A culture of online protests has risen starkly in recent years. Do social media platforms grant users too much power?
Written by Michael Arceneaux (@youngsinick)
As someone who writes his opinion all day, everyday, in order to keep a roof over his head and a catfish sandwich in his stomach, more and more I worry whether or not a knee-jerk reaction to something I’ve done or said could result in a fatal karate chop to my career. Make no mistake, I own what I say and will admit my faults, but now more than ever it appears that online outrage—both genuine as well as its Canal Street knockoff—presents real ramifications to a person if they’re caught in the crossfire of online protestors. It is a new reality that feels two parts admirable and one part wonderfully frightening.
Now more than ever it appears that online outrage—both genuine as well as its Canal Street knockoff—presents real ramifications to a person if they’re caught in the crossfire of online protestors. It is a new reality that feels two parts admirable and one part wonderfully frightening.
A recent example of this was the reported “book deal” that Juror B37, from the George Zimmerman trial, secured in what appeared to be mere seconds after the verdict was announced. In actuality, all the juror did was land herself a literary agent—a small, albeit important, step in landing a book contract with a publisher. While I find her intentions to profit from the death of Trayvon Martin—the unarmed black teen who was shot by Zimmerman last year—at the hands of a vigilante she helped set free to be despicable, the fact that it went away so quickly and how gave me pause.
Someone decides that someone else has been given something that they believe they should have. In turn, they go out and set up a petition, get a small but still relatively impressive amount of signatures in a short amount of time, and boom, said target has been taken out. Even though I agreed that it was way too soon and pretty tactless for Juror B37 to pursue a book deal so quickly, I can’t help but think this sort of methodology will eventually hurt those I actually do agree with. Will I want to champion the will of the people then?
It’s something MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry touched on when she invited Genie Lauren (@moreandagain), the organizer who ignited the Twitter assault and who was responsible for spooking Juror B37’s lit agent, on her show.
Harris-Perry said to Lauren: “My first impulse, because I’m troubled by the verdict, and because I like Twitter, my first impulse is to say yes, right? My second impulse, particularly as someone who is on television, who says polarizing things, is do I want social media to be able to take people down? Do I want—in140 characters—folks to say I want Melissa Harris-Perry off the air because I don't agree with her? Talk to me about how we balance the sort of first amendment free speech right that you have and she has and the ability and need to protest and make our voices heard?”
Lauren acknowledged that Harris-Perry posed a “really tough question,” and went on to explain: “I think it goes hand in hand with what—when people protest, this is just another way for people to protest.” When it comes to social media activism like hers, Genie added, “people are just voicing their concerns the same way they would take to the streets. And it’s just a different form of protest."
It’s different, but in varying ways this form of protest is like the generation it stems from: Sometimes irrational, undoubtedly impatient, and unfortunately a victim of ultra-political correctness.
To wit, earlier in the year, Shawty Lo’s would be reality show, All My Babies’ Mamas, was cancelled after 40,000 people signed a petition demanding its cancellation.
One of the petitions biggest pushers, The Daily Beast’s Allison Samuels said of the show and of the Oxygen network: “The network never took into account the effect of its programming on audiences outside its core demographic. That is, people who only see minorities when they appear on their television sets. Regardless of the fact that the first black president is sitting in the White House, most of those viewers, lacking any evidence or experience to the contrary, are going to accept whatever they see on TV as the gospel truth."
In other words, because people like Allison Samuels, who loathe all forms of reality television, are obsessed with policing the way African Americans present themselves to white audiences, Shawty Lo didn’t even get the chance to prove himself to be as big a buffoon as she perceived him to be. My issue is with this vocal majority preemptively silencing people they feel are undeserving of a voice.
There’s a lot of good to be seen in people using social media to mobilize like-minded individuals into meaningful protest. Some people do deserve to be taken down. At the same time, though, a difference of opinion ought not to be the only requirement for a complete and increasingly abrupt dismissal.