Social media’s weekend of glory

I’ve quit and rejoined Twitter several times over the past year, but this is the exchange that finally broke me:

He didn’t write Unforgiven.

Michael Green is a grown man who wrote Blade Runner 2049, Logan and Alien: Covenant. Nick Sandmann, whose life he wants to destroy forever, and whom he would rather hate than see him repent for his alleged sins, is a high school student.

A high school student who, aside from wearing that stupid hat, really didn’t freaking do anything wrong.

Far from engaging in racially motivated harassment, the group of mostly white, MAGA-hat-wearing male teenagers remained relatively calm and restrained despite being subjected to incessant racist, homophobic, and bigoted verbal abuse by members of the bizarre religious sect Black Hebrew Israelites, who were lurking nearby. The BHI has existed since the late 19th century, and is best describes as a black nationalist cult movement; its members believe they are descendants of the ancient Israelites, and often express condemnation of white people, Christians, and gays. DC-area Black Hebrews are known to spout particularly vile bigotry.

Phillips put himself between the teens and the black nationalists, chanting and drumming as he marched straight into the middle of the group of young people. What followed was several minutes of confusion: The teens couldn’t quite decide whether Phillips was on their side or not, but tentatively joined in his chanting. It’s not at all clear this was intended as an act of mockery rather than solidarity.

One student did not get out of Phillips way as he marched, and gave the man a hard stare and a smile that many have described as creepy. This moment received the most media coverage: The teen has been called the product of a “hate factory” and likened to a school shooter, segregation-era racist, and member of the Ku Klux Klan. I have no idea what he was thinking, but portraying this as an example of obvious, racially-motivated hate is a stretch. Maybe he simply had no idea why this man was drumming in his face, and couldn’t quite figure out the best response? It bears repeating that Phillips approached him, not the other way around.

And that’s all there is to it. Phillips walked away after several minutes, the Black Hebrew Israelites continued to insult the crowd, and nothing else happened.

Here’s a close-up video of the encounter that went viral on social media this past weekend. Indiginous protestor Nathan Phillips, drum in hand, goes toward the throng of students, many of whom start chanting along with him. When he stands directly in front of Sandmann and starts drumming and singing in his face, you can hear someone say “I’m so confused.”

Some of the kids make “tomahawk chop” motions and act obnoxiously, but Sandmann literally doesn’t do anything. From the video he looks like he doesn’t really know what to do.

Sandmann is frankly the least disrespectful person there, but he’s the one who’s been designated the face of hatred in Donald Trump’s America and doxxed accordingly. (Well, him and another kid who wasn’t even there. Great job, internet!)

As of this writing, a lot of important people, and also Kathy Griffin, are still itching for a fight. This tweet, from a self-professed journalist, illustrates the mob mentality so perfectly it could have been scripted:

Yeah, what kind of asshole jumps to conclusions without reading the whole thing?

“I refuse to read it” should be Twitter’s new motto. Actually, “smoking crater where a social media platform once stood” should be Twitter’s new motto.

As for Michael Green, it’s not just that he rushed to judgment and sicced his followers on a teenager, but that he wants to stay angry at him. He’s asked point-blank if he wants the kid to repent and become a member of a more harmonious society, and his answer is a definitive “no.” The anger is precisely the point. It’s the 93 octane fuel on which Twitter runs.

Hopefully, Sandmann will grow up and make amends for wearing the hat associated with the worst President of our lifetimes. And hopefully Green will grow up and make amends for writing Green Lantern.

How an online mob destroyed an autistic person’s life

 

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Ancient curse: “may your name become a Twitter hashtag.”

A couple of years ago, I wrote about a case of an Australian writer siccing her Twitter followers on a “creep” who turned out to have autism.  I wondered if my own son, who is on the autism spectrum, could someday find himself the target of an angry online mob.

The “Doorway Debbie” fiasco, in which the internet launched its two-minutes’ hate upon a woman with autism, does not settle my nerves:

On a midsummer day in July, Darsell Obregon ducked under an apartment building to shelter herself from the rain while waiting for an Uber. Minutes later, the front door swung open and out walked a 19-year-old girl who demanded that Obregon leave the premises immediately. The resident’s name is Arabelle Torres, a 19-year-old student at Brooklyn College who also has autism.

“I came downstairs and a woman was standing as I am right now and wouldn’t leave,” Torres, who was describing the seeds of events that led her life to change, said to me while standing outside of her home in Park Slope. What might have been an unremarkable high-strung incident that occurs hundreds of times a day in New York City, ended up becoming a fake news story that race-baited an incident without credible evidence of bigotry.

“Hey, ma’am, this is private property. Could you please move?” Torres recounts saying to Obregon, an assistant to fashion model Ashley Graham, who “just flat-out refused” to leave the premises.

“After about ten times of me saying, ‘Ma’am, go. This is private property,’ [Obregon] still refused. So I called the cops,” Torres said. “As a person with autism, I [was] scared. When somebody is blocking me from leaving … it is a big problem. And I was alone in that situation.”

As Torres dialed 911, Obregon whipped out her phone and began filming. Later that evening — Torres was at a Broadway show — the words “worthless skank” popped up on her phone. As dozens more messages poured in, she found out that Obregon had posted the exchange on social media accounts accompanied with hashtags associated with race-related events (even though Obregon is not black).

Hashtags such as #WhitePrivilege and #BBQBecky were included. BBQ Becky refers to an event during which a white woman called the police on black people for barbecuing in a public park, saying it was illegal for them to do so.

The anti-racist internet mob found Obregon’s posts and began to launch a seek and destroy campaign against Torres. “Your Facebook is out there now. Enjoy being slaughtered by the masses,” a California woman wrote.

[…]

Tamar Lapin reported the story at the New York Post. Lapin found the story at Ebony Magazine, a black interest news site. According to Lapin, Ebony broke the story. She called Torres’ cellphone saying that she wanted to hear the “other side” of the event. Torres insisted that her 911 call “had nothing to do with race,” and that she herself was not white, and she wasn’t even sure that Obregon was black. “I told her, ‘I think you’re exploiting this as a race issue when it’s not.’”

Even after revealing she has autism to the reporter at The Post, Torres was devastated to learn that the article still maintained that it was a black-white issue. It would seem that nothing Torres could say would stop the domino effect of the fake news.

Months later, the internet still knows Torres as “Doorway Debbie.” She has made numerous attempts at suicide. “I felt that nobody was going to do anything, no one was going to face any repercussions unless I were to kill myself,” Torres said. “I tried to kill myself, I cut myself. I just felt so done and I felt ‘this is never going to get better,’”

This isn’t the first time a twitter mob has rushed to judgment against an innocent person, and it won’t be the last.  Here’s a good online rule no one lives by: if a news story seems to perfectly confirm your biases and preferred narrative, it may be too good to be true – or, perhaps more accurately, too bad to confirm your righteous indignation.

Your old tweets can and will be held against you

 

Growing up in the late eighties and early nineties, did I use anti-gay slurs as insults?  Yes, I did.  So did pretty much all of my classmates.  And, I’ll bet, so did you.

Gay rights have come a long way in a short time, and that’s a wonderful thing.  But if we’re going back through everyone’s old social media profiles to call them out for attitudes they held years ago – often when they were teenagers, and by definition irresponsible – count me out.

Kevin Hart withdrew from hosting the Oscars after people discovered his homophobic tweets from 2011.  I’m not sure the punishment fit the crime, any more than James Gunn’s off-color jokes should have cost him his job directing the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, but he was an adult when he wrote them.  What’s the excuse for going after Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray because of what he tweeted when he fifteen years old?

Newly minted Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray is apologizing for anti-gay tweets posted to his Twitter account several years ago, when he was 14 and 15.

The Oklahoma quarterback tweeted: “I apologize for the tweets that have come to light tonight from when I was 14 and 15. I used a poor choice of word that doesn’t reflect who I am or what I believe. I did not intend to single out any individual or group.”

The tweets have since been deleted from the account of Murray, 21, who won college football’s most prestigious individual award Saturday night over Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins.

Robby Soave on the new outrage industry:

I said it after Roseanne, I said it after Sarah Jeong, I said it after James Gunn, and I said it after Kevin Hart: It’s time to declare an end to the practice of mining people’s past social media comments for fire-able offenses. This holds especially true for comments made by minors. Murray was 14 and 15-years-old at the time he made these ill-advised remarks. People my age and older are very lucky that Twitter didn’t exist when we were adolescents. I guarantee that the various authors of these Kyler Murray stories all said something crude or offensive—or at the very least, something they would not want “resurfaced”—when they were in high school.

Unfortunately, modern America is increasingly a place that does not allow children to make mistakes. A schoolyard scuffle is a reason to call the cops and taser the teens involved. A messy romance merits sexual exploitation charges and sex offender status. A bad tweet is front page news.

Murray is going to be fine—he apologized swiftly, and it appears that a backlash of sorts is already forming. Next time, maybe the media could simply skip the step of trying to make everybody angry about such a stupid thing.

In the meantime, if Bradley Cooper wins an Academy Award for A Star is Born, he’d better be prepared to profusely apologize for this scene from The Hangover:

In the end, I couldn’t quit twitter

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Time sink.  Outrage factory.  An online barroom brawl where everyone screams at each other and tries to get people fired from their jobs.  A sign of civilizational collapse.

Twitter is all of these things, and more.  And that’s why I gave it up for a few weeks.  I got more reading done.  I wrote more blog posts.  I concentrated on my work.  I even got to observe so much about the world I’d never noticed before.  (For example, did you know I have two kids?)

But after a while, it felt like this:

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Like it or not, especially with you-know-who in the White House, Twitter seems to be the way everyone talks to each other now.  There were too many great Twitter accounts I found myself missing.  And while this blog is more active than it’s been in years, it seems silly to ignore an app that will let me share new postings with thousands hundreds dozens of followers.

Everyone should take a social media break now and then, but now I’m back at @damianpenny.  Can I use this in moderation?  Time to find out.

Why I quit Twitter (#2 in a series)

Chris Pratt tweets that he’s praying for Kevin Smith after his heart attack.

 

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If you wonder how people can possibly be angry about this, you don’t know Twitter.