As with many law enforcement agencies, the San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office (SMSO) uses social media platforms to quickly disseminate critical information in a timely manner. So when a boulder cleaved from the slopes above Highway 145 near Silverpick Road Monday morning, blocking the uphill lane, motorists knew to expect possible delays.
What was unusual about the Twitter post was the description of the rock, which was portrayed as a “Large boulder the size of a small boulder.” What the SMSO’s public information officer Susan Lilly meant to write was “Large boulder the size of a small car,” but tweets can only be deleted, not edited. Lilly manages the Facebook and Twitter accounts, as well as press releases and other informational accounts for the department. She let Sheriff Bill Masters know she’d erred, and while they considered deleting the post, its immediate traction led them to leave it up. The Twittersphere had, in fact, exploded.
“When I first noticed my error and its immediate impact I thought ‘uh-oh,’” Lilly said. “I actually called the sheriff to both apologize for the gaffe and let him know that it’s starting to head in a possibly viral direction. He told me not to worry about the error. I proceeded to watch the numbers on the tweet grow exponentially and that’s when I realized it was in fact going viral. In these polarized times, I’m glad this harmless mistake seems to be entertaining so many people.”
As of Tuesday press time, Lilly said, the large-small boulder update was nearing 10,400,000 views. The number has only gone up. The post had nearly 212,000 likes, over 40,000 retweets and 8,500-plus comments as of press time Wednesday afternoon.
Twitter account holders responded in force. “This large boulder *identifies* as a small boulder, and the bigotry on this thread is so typical in Trump’s America,” wrote one wag.
Another channeled Monty Python asking, “Do you happen to know the airspeed velocity of said unladen boulder?” Another Python fan replied, “African or European?”
One commenter was forgiving. “Looks a bit like a small boulder the size of a large boulder to me but I can see how an untrained eye would confuse them.”
And the boulder got a name. “We shall name it … Biggie Smalls.”
Even Sports Illustrated swimsuit model and television personality Chrissy Teigen chimed in with a retweet and a comment: “how i describe anything, confusing everyone around me.”
The viral tweet got coverage in Ireland in The Independent. “Police baffle Twitter with warning of ‘large boulder the size of small boulder’” the headline read.
In Denver’s 9News “Presented Without Comment” segment, host Kyle Clark riffed on the viral tweet. “For real, no one says medium anymore,” Clark said. The 9News website posted a screenshot of the tweet describing it as “internet gold.”
Other news organizations that have remarked on the viral tweet include NPR, Time, Mashable and Apple News.
The boulder was, in fact, not small. SMSO officials estimated it measured approximately 4-feet-by-4-feet-by-4-feet (64 cubic feet) and weighed about 10,000 pounds. There were no injuries or vehicle damage. A snowplow arrived within 30 minutes to clear the boulder from the eastbound lane.
Lilly said Masters has taken the attention in stride.
“I wish we had deliberately used humor to get motorists to be more aware and watchful for rocks on the highway,” Masters told Lilly. “Let’s be careful out there.”
Lilly has turned into a rockstar of sorts.
“I am the author behind this now viral tweet. I own my mistake, and now I rock it,” she tweeted Tuesday.
The SMSO account retweeted Lilly’s post, adding, “We are pleased that our little Tweet has provided large entertainment.”