If there is one thing we can all agree it’s that words mean things.
We all know that it’s illegal to go into a crowded room and yell “fire.” It’s not in your best interest to send death threats to the president of the United States of America.
It seems though – that some people think freedom of speech and privilege of opinion = protection from consequences. I’m not American, so I actually looked up freedom of speech. and according to the US government. Freedom of speech does not include the right to:
- To incite actions that would harm others (e.g., “[S]hout[ing] ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.”).
- To make or distribute obscene materials.
- To permit students to print articles in a school newspaper over the objections of the school administration.
There’s a lot more grey area in this amendment than there probably should be. It most certainly doesn’t cover common sense.
When a young lady and her 2 friends posted a picture on Facebook, making a mockery of a Trayvon Martin’s death for laughs – there were 2 sides: those that thought it was just a joke/costume and those that knew better/otherwise. The funny thing is that for a generation who has had camera phones and social media embedded into their entire lives – you would think they know how the internet works. All it takes for 1 person to get a hold of something and it snowballs into something bigger.I bet she never expected to have her phone number, work, school and other personal information sought out and posted. Her online reputation ruined over a bad idea. (and ugly way of thinking).
Justine Sacco, older and supposedly wiser – sent out a questionable and offensive tweet. She had a history of dropping ‘jokes’ that were stereotype-based. While some of the most-loved comedians do the exact same thing – she is not a comedian. She was on a long flight, when the ENTIRE WORLD (literally..even Google) proceeded to get her out the paint and out of a job. Thankfully for her, she was able maneuver herself into another PR position with her former employers direct competitors. Maybe the internet isn’t as forever as we thought. Or maybe it’s just more forgiving to some than it is to others.
Last NFL football season, Richard Sherman, became a polarizing figure via a passionate post-game interview. His team had just won a berth to go to the SuperBowl. He’s known to football fans as brash and outspoken. during the championship title game, he sustained an injury in the 3rd quarter. Some of those same people decided that this was karma for his ‘arrogance’ and ‘thugness’ working. One young lady, who used her real name and identified her school in her bio, tweeted her disgust/displeasure etc as such. With swift ‘justice’, likened to the days of yore – her school was notified, her employer was found, her IG with pictures of her family were posted.
Most recently, rapper/singer/reality show personality Cee-lo Green decided to tweet some dangerous ignorance. 2 days later, his TBS show was cancelled, he was pulled from his scheduled performance at a concert and remains to be seen what NBC’s The Voice will do.
Here is my theory: the relations between White people and Black people in America are always going to be wrought with tension and anger. Each side believes things about the other and occasionally speak out and act on it. Some of these beliefs are true. Many others are not. I think the reason why so many black folks relish in the online version of Law & Order is because it’s the only way that they will ever get to see some be held accountable for their words or actions.
Offline, police AND regular citizens can shoot/beat/kill unarmed men/women/children, cut the hair off suspects – only to be suspended with pay and/or cleared later on. If ever, at all as evidenced in #Ferguson. Policies are created to support the economic imbalance – and no one is ever arrested or put on public display for their shameful practices. Stop & Frisk gets defended as sound policing practice. Private prisons are supported by local courts and by extension, schools. Food deserts. And so much more.
Crime seems to pay in the case of Darren Wilson, who is still currently suspended with pay and has donor funds at this disposal up to half a million dollars. When people took GoFundMe to task for seemingly violating their own rules by allowing the fund to exist, all GFM did was delete the comments. Those who donated shouted their 1st amendment rights were being violated. Forgetting, once again, 2 things:
1. That GoFundMe is a private corporation and not a government institution
2. Freedom of speech does not include freedom of consequences from said speech.
With Twitter specifically, the lynch mob justice that many blacks feel they’ve been on the receiving end of for so long, is reversed. If only temporary. Sometimes I believe it’s well deserved. I think all people should be held accountable for what they say and do. Your words DO represent you. You had a choice in typing it and a choice in sending it, now you must live with how it was received.
But a question still remains: where is the line? What makes sending someone death threats because of something they wrote any better than what they did/said to have those death threats sent?
I, by no means, have no sympathy for anyone who uses questionable and offensive language (sometimes the same language used internally though..) The world needs need more personal accountability.
Sometimes, people mobilize and it leads to positive results. A juror from the Trayvon Martin trial was planning on writing a book and making money on the ordeal. Twitter was disgusted enough to find her literary agent and ‘shame’ her into eventually dropping her representation and the juror deciding against monetizing their role in the matter.
#HandsUpDontShoot is now global movement/mission statement in support of those fighting for justice in Ferguson. It’s brought many issues to light, that would have been otherwise ignored.
If the moral of the story isn’t clear, it should be:
Twitter is not nor ever will be just Twitter.
While you should be free to be yourself if you are speaking from a personal account, as long as it’s public you are opening yourself up to be at the mercy of the people. You may be branded with the scarlet letter to be executed as swiftly as possible if found to be guilty of poor choice of words. It doesn’t take much. You’ll never know if or when it will happen. So before you hit send – it would behoove us all to remember that as you are holding the pitchfork, so too can you find yourself, on the other side, burning at the stake in the blink of an eye.