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Alec Baldwin kicked off plane: A tale of our technological times

December 7, 2011 |  4:13 pm

Everything about the viral story of the day — Alec Baldwin being kicked off an American Airlines flight — feels very technologically of the moment.

It's a story fueled not only by the distinctly modern ability of a celebrity (or anyone for that matter) to instantaneously air a grievance to a worldwide audience, but the ability of that audience to turn that grievance viral.

Twitter is a major player in this saga, so is Facebook, and so is our culture's obsession with mobile games -- especially those made by Zynga.  

As best we've been able to piece together from Twitter reports, Facebook wall posts and an old-fashioned telephone statement from Baldwin's PR rep — the whole Alec Baldwin vs. American Airlines fiasco began Tuesday afternoon with the celebrity sitting on an airplane, using a mobile device to play Words With Friends.

The cabin doors closed, and the passengers were asked to turn off all electronic devices. Baldwin refused, and a disagreement ensued.

We have American Airlines report of the incident via the company's Facebook page: 

"The passenger ultimately stood up (with the seat belt light still on for departure) and took his phone into the plane's lavatory. He slammed the lavaotry door so hard, the cockpit crew heard it and became alarmed, even with the cockpit door closed and locked....The passenger was extremely rude to the crew, calling them inappropriate names and using offensive language. Given the facts above, the passenger was removed from the flight and denied boarding."

Baldwin's version of events was delivered with more spontaneous verbal flair immediately after the event.

Using the Twitter account @Alecbaldwin to get his message across he wrote, "Flight attendant on American reamed me out 4 playing WORDS W FRIENDS while we sat at the gate, not moving. #nowonderamericaairisbankrupt.”

Zynga, the company that makes Words With Friends, knew just how to handle what it saw would become a viral story. The company quickly launched its own viral campaign "Let Alec Play" and included the following update on its own Facebook site:

"Word of the day: ALEC (adj.) Typically associated with "smart" as its prefix to refer to wise guy, or smarty. Worth at least 8 points! this one goes to the smart ALECs out there -- playing our game at the risk of getting in trouble!"

In the meantime, Baldwin has exploited the fleeting nature of all our digital communications. On Tuesday night he asked all his followers to unfollow him so he could crash his account and start again.

By Wednesday morning his account was listed as deactivated.


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-- Deborah Netburn

Image: Actor Alec Baldwin at the 30th anniversary of the People for the American Way Foundation celebration in Beverly Hills. Credit: Reuters.