They're Both Jerks: How Twitter Judged the 'Knee Defender' Fight

Photograph by Alamy

By now you’ve certainly heard that United Airlines kicked a pair of passengers off a flight for fighting over space. One of the passengers had installed a “Knee Defender”—a device that prevented the seat in front of him from reclining. The passenger in the now-immovable seat threw a fit—and her cup of water—at the man behind her.

In the public debate that raged, opinions were passionate—and divided. Was the knee defender within his rights? Was the water thrower justified? We turned to social media intelligence company Brandwatch to help us allocate the blame. By measuring data from Twitter, we can see that the public sided with … neither of them. “The public deemed both as having selfish motivators and reactions,” said Dinah Alobeid, a spokesperson for Brandwatch.

United Airlines, it appeared, had done a good job dodging the critics—until the inventor of the Knee Defender, Ira Goldman, called out United and other airlines for shrinking legrooms. That resonates, doesn’t it? The media and the public thought so, and switched their focus from the badly behaved passengers to the airline industry.

Men dominated the Twitter conversation almost two to one. The most tweeted hashtag was about the Knee Defender itself; after the kerfuffle, sales of the gadget spiked “substantially,” Goldman told Bloomberg News. Here were the most used hashtags for this mess, in ranked order:


Between the two passengers, analysis showed that Twitter users took a harsher stance toward the man who installed the Knee Defender. Alobeid points out that “three times as many people online have voiced that they think the male passenger is more of a jerk than the female passenger.” May they both be stuck at the airport for a long time.

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