Free speech is a mother.
Without it, the U.S. wouldn’t be the great nation that it is. But with it, well, with it, you can attack almost anyone at any time online, about anything, and escape punishment.
You know what I mean. I’m talking about troll attacks. Not the hideous, misshapen fictional wretches that live under bridges and snatch, eat and/or scare the poo out of unsuspecting children. I’m talking about hideous real trolls who lurk behind the relative anonymity of the Internet to pour filth and slime all over their often female or minority victims.
I’ve read tons of stories – and blogged about them – where strong or prominent women attempted to complain through proper channels like police or work supervisors about the harassment they receive online, to no avail. They’re essentially told, that’s the nature of the Internet beast; ignore it. That’s ridiculous. We don’t ignore most other signs of harassment.
Actually, I take that back. When it involves women, we often do. Even in the workplace, which often has zero tolerance for safety issues, when it comes to psychological safety or even a potential physical threat against a women – whether it’s from a pissed off boss or a spurned suitor – the sanctions range from pitiful to non-existent. And ironically, the woman is often punished most.
She complains about receiving a thousand, rapid-fire texts or emails a day, many of which are nude shots of some gross man’s penis, and what happens? She loses her job. Maybe not right away, but it’ll happen eventually on some technicality or other because she is the problem, thus she is to blame. Or, her reputation is irreparably damaged, and amidst stares and slurs she is forced to leave the job in disgrace. Her only crime, being a woman who was attractive to a man, and saying no, thanks.
Comedian and actress Leslie Jones, currently starring in the reboot of the 1984 classic Ghostbusters, fought back by pointing a stern and crooked finger at the trolls harassing her – pissed the reboot is female-centric and starring a black woman – and many stood behind her, including the CEO of Twitter Jack Dorsey. Multiple accounts were taken down, but for those who aren’t famous it’s often a losing battle. There are simply too many of them. Worse, trolls feed on any response like a virus. They attack more viciously and rabidly the more one attempts to defend oneself, and they’re not punished no matter how ugly, insulting or racist they behave.
So many female writers are being harassed online they’ve coined a new term for their work: “harassment lit.” Again, rarely is anyone punished for sending threats of rape, violence, murder and sexual deviance. All of it unsolicited, and much of it rolled into an enclave of sociopathic participants who jump on the harassment bandwagon like a hay ride on a farm. It’s like the online version of a gang rape, only no one is physically touched.
Now, when it’s a threat against police, on the other hand, arrests are made. ABC in Detroit ran a piece detailing exactly why punitive action was so swift when several Detroit men made threats on Facebook and Twitter following the Dallas shootings and were subsequently arrested: “Detroit’s Police Chief, James Craig, says although hate speech is protected by the First Amendment, these people are making specific threats toward white officers.”
So, if you target a white officer ostensibly just doing his job, the powers that be will pull out constitutional law and statutes around Freedom of Speech and wield them like a weapon to try and make charges stick. If you’re a regular Joe or Jane citizen being harassed online, you get, “Sorry, there’s nothing we can do.”
But why is a white cop being harassed online by a black man different than a white man making horrible threats against a black woman in the same venue? Why is a cop more worthy of protection than say, an actress or a writer? They’re all just doing their jobs, but the double standard is fierce. Still, I suppose I’m asking silly questions, no? This isn’t the first – or the last – time a member of the police force got special treatment in the crime-committing department.
At the end of the day, women and minorities – anyone, actually – should be able to do their jobs, whether they’re acting in a cheesy action movie or being labeled a feminist because of the subject matter they write about, without being subject to harassment. That goes for members of the police force too. Punishment for the same crime should not be different for one job or one person versus another. Good grief. What happened to equal under the eyes of the law?
It’s sad how extraordinarily subjective online harassment is, how there are degrees of criminal behavior and activity, and this one is rarely punished. Hate speech laws are so ill equipped to deal with the social media era, it’s not even funny. But I – and many others – would vociferously argue that online harassment is a serious crime, one that impacts its victims physically, emotionally, psychologically, financially and a few other “-ly’s” I haven’t listed. We need to address this.
I read an article on Kernel Mag that stated, “We ban drunks from driving because they’re a danger to others. Isn’t it time we did the same to trolls?”
I say, yes, yes, a thousand times yes.
Note: Thanks to Kate Everson for her help researching this blog.