The Dangers of The Twitter Mob | Sarah Stook
“Oh my god X is cancelled.’
For our older or non-Twitter users, that may as well have been written in Latin. Sadly, that is not a long forgotten language, but a language used on the social media platform often.
Twitter has proven itself very useful over the years, from connecting old friends and reuniting owners with lost property to getting fans to meet their favourite celebrities and politicians to air their views. Still, it had recently shown itself to be somewhat dangerous- for very simple reasons.
Social media as a whole is essentially a mob entity. Photos and stories can be shared with the press of a thumb, going out to hundreds or even thousands of followers. Even if you don’t share or like it yourself, it can crop up on your feed when someone you follow decides to do that. That’s not the problem; it’s the way that it has become the mob mentality. One innocent tweet, whether by a celebrity or just an ordinary person, can quickly be manipulated and taken out of context. When a famous person retweets it, or many people just share it, the tweet or item of news can spread out of control. One person can be bombarded with hate and death threats simply for posting their opinion, which was then taken into the hands of the mob.
Usually, it’s when a person has said something that is against the status quo. Whilst there are a variety of opinions on twitter, age demographics make it more likely that the views of many are liberal, the chances of which increase when you take generally left-wing celebrities. Saying something remotely un-PC or out of majority opinion puts you at risk at being on the receiving end of a pile on. Some celebrities are notorious for this, retweeting an opinion they don’t like and essentially hoping their devoted followers will descend upon the person like locusts. They are right to shut down hate and it is great for them to do that, but often it simply seems to be a case of a difference of opinion. Considering how many see the views of their favourite celebrity or politician as the gospel truth, it’s easy for people to act without seeing the facts- both sides are guilty as that.
Take for example the newest Twitter rage. A video recorded on the 18th January 2019 became an immediate social media hit, retweeted by many and picked up by a variety of news outlets. The main part of the video is a confrontation between students from Covington Catholic School, Kentucky and an Omaha Nation elder named Nathan Phillips at the March for Life rally. When initially reported, it portrayed a group of young white men wearing MAGA hats verbally attacking a Native American older gentleman. There was an immediate Twitter pile on, with angry threats of violence and quests to find the teenagers involved. Only a few days later, the truth came out. The argument seemed to have been instigated by a group called the Black Hebrew Israelites, a group who do not like Christians, whites and others. This group were verbally abusing the school boys, to which point Mr. Phillips intervened to try to create peace.
What happens next is a little blurry. It seemed as though the boys were unsure of whether Mr. Phillips was on their side and one interviewed said that they did not engage with him. The Vietnam veteran claimed he was intimidated by the men, opposite to the students’ claims. They were reported to have chanted ‘build the wall’ and ‘Trump 2020,’ something not picked up in the video.
Before there was anything more than the initial video, we saw how truly vicious Twitter could be. There was a right to be angry at the idea of cruelty towards an elderly veteran, but there was no actual proof of what happened, therefore allowing people to jump to conclusions. Kathy Griffin, the comedian famous for the infamous bloody Trump head, tweeted the following:
‘Ps. The reply from the school was pathetic and impotent. Name these kids. I want NAMES. Shame them. If you think these f****** wouldn’t dox* you in a heartbeat, think again.’
*dox- searching for and publishing private information, such as the address and workplace, of an individual on the internet.
We do not know the full story, but that is the point. Griffin, a well-off celebrity with a wide following, wanted to find out the identities of strangers, minors even, to publish it in order to send a pack of wolves after them. Even if it turns out that the school boys were rude to Mr. Phillips, that is no excuse to send threats after them. Anything inappropriate should rightly be punished, perhaps in school, but not in the way that Griffin wants. It’s a testament to how one tweet can lead to private lives being made public.
In one incredibly dangerous and tragic case- though not on Twitter- occurred when Reddit users wrongly identified a student named Sunil Tripathi as a suspect in the Boston Bombings. His body was later found floating in a river, with the cause of death deemed suicide-an innocent young man, already suffering from depression, put into a horrible position. Going back to Twitter, a city councillor from Minneapolis named Alondra Cano used the platform to publish the private numbers of critics. One that many may remember is the 2018 case when Tucker Carlson, Fox news presenter, had his address published on Twitter. Smash Racism DC, an offshoot of Antifa, arrived at his home, protested outside of it and even attempted to enter at some points. Whilst Mr. Carlson was not home, his wife was. The idea of a group attempting to converge on and enter a private property, especially with a risk of children being inside, is inexcusable. This, as well as the Tripathi incident, shows how the mob role can become a real threat.
So what gives Twitter users the right to become judge, jury and executioner? Social media is a force for good, but the easy spread of information makes it easy for people to band together quickly against a target. The power in which Twitter users who are celebrities or have a large following is rather incredible when you factor in celebrity worship and acceptance. We live in a fast world where we do not want to wait for information, which comes to be bad when people do not wait for the facts in their quest for intrigue. People band together for political, social and religious causes, so faithful that they are ready to jump to defence without knowing the full picture. This mob rule does not help us grow intellectually nor does it create fairness.
That’s not the only part of Twitter mob rule that is ugly.
If you refer back to the first part of this article, you will see the kind of responses to when unsavoury old tweets of celebrities re-emerge and sink their standing on Twitter. This has started to crop up more often, as fans go back to tweets from over ten years ago, some from when before the celebrity in question was famous. Many are criticised for racism, homophobia, misogyny and other acts of hate. Some may be clearly defined hatred, whilst others are a bit of a grey area as to whether it’s an inappropriate joke or just hateful.
Sometimes it just forces an apology, other times it forces a celebrity out of a job. It is questionable as to what extent the celebrity should apologise or what their punishment should be. Should we not accept that people grow out of old opinions as they become more aware of the world and learn new things? Some of these tweets are wrong, but most are just insensitive.
Take two prominent examples with two different endings and decide for yourself whether the action that was taken was right or wrong.
Example #1 is Kevin Hart. The comedian, known for films such as Think Like A Man and Jumanji: Welcome To the Jungle, was chosen as the host for the 2019 Oscars ceremony. Soon, old tweets deemed homophobic emerged. Take two examples:
‘Why does @DamienDW [Damien Walker] profile pic look like a gay bill board for AIDS…Booom; I’m on fire tonight.’
‘Yo if my son comes home & try’s 2 play with my daughters doll house I’m going 2 break it over his head & say n my voice “stop that’s gay.’
After the controversy, Hart stepped down as the host of the Oscars. He remains a pariah on Twitter and it looks like he won’t get any major gigs anytime soon. His film career is far from over and will remain a movie star, but it has definitely ruined his credibility and will stop him from getting good gigs.
Example #2 is Chrissy Teigen. Popular on some parts of Twitter due to her ‘relatable’ tweets and jokes, she’s also famous for sassy remarks regarding President Trump (or ‘clapbacks’ as Buzzfeed write in their daily devotional articles about her). Fans dug up old tweets from about eight years ago, two of which are:
‘why is anyone surprised Mariah is having twins? I was always pretty positive there were 2-15 babies growing inside of her.’
‘I don’t lovvvvve the fact that Thailand is always shown as a dirty, drugged out, sex filled, ping pong tranny place though. L’
Whilst a few tweets still remind us that Chrissy Teigen is ‘cancelled’ or ‘over,’ she seems to have remained unscathed. Her old tweets are arguably worse than Hart’s, as she made fun of self harm and of Demi Lovato’s very public mental health battles. She remains a popular voice on Twitter, with Buzzfeed continuing to have her, as well as Kim Kardashian and Trump, as their favourite subjects. Realistically, it’s a political issue- she’s very sassy regarding Trump and that makes her forgivable in the eyes of some, simply because of the hated toward the US President.
Simply, the Twitter mob is a political one. It is mainly a liberal one, but conservatives can surely pile on when they wish to. There’s a danger to Twitter, fire on the fuel of a Twitter mentality. No longer do people form opinions or respect other’s privacy. The mob is no longer angry keyboard warriors, but a group who are willing to ruin lives and to judge quickly.
What can we do?
Well, we can use Twitter respectfully. We can’t stop people saying things, because we should always advocate for freedom of speech, but we can learn to wait to hear the facts and remember that people have lives away from the screen. Twitter can be wonderful, but the mob mentality is one that all conservatives should condemn as a historic relic of times gone by. People often make disparaging comments about the media and fake news, but often forget that they are the carriers of it.
So the next time you’re ready to join a pile on, remember how the tweets about the Covington Boys were deleted on masse by the blue ticks as they realised the truth, including famous ones like Jamie Lee Curtis. We may joke about fake news, but we need to be better than this in regards to our social media habits. Twitter is a place for great promise, not for the danger that many can be put on at the hands of angry people with a lot of time on their hands and malice in their hearts.