July 26, 2011 — -- "So I was angry," said Jeff Jarvis, a prominent blogger who went on Twitter after watching Congress's failure to make a deal on the budget deficit. He vented a little, and perhaps helped start something.
"I had no grand design on a revolution," he insisted. "I just wanted to get that off my chest. That's what Twitter is for: offloading chests. Some people responded and retweeted, which pushed me to keep going, suggesting a chant: 'F*** YOU WASHINGTON.'"
Word spread, as one person after another "retweeted" Jarvis' message on Saturday evening. By midnight, according the traffic-tracking website Trendistic, slightly over one tenth of a percent of all the tweets on Twitter included the phrase "#F***YouWashington."
Considering that Twitter says people now send 200 million tweets a day, "that would be on the order of 20,000 tweets per hour," said Diego Basch, the CEO of Trendistic's parent company, IndexTank. Another tracking site, Topsy, estimated that the phrase was used at least 66,000 times after Jarvis' original message.
That's just one small measure of the frustration many people feel over Washington's budget battles -- and how quickly it can boil over online. You can see it on Twitter, parts of Facebook and its new competition, Google+, on comments to the White House and Capitol Hill, and on countless blogs and news sites.
"You are so wrong," wrote a woman on President Obama's Facebook page. "Right now I know I am facing homelessness if I can not get my check on the 3rd. I am seriously considering not voting at all, ever again. We always get hurt. I thought you were different."
"Stop the bickering and do what's right for the country," wrote a man a few minutes later. "That goes for Mr. Boehner, too."
House Speaker John Boehner's Facebook page also got its share of ire: "Just use common sense and close those loopholes with ending the Bush tax cuts and most of our answer is right there!" wrote a man from North Carolina.
Harsh Language Touches a Nerve
The popularity of Jarvis's vent, harsh words and all, illustrated the strong opinions on the budget showdown. His first tweet on Saturday evening: "Hey, Washington a**holes, it's our country, our economy, our money. Stop f***ing with it."
His language was vivid, but he'd said what he had to say.
"All I did was spout off after a couple of glasses of nice pinot," said Jarvis in an interview with ABC News. "After that it was out of my control. It has a life of its own now."
Twitter Revolt: Blogger's Budget Complaint Goes Viral
A sampling of one-liners that used Jarvis' so-called hashtag (a subject preceded by a "#" sign):
"#F***YouWashington for Every Person Who Will Try to Find a Job Today with No Luck."
"...for worrying more about keeping your own millionaire tax breaks than your duty to the American people."
"...for 'creating this crisis' and 'using it' to cut our Social Security and 'cut taxes' on the wealthy."
"America used to be a great Nation that could send people to the moon...now we can't even write a check that won't bounce!"
"I almost bought a house this summer. Wrote an offer even. Now wating [sic] till next yr bc u suck."
Twitter does cull four-letter words from the site when it catches them, and by Monday afternoon Jarvis had softened his Twitter hashtag to "#FYW." But he had already touched a nerve with the original version -- "#goshdarnyouwashington wouldn't have had the same impact or accuracy," he wrote.
"I'm not arguing this is anything more than it was," he said. "But there are all kinds of ways we forget we can hear the voice of the people."