Dec. 4, 2013 — -- The man who riveted Thanksgiving Day tweeters with a tale of a rude woman on a packed airplane said that he made up the story to entertain himself and his followers while on a flight. He said he was stunned to see it picked up as news.
In an exclusive interview with ABCNews.com, Elan Gale, better known now as @theyearofelan, said he was making a "hyperbolic point" about being polite to those who work in the service industry, but that he "probably deserved" the fictional slap in the face.
Gale live tweeted a long-winded fight between him and a woman named Diane on Thanksgiving Day. Diane, as Gale told us through tweets, was rude to a flight attendant when her flight was delayed and Gale decided to let her know just how rude she was in a series of handwritten notes. You can follow those tweets and notes here.
After hundreds of retweets and countless news articles about the tweeted fight, Gale, a television producer who works on an ABC reality show, admitted that Diane was never more than a character he made up. Diane was never sitting in seat 7A. She never wrote a note to him and she surely never slapped him across the face.
It was a shocking ending to a story that thousands followed over Thanksgiving weekend. But why? Why did Gale decide to create Diane? Why didn't he reveal she wasn't real until days later? The following is an edited transcript of our conversation with Gale.
ABC News: Why? Why did you make up Diane and the elaborate conversation you had with her?
Gale: I've been running a Twitter page for four years or so and on that I just do humor. I do one-line jokes, I do long-form jokes, I've live tweeted fake events before.
Quite frankly, I was sitting on a plane and was thinking "how can I entertain some of the people who follow me on Thanksgiving?" I was sitting there on a plane and I did see a woman acting really rude to a flight attendant, who I thought was a nice guy. And I thought, "Oh, maybe I can do something on that to serve as a cautionary tale for people like that."
I said horrible things in those notes that I would never say to a human being.
So I created this character -- Diane -- and I thought let's see if we can make her feel bad for treating someone who is also trying to get home poorly. That was the origin, but like everything on the Internet it evolved.
When did you realize that it had gone viral? I didn't realize it had gone viral until late that night [Thursday]. Once I woke up the next morning on Friday and realized people were reporting this as news, I thought it was the craziest thing I had ever seen.
Anyone who would scroll back [through my tweets] would see what I am all about as a tweeter. My thought was I can't believe anyone is taking this seriously. I thought "Why isn't anyone doing any fact checking?" Then I saw it was on the evening news in Sacramento and it became this totally absurd thing.
Why didn't you reveal that it was a fictional story then? I didn't see how this was news. I was telling a story, I didn't feel a particular responsibility to address what other people were making of it. I never claimed it to be true. I never said, "this is news, please read it." And I honestly I liked the message.
I wasn't trying to paint myself as a hero. I said horrible things in those notes that I would never say to a human being. That nobody would ever say. In fact, in all of my live tweets, I try and portray my character as an anti-hero -- as kind of a jerk with good intentions.
At what point did you decide to reveal the truth? When a rumor came out that this fictional character I had created had cancer, and people started writing about how I had bullied a fictitious person with cancer, it was so absurd to me that I didn't know what to do. That's when I felt like this has taken on a life of its own.
I'm not a liar -- I'm a storyteller
Some have said you lied to the Internet. What's your reaction to that? I never made any statement at any point that this was real. I made a concrete decision not to lie. My story was my story. I'm not a liar -- I'm a storyteller.
Do you regret using the crass language in the notes? In retrospect I should have said "gobble, gobble." It was Thanksgiving.
What is your reaction to those who have called you "sexist" or "heartless"? I understand people have sensitivities. I am a big fan of comedy and I think comedy is supposed to push the boundaries of what's acceptable. At the end of the day I was trying to be humorous. I don't see it as sexist or misogynistic or heartless because I was arguing with myself.
Speaking of, who wrote Diane's letter? The handwriting was very different. Was anyone in on this with you? I didn't plan this out in advance. I saw this person and just started to make up a story as it went. I had a friend back in LA who was on iMessage, who wasn't aware of what I was doing yet. I sent her some text messages and asked her to write them down on a piece of paper for me. She texted me photographs of the letter and I cropped them and posted them.
Did you have a message here? When I realized people were paying attention, I tried to think, "Wow, I can really say something here." And everyone wins when you say be nice to service people.
If you want people to listen, you have to make them laugh.
It something that drives me crazy, to see people being rude to waiters, flight attendants, baristas. It's so easy to not do it. It's so easy to be polite. By no means was I trying to say everyone should write crazy notes to someone -- I was making a hyperbolic point. You should say something; you can choose your own method. I would not choose the method of my own character in the story. But if you want people to listen, you have to make them laugh.
Last question, did it hurt when Diane slapped you? I probably deserved it.