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Social Media Needs to Take Action and Stop the Hate

LESLIE JONES

As I often say, I care nothing for celebrity drama, it’s how we react to it that I care about. There are occasional scandals that come up that do capture my attention and I actually care about. So, if you haven’t heard, there’s a remake of Ghostbusters out featuring an all-woman cast, with the men playing the eye candy. Apparently this has caused many a man to scream about his childhood being ruined or how sexist it is. Like many have said before, if a remake of a movie ruins your childhood, your childhood was pretty easy; my childhood was ruined when my dad died of a heart attack on a camping trip. So you know, people have different life experiences and all that. Still, the vitriol came to a rather disgusting head when the internet trolls turned their attention to Leslie Jones, one of the stars, who is also a woman of color. Not merely content attacking her for the film, they began to compare her to Harambe, the gorilla who was killed earlier this year. Waves of racist and misogynist tweets came flooding at her, overwhelming the comedian and eventually leading her to quit Twitter in disgust and tears.

This is unacceptable and should no longer be allowed.

As a trans woman who’s spent far too much time on the internet, I have developed a thick hide. I’ve been doxxed, had private pictures stolen and published, been called a freak who should be killed — on and on. For the most part, I'm now at the point where it doesn’t bother me, but there are still times I have to get up, go outside, and rage for a bit. I shouldn’t have to do that. There is no reason that anyone should be subjected to verbal abuse, harassment, and even death threats in real life or on the internet. None. There is no viable excuse, no reasonable defense.

Many would claim that the First Amendment allows them to say whatever they want; it’s their constitutional right. This just shows that their understanding of American government and law stopped shortly after their high school civics class, and they probably did poorly at it. The First Amendment says the government can’t make laws restricting speech, but private businesses can do whatever they want. See, it works like this. If I own a club, I can book whatever bands I want. It’ll probably be a country band. What? I live in Oklahoma. If a punk band wanted to play at my club, I have no obligation to let them. You see, it’s my venue. I can book whomever I want. That’s why Fox News is under no obligation to be honest or actually "Fair and Balanced." If you have the ability to provide a platform, you don’t have to let everyone have a chance to stand on it. If The Advocate decided tomorrow to quit running my articles, it’s the publication's right. It owns the venue and can decide what to publish (please don’t fire me). Now, if the government closed my club because it didn’t like my music tastes, then that’s a First Amendment violation, and the government has done that before.

So, you see, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Instagram, and the hundreds of other social media sites can allow whatever they want on their sites as long as it doesn’t directly violate a law, like making specific threats against people. This means that when they say they take a stand against hate speech, harassment, or threats, and then proceed to do nothing, they are tacitly saying they’re fine with it. There’s no other way to see it. I disagree with the idea that silence is consent. Just because I don’t say much doesn’t mean I consent. It’s actions that show where you stand. When people who constantly spread hate speech, bully, and harass people get a slap on the wrist by having their “verification” taken away or not being allowed to log in for a few days, it’s nothing more than being put in the penalty box and being told to play nice. When they get out of the penalty box, they’re just going to go out and start committing fouls again. That’s why, when it’s truly egregious, they ban the player for life.

So far, Twitter and many others have done nothing but put these people in the penalty box.

The cold-hearted financial rationale doesn't many sense either. You see, people get on social media to share and connect with people — they want to fawn over their favorite celebrities. Hi, Patton Oswalt! Celebrities love to connect with fans, they love to joke with them, they love to show off to them. It builds a brand, it builds fame, and it builds popularity for these media platforms. When these celebrities get attacked, harassed, and handed death threats, they flee them like people from a burning building. Same goes for regular people. Racial minorities, LGBT people, women all seem to draw the ire of people with an inordinate amount of rage and hate. These stories of random harassment aren’t mere stories to draw attention or "play victim." Just because I had an opinion on Reddit, I got my own stalker, who followed me around for months, mocking me for being transgender. These social media forums are full of dead, deleted, or abandoned accounts of people who quit because they were subjected to unsolicited comments about their appearance, their sexuality, their gender, on and on. People do not stay where they feel they are not wanted and feel threatened. By allowing free rein to these megabullies, you’re crippling your own platform. If Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat don't act to suppress hateful people, their websites will be empty except for bigots patting each other on the back, while on top of the rubble. 

It’s simply time for social media to be held accountable. Not merely by banning a few, like Twitter recently did with one of the worst trolls — gay Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos — but quashing the whole lot. After the Jones disaster, Twitter is finally listening and taking baby steps toward reform.

I have some suggestions for some new parameters. Anger and hyperbole are par for the course; call her Crooked Hillary, call Trump a racist, that’s fine. It’s OK to get into heated shouting matches over these ideas and beliefs. Calling someone stupid, ignorant, or the like is nothing worth bothering over. You can even be bigoted and prejudiced and I say that’s fine. Just so long as you keep it to your echo chamber. Hell, one of the reasons I wore an Army uniform for 10 years is because I believe in the idea everyone is entitled to have their own opinion, no matter how terrible it is. It’s when you begin using slurs, attack someone's appearance, abuse and harass as a means to silence people you disagree with, or simply to be a malicious ass, that you cross a line. You no longer get to enjoy the privilege to have a platform. The core tenet to a functional society is the belief that we can disagree, we can get angry at each other, and we can even hate each other; but when you harm people with deliberate intent is when you have broken that covenant and no longer get to act freely. By allowing users to directly abuse, harass, stalk, and torment users, social media companies are saying they do not care about the basic principles of decency. Enough is enough. Freedom of speech does not mean we are forced to listen to people speak, especially when they’re talking directly to us.

AMANDA KERRI
AMANDA KERRI is a writer and comedian in Oklahoma City. Follow her on Twitter @eternalkerri, but be nice.

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