Incident #1: Elan vs. 'Diane'—Jerks on a plane
While many of us were busy cooking a turkey or heading to grandma's house, war broke out on a US Airways plane headed to Phoenix. Elan Gale, a television producer for such programs as ABC's "The Bachelor," began tweeting about one very unhappy passenger. "Our flight is delayed," began Gale at 8:05 a.m. Thanksgiving morning. "A woman on here is very upset because she has Thanksgiving plans. She is the only one obviously. Praying for her."
Over the next several hours, Gale updated his Twitter feed as he began an on-board feud with the woman in seat 7A, whom he later learned was named "Diane." The two exchanged nasty notes, nasty looks, things got crude. Finally, after they landed, Gale tweeted, "Well, 'Diane' just slapped me."
The world of social media gasped as one. "Did they arrest her???" asked @missADelgado with not one, but three question marks???!!! No, Gale replied, they did not. The gate agent asked him if he wanted to report the assault to authorities, but "Diane" missed her connecting flight, and that was punishment enough.
We should expect more of this kind of real-time storytelling now that airlines like US Airways contract with companies such as GoGo Inflight so one can remain connected on flights and pass the time tweeting and Facebooking. Gale's story was particularly compelling because it was hard to pick a winner. "Diane" sounded self-absorbed, entitled and high maintenance. Elan Gale came across as juvenile, posting a photo of his mother giving "Diane" the finger, and describing her as "wearing mom jeans and a studded belt and she is wearing a medical mask over her idiot face."
Many on Twitter were in awe of the producer's willingness to stand up to "Diane" ("you are my hero" tweeted one fan), while others called him a bully ("that's creepy and sad"). Gale became defensive and even wrote a blog to explain his actions. "I know I can come across as abrasive. I know I can seem harsh," he wrote. "But what I've never done is be unkind to a person in a service position."
The saga kept people on their edge of their Earth-bound seats for much of past several days. A summary of the entire conversation on Storify, written by my CNBC colleague Eli Langer, topped 5 million hits, the biggest story ever on the site. Elan Gale quadrupled his number of
But almost as soon as the plane landed, some began questioning whether the story was true. A rude woman wearing a medical mask on a flight to Phoenix would attract notice, especially if those on board later learned she became the starring figure in the weekend's top tale on social media. Where were the "I saw her, too," tweets? At the same time, someone claiming to be a cousin of "Diane" said she was wearing a mask because she's dying of lung cancer. Nice.
Turns out it was all a complete ruse.
Late Monday, Gale admitted as much by posting a picture of "Diane"—an empty chair. The backlash has made the producer as popular as Obamacare. "On the internet, no one knows you're a dog. But we all know that Elan is a sociopath,"tweeted @NellSco. Sure, Gale's fiction did not create the hysteria Orson Welles did with his "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast—that really was H .G. Wells—but people don't like being lied to (see "Obamacare" above). However, a few folks, like @briankoppelman, loved it. "Hilarious. Perfectly executed."
Lesson learned: You don't need a billion-dollar budget to create great drama. Just tweet well, then figure out how to monetize it. But one does not fool Mother Twitter without consequences.
(Read more: Porn industry offers to fix Obamacare)