Twitter Mobs

screen_shot_2019_01_22_at_3.09.07_pm.0.pngOver the long weekend, I checked into Twitter many times, like I always do, and caught that story about the kid from Covington High School in Kentucky. I showed the video to my family over the dinner table on Saturday night. I believed the false narrative around the video. I did think that the kid was being an asshole and harassing the nice old Native American dude.

But I still thought that the reaction on Twitter was insane. Grown adults, with professional jobs in the media, said that they wanted to punch this 14-year old kid in the nose. They relived their own traumas from high school bullies. They doxxed the kid and his family and tried to get him thrown out of school and forever barred from college and work. They made blanket statements about ALL white people and ALL boys.

I tweeted out some mild commentary about forgiveness and perspective, but I didn’t say too much because I didn’t want to get destroyed by the mob. Over the dinner table, we explained to Ian what “tarring and feathering” was, and then got sidetracked with a discussion on Huckleberry Finn and the Royal Nonesuch.

Then it turned out the narrative was all wrong. I’m not gong to go into that. Read Megan McArdle and Caitlin Flanagan for more.

I have to say that I’m deeply ashamed of my side. Smart people should behave better. Leaders on my side didn’t quell the insanity. Enough people aren’t apologizing and admitting their they were manipulated and misled. Even now, I’m reading commentary that says, “okay, they weren’t guilty of X, but they were probably guilty of Y, so it’s okay to hate them all and destroy them.”

Steve’s convinced that hatred levels are so high that we’re going to start to see riots.

When did thing get so crazy? Yes, it’s mainly Donald Trump’s fault for elevating insanity and creating a toxic climate, but social media itself is an excellent highway for craziness.

I almost walked away from it all this weekend. I almost deleted my account, because I didn’t want to constantly be bombarded by hatred. Hatred causes wrinkles.

But I need Twitter. I’m absurdly connected to my virtual friends and our inside conversations that we’ve been having since the early aughts. We’ve moved from blogs to Facebook to Twitter and continued our same silly conversations for over 15 years. I can’t walk away from that. So, I used the mute function to hide the most annoying people, who keep showing up on my feed, because my friends “like” their remarks or because Twitter think I’ll like them. And I’ll keep looking for solutions and supporting people who refuse to join the mob.

50 thoughts on “Twitter Mobs

  1. While I’d prefer not to have riots, they have a lower death toll than going to a religious service in my neighborhood in 2018. I’m focused on one problem and won’t have energy for anything else until that’s done.


    1. There were 63 people killed in the LA riots, and the NYC draft riots (apparently the deadliest white riot in US history) had 119 or 120. (Figures from Wikipedia.) Much worse than any church or synagogue shooting.


  2. Thanks Laura. I’m probably not on your side, politically, and appreciate this post. Your thoughtfulness is one of the reasons I read this site and your articles.

    Your “side” was a hot mess this weekend. My “side” is a hot mess, too. It’s depressing and we’re all too tribal.

    You’re right about Twitter, it’s toxic and amplifies tribalism in ways that seem to be tearing things apart.

    My wife tells me to stop reading the news, but I’m not sure that helps, either.

    Trump has certainly elevated things, there’s no question, but I think he’s a symptom of the disease, not the disease itself.

    And now I’m just depressed about where things are going and what world waits for my kids when they grow up.


  3. My social media feed has also been unreadable for the last few days, including the account I only use professionally. I’m depressed to read the retrenchment from people I like and respect on the left, and a handful of last-minute, oversimplified pile-ons from some on the right. I’m glad I was offline when the story first broke.


  4. Well, I guess I’m lucky I’m not on Twitter. The blogosphere was certainly full of the Covington story the past few days, and I guess it penetrated some portions of the MSM (but not the WSJ until after the full story was clear). Meanwhile, one fb friend posted the original video, but it doesn’t convey much without Phillips’ narrative, so it didn’t get much reaction. So I spent the holiday weekend doing other things. (For those who care, reading Nagel’s “Mind and Cosmos” and seeing “Green Book” were the highlights.)


  5. The Atlantic piece says:

    ‘ “four African American young men preaching about the Bible and oppression” had made a video, almost two hours in length, and while it does not fully exonerate the boys, it releases them from most of the serious charges.” ‘

    I want to know: How does a bunch of black guys preaching their own weird craziness exonerate a group of catholic high school boys who are jumping around making tomahawk chops at a native guy drumming?

    Are you arguing that if there are two groups of bad behavior, only one group is guilty? Or that somehow the four black guys forced the MAGA hat-wearing boys to act so badly?

    The boys behavior was horrible, and they should face serious consequences—I’m not saying the should be arrested or charged but their school should expel them for that kind of thing. Is that too horrible a consequence to contemplate for white private-school catholic privileged boys?

    I think this is a case of “are you going to believe your own eyes” or are you going to believe the excuses.

    Personally, I’m thrilled to pieces that our society is finally discussing this sort of thing. It’s been ignored for forever and it needs to be out in the open and cause some furor. Granted that it is uncomfortable.


  6. First. This is not news. A bunch of high school kids waiting for a bus are a bunch of private citizens.

    Second. This is a Shiri’s Scissor:

    The suspended Twitter account that started it all went by the name of 2020fight. I will cite details from the CNN description of the account:

    The account claimed to belong to a California schoolteacher. Its profile photo was not of a schoolteacher, but of a blogger based in Brazil, CNN Business found. (…)
    The account, with the username @2020fight, was set up in December 2016 and appeared to be the tweets of a woman named Talia living in California. “Teacher & Advocate. Fighting for 2020,” its Twitter bio read. Since the beginning of this year, the account had tweeted on average 130 times a day and had more than 40,000 followers.
    McDonagh said he found the account suspicious due to its “high follower count, highly polarized and yet inconsistent political messaging, the unusually high rate of tweets, and the use of someone else’s image in the profile photo.”
    Molly McKew, an information warfare researcher who saw the tweet and shared it herself on Saturday, said she later realized that a network of anonymous accounts were working to amplify the video.
    Speaking about the nature of fake accounts on social media, McKew told CNN Business, “This is the new landscape: where bad actors monitor us and appropriate content that fits their needs. They know how to get it where they need to go so it amplifies naturally. And at this point, we are all conditioned to react and engage or deny in specific ways. And we all did.”

    As an aside, Gillette’s ad was also a Shiri’s Scissor, but inadvertent.

    The Covington thing looks like purposeful sowing of chaos.


    1. Always worth looking at Slate Star Codex. I think Putin’s minions are doing this shit to us, and gleefully watching us tear ourselves apart.


      1. Putin is not the only rival. And this sort of thing is dirt cheap in comparison to armies.

        It could even be done by contractors.

        There’s also the age dimension. It’s patently obvious that the middle-aged idiots tweeting their hate at the high school kids hate…high school kids. Why? Is this a generational conflict?

        It seems to me, looking at the US population demographics chart, that the baby boomers are no longer the largest voting block. So the emphasis on the youth of the high school kids and the age of the Native American drummer is fascinating.


  7. I purposely didn’t follow this story (I don’t have twitter or cable news) because I was confident it would turn out to be One Of Those Things. I don’t plan to go back and read the undoing of the story, either. The federal government is shut down, for God’s sake. There are about a million bigger fish to fry.

    But it does strike me as significant that we’ve passed the point where the MAGA hat is, for some people, equivalent to a Klan hood. I can talk myself out of seeing it that way, even given the “both sides” Charlottesville comments (among others), but there are a lot of people who will never be talked out of it. The local NAACP FB page posted a cartoon to that effect a couple of days ago. This seems like an unfixable situation.


    1. I’m certainly going to support anybody who isn’t white and interprets a MAGA hat as a threatening or intimidating gesture directed at them.


  8. First of all, these kids were being assholes. It’s not a crime to be an asshole. But if you do it in public, people are going to notice.

    Second, the bigger issue that Laura is raising is about Twitter mobs. People are going to notice if you’re an asshole in public but should it be a worldwide noticing? I think that ship has sailed. This is the world we live in now. And I really do think that teenage kids today know that every action they do in public and most in private can be recorded and shared. They live in a world of Snapchat, Instagram and YouTube. For those of us here, who are probably ages 30s-60s, we can remember a time when there was a reasonable expectation of privacy. These kids can’t. It doesn’t exist for them. I’m not sure we can impute to these kids our own values/expectations about privacy that are holdovers from when we were younger. I don’t think we can say “OMG, people! Stop watching viral videos and jumping to conclusions!” Nor can we prevent people from watching viral videos and jumping to conclusions. That’s just not going to happen. Even if you, me and everyone here decided to stop, there are going to be “bad actors” out there who will be deliberately provocative. (And, as Cranberry pointed out, that may already have happened in this case.)

    Third, I say this having “recognized” the look on Smirky Kid’s face. My own 16 year old kid has a look like that often when he is unsure or embarrassed. I think about that look a lot and how it gets interpreted. But I also think about interpersonal and group dynamics of 16 year old boys because I have to teach my own 16yo about how to manage these situations because it absolutely does not come naturally to him. Left alone, my 16yo would have moved away and not stood in front of a man doing what Phillips was doing because he is basically a non-confrontational person. In a larger group, yes, he might have done what Smirky Kid did if he thought it would gain him some sort of social approval from his friends. You cannot look at that video and not see a mob-like dynamic developing, kids performing some sort of toughness. And that’s the thing that concerns me and that I don’t like and that I wouldn’t want my kid to be part of.

    If my kid was in that video, when I next saw him, I’d say “Why did you do that? What do you think was going to be accomplished?” And then, since it became a big deal and Phillips’ identity was known, I would make him privately apologize to Phillips for acting awkwardly and coming across as somehow threatening or disrespectful. And I’d make a statement myself saying “My kid is 16 and still developing. We are handling this as a family matter and would appreciate privacy and understanding as we parent our child according to our values.” Then I’d refuse further comment and say to anyone “He’s 16. Leave us alone.”

    Now, that may have been done. I would feel better knowing that the kid has parents who understand that this was an example of immaturity and a learning opportunity (and I include the whole media frenzy). But that doesn’t seem to me like what the kid is getting out of this.

    But I think he is already old news. Bring on the indictments!


    1. Wendy said,

      “First of all, these kids were being assholes. It’s not a crime to be an asshole. But if you do it in public, people are going to notice.”

      But the kid who literally got the most hate was just standing there smiling after Nathan Phillips (the older American Indian) walked up to him for no good reason (NP’s explanations for that have not held water) and started banging a drum inches from his face. If anybody was committing harassment, it was Nathan Phillips.

      That kid did literally nothing objectionable except have a hat on his head.

      And not only did the smiling kid who did nothing get vast amounts of hate directed at him (and get featured in multiple news stories with photos and headlines that made it sound like that kid had harassed Nathan Phillips, people misidentified another Covington student (who wasn’t even on the trip) as the smiling kid, resulting in death threats addressed to the misidentified kid, his parents, aunt and uncle, and people were trying to get his culinary (!) school admission rescinded.

      The thing that comes up over and over in these cases is that online vigilantes frequently botch IDs, so they sic mobs onto completely unrelated individuals. (See also the time that Spike Lee attempted to doxx George Zimmerman–and publicized a completely different individual’s home address.)

      “I don’t think we can say “OMG, people! Stop watching viral videos and jumping to conclusions!”

      I do.

      And I especially want to say that to adults with professional media jobs who a) didn’t bother to do their jobs and continued to spread stories that were clearly false or incomplete and could cause serious harm to minor children and b) threatened or incited violence against minor children.

      I want to see the media people or major public figures who made reckless false accusations accusations sued under our libel laws (which are more generous to private persons) and I want to see prosecutions for incitement of violence. Rolling Stone already had to pay out multiple millions of dollars because of their sloppy and terribly vetted UVA gang rape story.

      We have laws. Let’s use them.

      “You cannot look at that video and not see a mob-like dynamic developing, kids performing some sort of toughness.”

      I think the kids were mostly just confused.


  9. Apologies for not having caught up with the thread, but here’s something I posted in a discussion elsewhere.

    “People need to do the following:

    “–Stop dogpiling minors who haven’t committed an actual, serious criminal offence.
    –Don’t threaten violence against people you don’t even know, especially minors.
    –Stop trying to get people kicked out of school or fired for doing things that aren’t criminal.
    –Realize that any time a private person is singled out for the social media hate treatment, that they are going to wind up getting death threats and real harassment.
    –Give people who are accused a fair opportunity to tell their side of the story before making up your mind.
    –And probably most importantly–do due diligence. Don’t believe captions for videos without watching the videos, and don’t trust short, out-of-context videos.”


    1. Amy, people of good faith can follow your advice. But there are a lot of people out there who act in bad faith. I’m not talking about traditional media, either. Pizzagate is the flip side of this situation. The traditional media didn’t spread this story, but it obviously had a huge effect anyway.


    2. Wendy said,

      “Pizzagate is the flip side of this situation. The traditional media didn’t spread this story, but it obviously had a huge effect anyway.”

      That’s true. There can be social media brush fires without any conventional media involvement–but at the same time, there’s often a feedback dynamic between social media and conventional media.

      I just finished reading In a Different Key (a history of autism throughout the 20th and early 21st century), and there were so many years when conventional media was feeding autism-based anti-vaccine anxiety. So the media was at fault for its role during those years–but where we are today, anti-vaccine sentiment continues to thrive even without all of the free, friendly media that they used to get.


  10. Clearly, the White Male Smirk as signifier is a trigger for some constituencies. Their interpretations of what is being signified by that smirk can go beyond what might be being signified by the/an individual youth, which is why I like Wendy’s comment so much. I ended up having a great conversation with my kids about semiotics and how you can’t control how others will invest signifiers with signified meanings that exceed an actor’s intention. We also had a conversation, of course, about how to act when your in-group’s leader seems to be making a dumb decision…


    1. I’d much rather have those kids as my children than have as a parent either Reza Aslan (is that what they teach at Yale Div, punchable faces?) or Sarah Beattie (is that current feminism, offering to give blow jobs to boys who beat up other boys?). It’s interesting–but not new–how people have so little interest in the planks in their comrades’ eyes, and so much hatred for teenagers whose politics they don’t share.


      1. ey81 said,

        “and so much hatred for teenagers whose politics they don’t share.”

        And frankly, we have no idea what the kids’ politics is at all.

        I would assume that most of those hats were just bought as cheap DC souvenirs.

        “”The kids on class trips, they come in and buy them [MAGA hats and fidget spinners] up,” says manager Dexter Morse. “Those are our two most popular items.” The result? Roving packs of red-hat-wearing teens — mostly male and almost all white — from the Lincoln Memorial to the Library of Congress.”

        That was from 18 months ago.

        cy said,

        “No, they just have to decide whether they want people to know that they condone shouting, jeering, intimidating and surrounding a guy who walked up to them drumming, as representative of their school/religion or whether it doesn’t.”

        I suggest watching the interview with Sandmann, which is cut with some clips from the incident:

        The whole incident starting with Black Hebrew Israelites yelling at the kids and calling them “faggots” and “incest kids” and apparently saying a lot of homophobic and racist stuff (including singling out a black kid in the group for a lot of racial abuse). As Caitlin Flanagan points out, the BHI guys had previously been harassing the American Indians.

        If you look at the kids’ body language during most of the clips, they’re mostly paying attention to each other, not outsiders. And they mostly look happy and excited, not mean, and they’re not really engaging with Phillips.

        Nathan Phillips has told a lot of whoppers about the incident and other things. For example, he says that the kids were yelling “build the wall”–but nobody has been able to find tape that supports that claim. He has also told some misleading stories about his military service. He also said at different times that the kids were blocking him or that he thought that the kids were about to attack the Black Israelites when he intervened, which seems really dubious if you look at the tapes. He crosses a large empty area and then is in the middle of the Covington kids and is drumming there. It’s weird to blame them for surrounding and intimidating him when he chose to be where he was when there was a lot of available open space. Some of the kids apparently initially thought that Phillips was beating his drum to the tune of their school cheers–they thought that he was joining their cheers.

        The kids are really loud, but it has little to do with Phillips, because they were being loud before he came over, too.

        Later on, security had to stop Phillips (and a large drumming crowd of about 50+ people) from entering the Catholic National Shrine at the time of the 7 PM Mass. (Phillips read a big list o’ historical grievances against the Catholic Church–which suggests that him previously having a run-in with a Catholic school group was not entirely coincidental.)

        Shrine security locked the door and locked worshippers in until police dispersed the group led by Phillips.


      2. Some more thoughts, since I can’t sleep.

        cy said, “No, they just have to decide whether they want people to know that they condone shouting, jeering, intimidating and surrounding a guy who walked up to them drumming.”

        Again, a lot of that is a question of perspective. Here’s a Washington Post video that’s synced up with verbal descriptions of the incident from both perspectives:

        I look at the videos and I see a crowd of loud, excited kids who are primarily happy to be spending time with and interacting with each other. At some point they do a haka dance. Initially, when Nathan Phillips approaches, a lot of of them seem really happy to see him and are basically rocking out to the noise of his drum beat. I’ve read a number of people who say that some kids did a tomahawk chop (not a sports fan, so I don’t know if that’s fair). There’s also a lot of confusion, people doing their own thing, and a lot of kids just aren’t paying attention to Phillips. A lot of kids are dancing and jumping up and down to his beat. I see from the Washington Post video that there was at least a second drummer following Phillips into the group of Covington boys.

        Phillips says, “I was surrounded. We were surrounded. No matter which way we went, we would have to go through that mob.”

        This is a big fat lie, by the way, which you can see from other videos–there was plenty of open space around the Lincoln Monument, but Phillips chose not to use it, and he also chose to walk into the group. At around 2:43, Phillips says “that young man blocked my retreat”–but you can actually see a big gap next to Sandmann where Phillips could easily have walked through if he wanted to.

        Around 3:41, the Washington Post mentions that you can see Sandmann gesturing to a classmate to stop engaging. At 3:50, wow that’s a big gap next to Sandmann–Phillips was not trying to get past him.

        Another important detail is that Sandmann says in the interview that part of his motivation for staying put was that he was surrounded by people filming, and he was afraid he’d do something wrong or bump into somebody and it would be captured, so he was trying hard not to do anything that would look aggressive. So, this kid at least was very aware of the possibilty of getting in trouble via filming–but his awareness really didn’t help him–at least not the first couple days of the story.


      3. The kids were in DC for an anti-abortion rally. I think we know what his politics were, plus there were kids in the crowd with Trump shirts cheering him on.

        But this is something Laura also said and I can’t believe both you and she are claiming this:
        “But the kid who literally got the most hate was just standing there smiling after Nathan Phillips (the older American Indian) walked up to him for no good reason (NP’s explanations for that have not held water) and started banging a drum inches from his face. If anybody was committing harassment, it was Nathan Phillips.”

        OMG! It’s not harassment if someone comes up to you and starts banging a drum in your face. Harassment is if you move away and the drum-banger follows you. My dad always had a saying: if trouble comes in the front door, go out the back door. You have choices to avoid trouble, not stand and smirk at it. I could totally buy that Smirky Kid had no idea why this guy was drumming in his face, but all he had to do to avoid it was move a few steps away in all that open space you’ve mentioned. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t have Smirky Kid trapped in one place by Phillips drumming in his face by *and* Phillips lying about being surrounded.


      4. Wendy, I don’t think we can assume the kids are necessarily pro-life. They’re teens from a Catholic school. They got to skip school and go screw around in DC.


      5. Wendy said,

        “You can’t have it both ways. You can’t have Smirky Kid trapped in one place by Phillips drumming in his face by *and* Phillips lying about being surrounded.”

        Actually, I can. The kid can be aware that he is being filmed on all sides by unfriendly people, and that if he accidentally bumps into anybody while trying to move, he’ll be seen as doing so intentionally, so he decides to stand still and not do anything in order to avoid accidentally appearing to be aggressive. In fact, that’s what Sandmann said in his interview.

        It’s also quite possible for the kid not to have an obvious line of retreat open while Nathan Phillips did, given that they were facing opposite directions.

        Also, I’m going to have higher expectations of a 64-year-old man than of a high school junior in terms of social graces and common sense. A grown man ought to know better.

        “According to local news reports from Lincoln obtained by The Washington Examiner, Phillips was charged with numerous crimes in the 1970s including a charge for escaping from prison in 1974; a charge of assault in 1974; multiple charges for underage possession of alcohol in 1972, 1973, and 1975; and negligent driving and driving without a license in 1978.”

        “According to a FOIA response, Phillips was on active duty from 12 August 1974 to 5 May 1976 and was released as a private following disciplinary issues, including three AWOL incidents.”

        Phillips was born in 1954, so at the time of all of those incidents, he was substantially older than all of the Covington kids (20 to 24 years of age). You’d think that somebody who had such a checkered past as a young man would have more compassion and empathy for young people–but no.

        “Phillips misrepresented himself as being a veteran of the Vietnam War. In an interview with Vogue, Phillips said that “I’m what they call a recon ranger. That was my role.”

        That’s not what his military records say. In public statements, he goes back and forth between representing himself as a Vietnam vet and or (truthfully) a Vietnam-era vet, but the bit about being a “recon ranger” is pure fantasy–he was mostly a refrigerator repairmen during his service, which was entirely stateside.

        This is not a person whose word you want to take to the bank.


  11. Still, the Catholic archdiocese and Covington high school are going to have to face the question of whether they find the behavior of their students acceptable or not.

    Not whether the boys had a legal right to stand there and be horrendous—because, yes, the boys did have the legal right.

    And not whether the boys behavior rose to the level of an actual, serious crime.

    No, they just have to decide whether they want people to know that they condone shouting, jeering, intimidating and surrounding a guy who walked up to them drumming, as representative of their school/religion or whether it doesn’t.

    Kids don’t just get expelled from school for an actual, serious criminal offense, they get expelled for things like being disobedient and disorderly. And they get expelled for bullying.

    (Well, some kids do, I’m not sure about kids whose parents have the money and connections to hire a PR firm to represent their kid.)

    At the end of the day, either the Catholic administration condones behavior like that or they don’t condone it. They have to decide if they want kids like that to represent them.

    And I do understand the worry that kids, including your own, can do a lot of stupid things—I understand that completely — I’ve got boys!

    But that’s not enough to excuse the behavior.


    1. The diocese isn’t happy with the boys. That’s been reported. My guess is they are livid with the chaperone, but I’ve not seen a report.


      1. Well, the Bishop of Covington has now apologized to the smirking kid and said, “We should not have allowed ourselves to be bullied and pressured into making a statement prematurely.”

        So that didn’t last too long. Although they are claiming to have the matter looked into by third party investigators.

        They probably should be livid with the chaperones. The chaperones were not all that evident in the video I watched.

        You do hear one loud chaperone-like voice yelling, “Hey guys, back it off!” about five minutes after the boys started surrounding the Native American drummer but he seems to be more concerned that the boys are getting closer to the Black Hebrew Israelite guys.

        And then after the Black Israelite preacher says to the boys:
        “Jesus Christ was not a white man . . . Christ is coming back to kick your white a$$ . . . Listen to him because you might lose your scholarships,” one older guy, who I presumed was a chaperone standing with the boys, did respond with, “Santa Claus was white.”

        I’m sure they did more, but it was not evident and it was really not enough. So yeah, the chaperones might have to go back to High-School Chaperone Training Camp again. They didn’t do a great job.


      2. “We should not have allowed ourselves to be bullied and pressured into making a statement prematurely.”

        Yeah, lots of pretend grown-ups should adopt that rule, but few will.

        As for the chaperones, it is entirely possible that the moronicism of the Catholic Church will lead them to provoke a fight with some of the few remaining adults willing to volunteer to help guide Catholic youth. You can’t help those people (the Catholic hierarchs), so it’s best to stand back and smile.


      3. I’m one of the adults who volunteers to help Catholic youth. There’s not really a very big problem with volunteers for school events or trips. There would be a very big problem if the school took any action that could be seen as supporting Trump, at least in the city schools. I don’t know what happens in the suburbs.


  12. Apologies for being a thread hog, but this is an issue I have been thinking a lot about this week. Some more thoughts:

    1. I strongly recommend watching the Season 1 episode of The Orville where a landing party visits a planet that operates a pure democracy with a media upvote/downvote credit system, with penalties ranging up to the death penalty for getting too many downvotes.

    2. Some of the bad features of social media shaming as a method of social control are a) the randomness and unpredictability (there’s only one really big hate a week, and it’s not likely to be you, no matter how publicly evil you are) and b) the total disproportionality. You could be a tomahawk chop kid from Covington and get no special attention compared to every other kid at the school–or you could be a kid who wasn’t even on the trip and be showered with death threats for you, your family, and attempts to get your culinary school admission yanked.

    3. Once the internet starts doing the deep dive on a large group of people over a long period of time, of course something is going to turn up eventually. It’s humanly impossible for nobody in a large group to never have done anything wrong (or that doesn’t suit 2019 urban coastal UMC standards) over a long period of time.

    4. Furthermore, the fact that eventually a photo of Covington basketball players doing a popular 3 pt. shot hand signal was being circulated with the claim that it was them flashing white power signs is a fairly clear demonstration that just being good in public is no defense against social media mobs. It’s always possible to frame even completely innocuous behavior (like Sandmann smiling and standing still) as wrongdoing. There’s nobody whose public behavior is “good” enough to survive that kind of scrutiny or willingness to believe evil of others. Like, what did the people at that pizza place do wrong?

    5. There’s an implicit threat that totally peaceful and legal behavior (like attending the March for Life as a teen in a school group) paints a target on your back and puts you in a position where you will be targeted for false accusations, harassment, expulsion, unemployment, and potentially violence. This is not how a 1st world country ought to operate.

    6. Lastly, and probably most importantly–Twitter itself as a company has a lot to answer for. There is now a fairly well-established pattern of them banning fairly harmless humorists while allowing actual neo-Nazi harassment campaigns and allowing media people and celebrities to get away with threatening violence or inciting violence, including against minors. Twitter has a bizarre pattern of platform policing. I have to question the legality of what Twitter has been doing as a platform. At the very least, I wonder whether what they are doing in terms of site policing creates some legal liability with regard to the content they are allowing to stand.


  13. 7. And one more thing–it is going to be more and more feasible to fake plausible material. As a society, we’ve got to learn to slow down and be more deliberate in how we treat accusations, because at this point, we are completely unprepared to deal with bad actors. People have spent the last year or so hyperventilating about Russian interference in our election–but still react to sketchy content (like the initial Covington video) with a sort of Pavlovian conditioned rage response.

    Everybody needs to be waaaay more skeptical and media people need to actually do their jobs.


    1. “Everybody needs to be waaaay more skeptical and media people need to actually do their jobs.”

      “Media” is a complicated entity now. It is not just traditional print, broadcast and radio media but also digital media. And all of these have to compete with social media that is open to/free for everyone. You can see the issues going on in journalism that is not about politics, btw. I can see the same thing happening in Star Wars fandom now with EpIX spoilers. Fandoms have their own media economies and practices. There’s basically a mix of access journalism (Disney/Lucasfilm possibly allowing minor spoilers to get out to drum up/maintain interest) and also old-school journalism, people trying to get info by cultivating sources and doing on-the-ground detective work. And then there are anonymous people who post whatever they like because they can do so without ramifications.

      But even within more “professional” forms of media there are some issues. Let’s take a different kind of example.

      AV Club (which I read for the TV reviews) posted an article the other day about how DNA tests are mostly bullshit. Grrr. It was a bullshit article. But it is also an example of a kind of “media” writing that happens today. It’s “reporters” seeing something posted on Digg or Twitter or Reddit and writing a summary with a few clickbait-y words to get article views. That is a part of the media landscape right now. It is easy and fast in a media landscape that craves constant content.

      The good media, the kind we all want, is the kind of article like the one posted in The Atlantic last week about how Bryan Singer is an ephebophile sexual assaulter. That article presented facts and testimony and context and supporting evidence. But that takes time. And it takes support from the people on the business end of the media. This article has been kicking around for months, maybe even a couple of years. In the end, Esquire wouldn’t publish it, so The Atlantic did. Esquire has a lot of money to lose in advertising. The Atlantic either doesn’t have that money or doesn’t care. But in the end, there are factors involved other than the pure nobility of journalism as a profession (which is something I very much believe in, fwiw).

      Business Insider is doing an experiment next week where it is banning Twitter in the office, posting on Twitter by individual reporters (I think think the official account is till going to tweet), and banning Twitter-based story pitches for a week. I wonder how that will go, but it seems like an awareness of the issues going on.


      1. You do have a point in that media is a complicated entity today.

        In the case of actual events, I’m more inclined to see the benefits of twitter and posting unedited footage because it cuts out the middleman telling you what they see.

        For instance, here’s what the Cincinnati paper wrote about the Covington boys at the Lincoln Memorial:

        “”At one point, a student walks down the stairs, takes off his jacket and shirt, which causes the students to yell. They start a small chant, similar to what would be heard at a pep rally. After that, the student puts his shirt back on and goes back into the crowd. 
        Shortly after that, Phillips can be seen walking past the Black Hebrew Israelites and toward the students, who have sat down on the stairs. 

        The students then gather around Phillips, after roughly five minutes, the crowd begins to disperse.” ”

        Well, the Cincinnati newspaper’s placid description of the boys behavior does not at all describe the raucous conduct of the boys on the video, in my opinion.

        Here is a link of the event they are describing:

        Maybe it’s an improvement not to have to depend on the “media’s” view of what happened.


      2. Wendy said,

        “The good media, the kind we all want, is the kind of article like the one posted in The Atlantic last week about how Bryan Singer is an ephebophile sexual assaulter. That article presented facts and testimony and context and supporting evidence. But that takes time.”

        Yeah. Actual reporting is finicky and expensive, not to mention professionally dangerous, if you make powerful people (like Harvey Weinstein) angry. It’s a lot safer to write articles about avocado toast or why [insert 20-year-old movie title] is racist.

        “The Atlantic either doesn’t have that money or doesn’t care.”

        Good for the Atlantic.

        “Business Insider is doing an experiment next week where it is banning Twitter in the office, posting on Twitter by individual reporters (I think think the official account is till going to tweet), and banning Twitter-based story pitches for a week. I wonder how that will go, but it seems like an awareness of the issues going on.”

        That is a very good idea.

        I have to confess to spending very little on news subscriptions, so I’m part of the problem. I just signed up for the Washington Examiner, though. I’ve been a fan of Seth and Bethany Mandel for some time–ironically on Twitter.

        I’m really torn about the NYT and WaPo. On the one hand, they do do good work. On the other hand, their stinky stuff is really stinky–and I don’t really feel like paying them to insult me/condescend to me/lie to me/rush stupidly to judgment/hang on to stupid stories to the bitter end (as the NYT did with Duke Lacrosse).


    1. The link isn’t working.

      Question: what are they supposed to be chanting and jeering?

      If we don’t know that, we don’t know anything.


      1. Here is my final attempt at making the link of the boys raucous chanting. (My IT skills are not so good-sorry)

        The point of watching it is to contrast what you see with an account in the newspaper which describes it very differently. So, if you depend on the media to make the call about something that happened, you probably will get a lot of distortion.

        Hence my appreciation for the variety of unfiltered media that is available today.

        Additionally, the boys portrayed themselves as fearful and worried about their safety.

        The smirking kid gave an interview where he said, ““I definitely felt threatened,” Nick said. “They were a group of adult men. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next.”

        The vide show the boys minutes before they surrounded the Native American man. Those were not fearful boys. Although they did give the five Black Hebrew Israelite guys a much wider and respectful distance than they gave the Native man.


      2. It appears to me that one of the boys does a juvenile dance, and the other boys chant, clap, and laugh. Teenage boys do that sort of thing. They aren’t jeering at anyone else. Then the black man says how clownish they are. However, the black men don’t actually intrude on their space the way the Indian man does. All in all, I don’t see any really bad behavior anywhere, although the black men are rude, but that’s in the stick and stones category. (I know that the thought of a contemporary liberal embracing the sticks and stones message is unfathomable–I just say that to irritate people, the same way I say “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”)


  14. I’m not caught up with new posts, but I’ll throw this in:

    Briefly, Jinah Parker, a black NYC feminist dance choreographer married to and professionally collaborating with a confessed former abuser gets a signed one-paragraph email where the email author criticized the dance choreographer for her relationship with her husband.

    The choreographer and her husband try to figure out who the email author is, and decide it must be April Sellers #1, a white woman and choreographer for a Minneapolis anarchist feminist dance group. Parker and her husband, Kevin Powell, send an email drafted by Powell to the dance troupe’s email (NOT THE EMAIL ACTUALLY ATTACHED TO THE EMAIL THEY RECEIVED),

    The email accused April Sellers #1 of racism, for “For you, as a so-called progressive White woman, to think it’s okay to send a note like that to a Black woman, about her relationship with her Black husband, speaks to a kind of racist privilege and racist condescension deeply steeped in the history of this country.” “The couple called Sellers sexist for thinking she knew another woman’s journey better than herself, and accused her of committing “a form of violence.”

    There was another 1200 words.

    “They addressed the email to the April Sellers Dance Collective. The message was blind copied to the Star Tribune, MPR, A Prairie Home Companion, Walker Art Center, Juxtaposition Arts, the Minneapolis NAACP, two dozen members of the state arts board (which issues grants to artists), and the St. Paul Public School District (where Sellers taught part-time).”

    April Sellers #1 (who had not actually written the original email) was devastated and creatively crippled by anxiety. She contacted Parker and Powell and tried to clear her name–no answer.

    “There would be no apology. No correction. And no telling who’d received the smear.”

    April Sellers #1 lawyered up and her lawyer discovered that the actual author of the original email was April Sellers #2, a black Cleveland resident, who signed an affidavit saying she had written it.

    A defamation case went to court and April Sellers #2 testified. “[P]hone records show Powell contacting a deluge of artists in Minnesota and abroad around the time he wrote the letter.”. He refused to hand over his texts.

    April Sellers #1 won $210,000 for defamation. Parker and Powell still refused to apologize.


    1. “… even though they had done absolutely nothing treasonous whatsoever. Most were sent to hard labor for terms of 10-20 years; many were shot.

      Just as happens in Bulgakov’s novel whole apartments of Moscovites simply disappeared without a trace. Everyone was encouraged to report, denounce suspicious behavior to the secret police; thousands simply denounced neighbors to get their apartments. There was no rule of law and people were “guilty until proven innocent.”.

      Stalin and the Communist Party dictated almost everything in citizens’ work and private lives. In the field of literature and the arts, after 1934, writers were told both what and how to write. Religious themes of any kind were completely unpublishable and atheism was the only official creed, together with the cult of Stalin. Those writers who did what they were told received rewards and those who did not were punished. Punishment ranged from nasty attacks in the press, refusal of publication, exclusion from the Writers’ Union (that made it impossible to work), exile, imprisonment,
      and death. ”

      Just saying…


  15. Jonathan Capehart tweets: “When it comes to “the smi[r]k,” Sandmann, the Covington kids and their defenders must understand why my reaction and the reaction of untold others was so strong.”

    Baseball Crank replies: “Columns that follow this line of reasoning are best read in the voice of Clint Eastwood’s character from Gran Torino.”

    It’s true!


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