The reckless and irresponsible posts by Trump come exactly one week after the president tweeted a photo of himself wearing a mask and the press hailed him as having adopted a new, more serious tone about handling the outbreak that has claimed nearly 150,000 American lives since February.
Even Charlie Brown occasionally expressed some skepticism about Lucy promising not to pull away the football.
This week there were two viral stories online that really set me off. The first was about a doctor in Campbellton, New Brunswick who travelled to Quebec, didn’t self-isolate and inadvertently brought COVID-19 back to his home province. The other, complete with shocking video, involved an 18-wheeler barreling into a crowd of peaceful protesters in Minneapolis.
I lashed out against both on Facebook. (I would have done it on twitter, too, if I hadn’t wisely deleted my account.) I called the New Brunswick doctor shockingly irresponsible and said the trucker was literally a terrorist.
Now that the dust has settled, it turns out that stories lacked crucial context.
Vechirko, it turns out, had made a delivery to a black-owned gas station and innocently ventured onto the highway before authorities had effectively closed it. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but Vechirko was hauled out of his cab and beaten by “protesters.” He was rescued before they could murder him. [Co-blogger Scott Johnson] wrote:
Trailer truck driver Bogdan Vechirko has been defamed by House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler and disparaged by Governor Tim Walz. Driving his rig on Highway 35W in Minneapolis, he was surprised to come upon “protesters” packing all lanes of the road in front of him. If he had wanted to hurt them, he could have taken them out like bowling pins. Instead, Vechirko blared his airhorn and brought his rig to a stop before he hit anyone.
Vechiko was beaten by the crowd and denounced by several Minnesota politicians…and by me.
Meanwhile, a Facebook friend of the New Brunswick doctor has a lengthy post explaining why he shouldn’t be scapegoated:
He was also savaged by politicians. And again, on my own Facebook page.
The Covington incident from early 2019, in which a group of teenagers were subjected to a witch-hunt based on misleading photos and video, was a defining moment for me. Even when I thought the boys were in the wrong, I believed the response was unnerving and over-the-top. When it turned out they were innocent but even professional journalists kept piling on anyway, it made me fear for society itself. Social media is whipping us up in angry mobs.
(People say mainstream media is making it worse, but I believe the opposite: mainstream media is under pressure to join the mob after it’s flared up. By my reckoning, the average American liberal angrily cancels his or her New York Times subscription five times a year because of an insufficiently judgmental headline or doubleplusungood op-ed.)
For all of my self-righteousness about these online mobs, it turns out I’m just as guilty. I have to be better. We all do.
Abraham Lincoln had a brilliant tactic to dial down his anger during the Civil War, a time when the country wasn’t just divided–the house was “on fire,” according to historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s new book, Leadership in Turbulent Times.
According to Goodwin, when Lincoln was angry at a cabinet member, a colleague or one of his generals in the Union army, he would write a letter venting all of his pent-up rage. Then–and this is the key–he put it aside.
Hours later or the next day, he would look at the letter again so he could “attend to the matter with a clearer eye.” More often than not, he didn’t send the letter. We know this was Lincoln’s tactic because years after his death historians discovered a trove of letters with the notation: never sent and never signed.
Lincoln practiced this habit for three reasons. First, he didn’t want to inflame already heated passions. Second, he realized that words said in haste aren’t always clear-headed and well-considered. Third, he did it as a signal–a learning opportunity–for others on his now famous “team of rivals.”
Twitter wouldn’t be such a dumpster fire if it held your tweets for 24 hours before they become public.
Never mind the election or climate change or the corona virus or anti-pipeline protests. This is the moral dilemma going viral on Twitter today:
Who is right? Neither of them. Who is wrong? Both of them, but he’s worse.
The amount of comfort you get from reclining your seat is rarely proportionate to the aggravation it causes the person behind you, so I think she should have nicely asked him if it was okay.
In turn, the guy in the back is a grown adult man and not a three year-old toddler being told he can’t watch any more unboxing videos on YouTube, so he should have asked nicely if she could put the seat forward instead of throwing a passive-aggressive tantrum.
In my experience, when you ask the person in front of you to put the seat forward they will usually do so, because people in real life aren’t like people on social media. But if that person says no, you suck it up – or maybe ask the flight attendant if you can change seats. But you don’t do this.
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:
“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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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:
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:
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 thousandshundredsdozens 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.
Chris Pratt tweets that he’s praying for Kevin Smith after his heart attack.
Kevin we don’t know each other too good but I have loved you since Clerks and I’m praying my ass off for you cause I believe in the healing power of prayer. Can you please pray with me people!? 🙏♥️ https://t.co/syB7BiQaoY