A friend told Jon Delfin “you can’t fix the world,” and Deflin agrees – but with, as he is likely to make, an important amendment. “I don't think that means you have to leave all of it alone,” he says.
I first encountered Delfin when he tweeted at me:
@manymanywords TLDR catch-up. #39: "Canard" doesn't mean saying or proverb. A canard is a false statement. Do feed the trolls? Best, jd— Jon Delfin (@at8ax) January 24, 2015
I’ll admit that I bristled when I saw that tweet. I hate being corrected. I hate it even more when the corrector is right and I am wrong.
But while Delfin was right (ugh), he was also polite. He said, “best.” He didn’t say “actually.” The mistake was meaningful, insomuch as I had changed the meaning of what I intended; it wasn’t an empty quibble. To determine if I could safely go about my day – or if I was bound by the unwritten rules of the Internet to silently seethe and hate my corrector – I checked out his timeline. To see if he, too, was a troll to avoid feeding.
What I saw surprised me – to the point where I reached out to him, asking to interview him about what I considered unusual Internet behavior. Jon was wary. So was I. This is the Internet we live in.
I was surprised because all of Jon Delfin’s tweets are at other people. All of them. He says, in fact, that he only uses the service when he can’t contact someone any other way. He generally avoids the platform because he finds it to be “false,” thanks to disingenuous auto-follows and legions of bots. He calls the site “far more legitimate than LinkedIn” (noting that he’s received two invitations to connect from “irrelevant strangers” in the past week alone), but he considers it to be a time-suck. But in a modern world where is everyone from your high school classmates to your favorite movie star is so accessible, we are still mostly all accessible in just one way.
A sizable portion of Jon’s tweets are corrections. He doesn’t just suggest modifications to podcast hosts, but to journalists, cartoonists, and even the caption-writers for TV shows. “I offer corrections in what is intended as a kind gesture to people I think well of,” he told me. In a timeline full of other people’s mistakes, his messages are consistently respectful and helpful, presented alongside admissions that they are “nits” or compliments about the larger work. And he doesn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. “As soon as I understand that my help is not welcome, I stop offering it,” he says.
My ultra-defensive assumption for why people might bother to correct strangers is that they enjoy being right. But when I asked Jon via email if that was his driving force, he said it was not – “I don't think.” He is a musician but also works as a copy-editor and proof-reader for crosswords and other puzzles. He says that this work might explain why he is “so aware of language and spelling."
Jon has gathered that the business model of many websites necessitates that “the contributors to self-edit an excessive amount of product,” and says, “That way is chaos.” He tells me that closed captioning is “a disaster,” – he called out one slip up on Arrow where a vial was called “vile” – “but the people who are responsible for it are coping with insane circumstances.” He allows for the possibility that some mistake-makers may have “no shame or pride in their work,” but thinks well of the people he reaches out to.
Delfin doesn’t follow up to see if the errors he finds have been corrected. “I can't imagine there's anything to be gained,” he tells me. “They are, or they aren't. In either case, there's nothing further to do.”
An egoless, roving, pro bono copy-editor seems like a mythical creature on the Internet -- but not a troll. Feed him all you want.