: Here was an apparent conservative trying to make the argument that the #MeToo movement had gone too far and illustrating why with a very specific example: how it is affecting her very nice son. If someone who was in the Navy and No. 1 in boot camp can’t “go on solo dates,” which is a wonderful way of phrasing it, what is this world coming to? This type of bluster is common on social media, but the details made the post especially ripe to be remixed and memed. People started posting pictures of their sons, aka random things that they were calling their sons, which included the kid from The Sixth Sense, Donald Trump Jr., and some “sons” that were technically animals, among others.
What took this story from medium-amusing to transcendent, though, was when the original son in question showed up on Twitter. His name is Pieter Hanson, and his Twitter handle? @Thatwasmymom.
In responding, Hanson cast doubt on his mother’s claims in a kind, gentle way usually not seen on social media. He wasn’t here to clap back at his mother but to say that “Sometimes the people we love do things that hurt us without realizing it,” which is indisputably true. Mimicking the silly pose from the original tweet was a disarming touch and show of good humor. Taken in sum, Hanson pulled off a rare feat: He reclaimed his narrative and, flouting the unofficial rule that any suddenly notable person on the internet is probably worse than you think, accomplished what the Verge termed the “reverse milkshake duck”: Instead of a viral hero being revealed as less-than-heroic when his racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise offensive posts surfaced, here was a viral villain outed as, despite it all, a righteous hero.
Hanson’s response was an excellent reminder of one crucial and too-often-forgotten fact of social media: When you post about someone, sometimes they will respond, and they may have a very different take on things! Simple as it is, this actually amounts to something of a checks-and-balances function in a world where truth seems more slippery than ever—though there are many reasons to question the concept of Twitter as a “truth machine,” there’s a reason that idea caught in the first place. If that’s too lofty, then Hanson’s response is also, at the very least, a cautionary tale for social media–happy parents everywhere.