A New York Times columnist’s attempt to fightback against a tweet insulting him has massively backfired.

The long, ridiculous story began when Dr David Karpf, a professor at George Washington University, tweeted a joke comparing Brett Stephens, a conservative writer, to a “bedbug”.

The tweet was mildly successful at best (receiving nine likes and zero retweets) until Karpf found a strange email in his inbox from the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist.

Stephens wrote:

Dear Dr Karpf,

Someone just pointed out a tweet you wrote about me, calling me a “bedbug.” I’m often amazed about the things supposedly decent people are prepared to say about other people – people they’ve never met – on Twitter. I think you’ve set a new standard.

I would welcome the opportunity for you to come to my home, meet my wife and kids, talk to us for a few minutes, and then call me a “bedbug” to my face.

“Someone just pointed out…” is a funny way to say “I searched my own name on Twitter” but okay…

He might have hoped that the email would finish the issue, but Karpf had other ideas and decided to share the message on his account.

Within a few hours, Karpf's original tweet had gone viral.

Some people pointed out how ridiculous it was for Stephens, a columnist who has fought against “safe spaces”, to be so easily wound-up by the insult.

While others noted how the email was a completely insane overreaction.

For context, it’s worth understanding that Stephens has been a controversial figure for a long time – due to his scepticism towards the threat of climate change, his criticism of Palestine and his support for the Iraq War.

After the ridicule got too much for him, the NYT columnist decided to delete his Twitter account and blamed the website for “bringing out the worst in humanity”.

And we’re not finished yet…

You might have thought Stephens would want to lie low for a bit now, get his thoughts together and come back when he’s calmed down – but instead, he decided to go on MSNBC this morning to talk about the controversy…

First, Stephens denied that he was attempting to get Karpf in trouble by including his boss in the email.

And then he went on to unbelievably claim that the bedbug joke was somehow akin to the language of “totalitarian regimes”.

The whole story is a perfect example of the “Streisand effect” – named after Barbara Streisand’s failed attempt to stop the media photographing her residence in Malibu.

If Stephens had just left the tweet alone and moved on with his life, he would still have his Twitter account and his dignity intact.

Of course, he is always welcome back to Twitter anytime - as soon as he can handle being roasted again.

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