The internet is a mess, especially after something big happens that pierces the online zeitgeist and bleeds it dry. Right now, that’s the fact that newly-minted Oscar winner Will Smith seemingly slapped two-time Oscars host Chris Rock over a poor ‘joke’ regarding Jada Pinkett Smith at last night’s 2022 Academy Awards. And as millions rushed to post their feelings about something that had nothing to do with them, people who are not the Will Smith or the Chris Rock–but still happen to share their legal names–were caught in the social media crossfire.
“Whelp,” tweeted video game publicist and former Maximum PC editor-in-chief, Will Smith, on Sunday night at 10:35 p.m. ET, shortly after the Oscars incident was broadcast live around the world. The game developer followed up with “Oh shit” after Smith was later named best actor for his role in last year’s King Richard.
In the aftermath of the slap, which was reportedly done in defense of Pinkett Smith’s public battle with an autoimmune disorder that can result in hair loss, many attempted to tag the Will Smith on Twitter to yell about what happened. But at some point the Fresh Prince actor had locked his account, so they got other Smith instead, @willsmith. This is seemingly what happened to famous ESPN sports commentator Stephen A. Smith who blasted the actor for the incident, but in so doing sent a viral shitstorm other Smith’s way.
“Real talk, I’m not the person you’re upset/happy with,” other Smith later tweeted. “I make podcasts and video games for a living.” Smith currently does communications for Stray Bombay which recently released co-op shooter The Anacrusis in early access on Xbox. “At the risk of making people pissed off at me instead of that other guy, the world would be a better place if we stopped answering words with violence.” Smith did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Some people tried to play along with the internet’s latest case of mistaken identity. “I think you two need to hug this out,” one person wrote to Smith jokingly tagging @chris_rock who also happens to be a veteran game developer. “Learn to accept a joke…I mean your wife did!” game developer Chris Rock wrote back.
Meanwhile, the comments beneath the exchange were filled with accounts sincerely trying to weigh in on one side or another of the fight. “[S]orry but he needs to apologize JADA personally, not u, she’s an independent woman,” responded one person. “Why the violence tho? No one wants to see that!?!” wrote another.
Other not-Will Smith accounts also got bombarded. “It’s obviously at a high point rn,” said Good Willsmith, a drone music trio with just a few thousand followers. “I would say it’s actually a mixed bag - some people being like ‘that was despicable and you should be ashamed’ and some being like ‘thank you for standing up for your family. chris rock got what he deserved.’” Based on screenshots shared with Kotaku, one person had approvingly DM’d Good Willsmith the “Welcome to Earth” clip from the movie Independence Day, where Will Smith punches an alien in the face.
This is by no means a new phenomenon. The very nature of how social media is structured means the controversy of the moment has a way of spilling out and engulfing bystanders. Someone does a thing. People are outraged. They try to directly message the stranger. A random person will sometimes get the internet bursting through their door like the Kool-Aid Man, except instead of saying “OHHH YEAAAH!” he’s screaming things like “You’re a disgrace!”
“Sharing the name with a famous person is always interesting,” Chris Rock–the game developer–told Kotaku. “In my case, it generally ends with disappointment for the person expecting the comedian Chris Rock rather than a game developer. @willsmith was hit far harder than I was, though we were combined on tweets pretty quickly. I feel we kept things humorous, but as a platform used by people to speak their minds, they certainly did.”