Can Anything Stop Internet Mob Justice/Anger?

There was once a lion named Cecil who lived in Africa. Cecil was no ordinary Apex Predator. He was part of a science experiment in conservation and tracking from Oxford University. He was also a very photogenic Lion and allegedly had as friendly a demeanor as Apex Predators can have. He lived with his cubs in a protected park in Zimbabwe.

Cecil was no match for a dentist and hunting enthusiast from Minnesota named Walter Palmer. Walter Palmer was no match for the rage of the Internet.

This story is the proverbial straw that broke the Camel’s back for Max Fisher who correctly but potentially melodramatically and Voxily declared that Internet Mob Justice is out of control. The Atlantic chimed in with an essay called “My Outrage is Better Than Your Outage.” They helpfully pointed out that the response to any outrage is always superiority outrage. A firm tut tutting that there are bigger fish to fry in the world. This can be a scream of WTF Americans care much more about an animal than human poverty, racism, oppression. Or it can be trolling Cecil-lovers (or Palmer-haters) with a story about how everyday Zimbabweans did not know about Cecil.

All of this raises the question about what causes the Internet to be the ID going into overdrive and if there is anything that can be done to calm it down.

My guess is that mob justice is often a resort when people feel that something should be punished even if it is technically not illegal or if they feel the legal punishment does not match the severity of the alleged crime committed.

Walter Palmer has the unfortunate luck of being a kind of cartoon villain coming to life. He is wealthy enough to pay 50,000 dollars for an experience to hunt lions in Africa when most people would probably be unable to come up with 50,000 dollars upon the threat of death. The Atlantic reveals that he has a history of alleged sexual harassment claims against him so he is a bit of a creeper. He also previously plead guilty for lying to federal wildlife officials for killing a black bear. In other words, he fails the laugh test when he admitted to killing Cecil but claimed that he thought everything about the expedition was on the up and up.

The Internet Mob in this case probably did not wait for the wheels of Justice to turn as slowly and imperfectly as they often do. They did not want Palmer to hide behind a lawyer whose legal and ethical responsibility would require him or her to get an optimal outcome for this semi-cowardly hunter even if that means complete acquittal.

The problem is that the mob produces a lot of collateral damage as a result. Fisher points outrage is Palmer’s family who no longer have his income to support them. I haven’t done much research here so I don’t know if Palmer is caring for children and/or other relatives who cannot take care of themselves. Palmer’s employees also now need to scramble to find new jobs and hope they can find jobs at equal or better pay before the next landlord or mortgage bill comes due.

Sometimes or often mob’s pick the wrong target or pick a target for proxy punishment when the real culprits are unreachable. Other times, a mob can pick the “right” (in scare quotes because right is not meant to convey moral correctness but just someone the mob hates) target but there is a lot of collateral damage or the target is completely innocent except for imaginary crimes.

I am not sure about what the solution to Internet Mob Justice is though. I am generally opposed to telling people that their causes don’t matter because that is really offensive and pompous. This is not to say I agree with people or find all causes morally equal or equivalent but part of individual autonomy and freedom is the right to decide for yourself what is important. On the other hand, Fisher is right and these things are really getting too far out of control. The internet seems to be in perpetual esclation mode and this seems to be over every possible issue from children at diner to animals to everything else imaginable. The internet can connect the 50,000 people who care deeply enough about an issue to make someone feel really miserable even if these 50,000 people would just have been labeled solo cranks in decades before. Sometimes it only takes one very dedicated person to make life miserable for someone (first story and audio).

So how do we get people to calm down and react in ways that is not the ID running out of control? I meant what I said above about not telling people that their causes are not important but the other problem is that everyone can have something that is really important to them and they are willing to go all in for and this leads to everyone potentially being the victim of a mob.

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153 thoughts on “Can Anything Stop Internet Mob Justice/Anger?

  1. This a terrible essay. Telling you to die in a fire would be outrageous though. So live a long happy life in a climate slight hotter and more humid than you would prefer.
    #killerburn

    But slightly more seriously. People are a pita. Over time, we can hope, enough people learn how stupid and/or harmful many of these outrages are and it becomes unfashionable.

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  2. My favorite response to outrage has always been the “Why didn’t you get upset about X then? YOU RACIST/SEXIST/HORRIBLE PERSON YOU”.

    That is, if you got upset about a dead lion but DIDN’T get upset about this Marine who died because of a drunk driver, you were obviously a horrible, horrible, horrible person who should die in a fire.

    You see that sort of counter in everything — pretty common whenever a controversial cop shooting comes up (which is apparently daily now), you’ll see the counter “Cop X saved a toddler from a mountain lion while bleeding heavily from gunshot wounds from thugs, why isn’t the media reporting about THAT”.

    It’s kind of a weird trigger in people’s heads, like getting unhappiness is a finite resource that can only be doled out once a day. This weird urge to force people to choose sides.

    As to what can be done: Nothing. Nothing can be done. That’s the internet for you. There’s literally NOTHING that can stop that. Give it a decade or three and maybe a new set of social customs and manners will appear to cover it, but absent societal shift — nothing.

    We’re forced to see our relatives repost stuff on Facebook that’s been debunked on Snopes for 20 years for all eternity. Perhaps the lion was the lucky one.

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  3. I am not sure about what the solution to Internet Mob Justice is though.

    I am not sure this is a problem in the first place. Internet Mob Justice is the amalgamation of tens of thousands of individuals expressing their personal opinions. It was always going on, we can just see it better now. People were always forming their own opinions based on wholly inadequate information and on things that don’t really directly affect them.

    And ’twas ever the case that people piled on irrelevancies atop the actually-bad stuff: why does it matter if Dr. Palmer had been the subject of sexual harassment complaints? That has fish-all to do with whether his claim that he thought, in good faith, that he was on a legal hunt is either worth crediting or worth paying attention to, to the extent that we choose to care about Cecil the Lion in the first place.

    Obviously, it would be no fun to be on the receiving end of such a thing. But then again, it’s no fun to be unpopular in the first place. It was never fun to be called out for a public shaming based on something that you did, or worse, half of something that you did with the justification for it omitted. The guy shouldn’t have to sell off his practice and retire from a profession he chose and is evidently quite successful at — but some things are bad enough that yes, you do wind up having to pay such prices, justly or not. That’s just life, the consequence of living in a complex society, and the Internet has not qualitatively changed that facet of it.

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    • I suppose the difference is how the internet lets the world pile on whatever target of rage and this makes me dislike the whole thing. Same with others Previously, someone like Palmer would have received a few angry letters maybe. He would not have been flooded. And I generally think he deserves some form of punishment because he did seem to break the law* but not to the extent he is getting.

      Good call on the irrelevant character evidence but does the average person think like that?
      I would guess the average person just hears that and says “this is more evidence that Palmer is sleazy guy.”

      *I am not quite buying his story because of the previous perjury admission.

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      • There is nothing new under the sun. In Ye Olden Days the target of mass opprobrium would have been cut off from all society. If in a small town, people would fall silent when he walked in a room, and when he walked down the street, people would cross to the other side. If in a larger city, his social peers would avoid him. By all accounts, the experience was horrible, and its infliction arbitrary.

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    • Burt, with all due respect, there’s a difference between feeling and action. Opinion and behavior are not the same thing. Opinion is “I’m mad at you for stealing my girl”. Action is “I pick up a baseball bat and clock you with it”. One of these things is ok, the other is not, and describing assault as “expressing my opinion” doesn’t make it ok.

      What’s worse is shame and hate do not, in fact, help people understand their own feelings of pain and hurt. This will seem a bit like concern trolling, so I’ll just quote James Baldwin:

      I imagine that one of the reasons that people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone they will be forced to deal with pain.

      Pain is no fun at all, but it’s often the gatekeeper of growth

      So I agree with the idea that people have always been feeling this. But people have not always been directly harassing someone who displeased them.

      Note well: I in no way approve or sanction the killing of Cecil.

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    • Internet mob justice is a problem because it frequently has some very real world effects. Even if the person on the receiving end is an a-hole, I still don’t like the idea where doing one little wrong thing or even a great big wrong thing getting punished in some very real way without formal justice. The person on the receiving end of Internet justice often doesn’t even deserve it or is innocent of any wrong-doing. Informal justice is a blunt and imprecise instrument. It doesn’t hit the right target many times and even if it does, it delivers a punishment not necessarily proportionate to the crime. It could be greater or lesser than what a person deserves or does not deserve.

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  4. Doesn’t that same collateral damage exist for other forms of punishment? Let’s say that, absent any internet outrage, Palmer was found guilty of some law or another and jailed. Wouldn’t his family and employees be in the same predicament?

    Given that the collateral damage exists and is real, ideally attempts would be made to minimize it and make sure it only happens when absolutely necessary. But that is probably not possible with something as disorganized as an internet mob.

    I’m also not sure it is as real as you state. I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that if Palmer is NOT jailed, he’ll regain his current standard of living in not too long. Another quality of internet mob outrage is that it is often short lived.

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  5. (Edit- I see Kazzy already this) Re:collateral damage. If Palmer goes to jail, his family isn’t going to get his income and his employees are going to have to find a new boss. So, I’m not really upset that those consequences may be happening without a trial, but with fairly unambiguous evidence that Palmer’s a giraffe’s sphincter.

    Likewise I’m terribly upset that Bill Cosby isn’t going to work again, and the pursuit for monetary claims against him is probably going to last until well after he dies, depriving his heirs of some cash value of his estate.

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    • Likewise I’m terribly upset that Bill Cosby isn’t going to work again, and the pursuit for monetary claims against him is probably going to last until well after he dies, depriving his heirs of some cash value of his estate.

      ???

      Assuming that was serious, wouldn’t you also be terribly upset when businesses paid fines for criminal activity or negligence (such as mishandling hazardous waste) as that’s depriving shareholders of money?

      Why should Cosby’s heirs have priority over his victims? Especially since Cosby ain’t dead?

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  6. There’s a line in Hot Fuzz, where Sergeant Angel (Simon Pegg) is talking to a classroom and describes police work as consisting of “procedural correctness in the execution of unquestioned moral authority”.

    The mob justice wreaked in this case seems pretty much the opposite of this in every case. We don’t leave justice up to vigilantes for a reason…

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      • Hot Fuzz like the more serious Zodiac* represents the ideal form of police correctness.

        *Slate made the good argument that the real point of Zodiac was that sometimes having a hunch, even a very good one, about the identity of the criminal is not enough to arrest somebody and even for a very horrific or serious crime that is fine and necessary for a just society.

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      • Yes, we definitely need more of this from the police. This is precisely what has gone wrong in any number of the highly-publicized cases. Being a civilian doesn’t excuse you from exercising some restraint, though.

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  7. Are there genuine victims of the internet outrage machine? I know that Jon Ronson begged us to believe that internet outrage is entirely out of control – “All she did was make a horribly racist joke that she then insisted afterward was in fact not at all racist because that’s literally the best possible interpretation of what she said and the interpretation that she needs to be true to get out from under what she’d done and said…” – but are there are actual Richard Jewel level victims? I’m sure I’m forgetting about some…

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        • I’ve often been told that I have the temperament of a defense attorney, in that I will often play Devil’s Advocate or extend benefits of doubts, perhaps sometimes too far past where I should.

          I sometimes suspect that Sam has the temperament of a prosecutor.

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          • I am not very sympathetic to the idea that one gets to contextualize how others respond to their output. (I’ve written about this before in regard to artists’ who want to control how their work is understood, which isn’t a privilege they enjoy.) So, for example, if you make a joke about it not being likely that you’ll get AIDS in Africa because you’re a white person and other people respond with, “Geez, that’s racist as hell,” then whatever intent you had originally doesn’t matter much.

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                  • Well, it’s true that you’re free to respond however you’d like to my point about people not being able to control the interpretation of their words after having said them. Let’s see if your insistence that a comment on Twitter and an innocent dead woman in Texas are basically the same thing catches on like gangbusters in the same way that some of these other examples have.

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                    • So you’re insisting that if she only got thrown into jail over the weekend (and otherwise inspiring no blog posts, no articles, and no tweetstorms) that my comparison to police over-reaction would have more merit?

                      This insistence of yours is a tacit admission on your part that we’re not disagreeing, we’re haggling.

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                      • I’m not insisting upon anything, other than the simple fact that you do not get to control how people respond to your output. You seem to be conflating two unlike things (reaction in the public square to voluntarily made comments versus a trumped up arrest that ended in death). If that’s not what you’re doing, my apologies, but I’m struggling to see what else your goal here might be.

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                          • What is the “that” and “something” and “implication” that you’re referring to? Is your position that me being comfortable with the internet responding to an inflammatory comment thus requires me to be comfortable with outrageous police abuse? Or is it something else that I’m missing?

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                            • It appears we are all agreed that someone dying in police custody is wrong.all that we disagree over is whether or not it’s wrong for someone to have theur career prospects destroyed and have to go into seclusion because of one very bad joke.

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                            • So you admit that you’re comfortable with disproportionate response from people you recognize as moral authorities against people that you consider the outgroup.

                              I don’t even need to argue against this.

                              I just need to point to it and say “Ipse Dixit.”

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                              • “Disproportionate response” is an interesting allegation here. If you’re describing people who called her at home, then sure. If you’re describing people who tweeted out, “Woah, this was a dumb thing to say!” then there’s absolutely no way I’m going along with it. After all, is it truly disproportionate for one person to observe that another person said a (truly) dumb thing?

                                And regardless, it wasn’t one person’s condemning tweet that sank Justine after all. It was the accumulation of them. But each of the individuals who happened to tweet about it weren’t doing so in a concerted effort to destroy Justine. Which is very different from one cop’s outrageously abusive response to alleged issue with changing lanes. If you need me to explain the difference between one cop’s outrageous response and one person tweet in response to something, I’m happy to do so, but let’s not pretend as if these two things are even remotely the same.

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                                • And regardless, it wasn’t one person’s condemning tweet that sank Justine after all. It was the accumulation of them. But each of the individuals who happened to tweet about it weren’t doing so in a concerted effort to destroy Justine

                                  Which is something that can be said about a lot of other bad things. Feminists talk about this. They call it micro-aggressions. People don’t set out to inflict massive injuries to women’s self esteem and peace of mind. But the accumulation of multiple micro-aggressions has the effect of severely stressing lots of women disproportionately.

                                  Environmentalists talk about this. None of us set out to cause the earth’s temperature to rise by 1 degree per year (or whatever the current rate of increase is). Each of us just wants to live in reasonable comfort and, play a video game or 2 and sleep in a comfortable temperature. But everyone doing that causes global warming.

                                  Kant’s categorical imperative is important here: Act only on a maxim if you can will it as a universal law. The common way in which you couldn’t will your maxims as universal laws is by realising that you would be screwed badly if someone else were to act on the same maxim. But sometimes, the principle also applies when the consequences to others are too horrible for you to stomach.

                                  So, either say that you are fine with her losing her job and being unemployable over one bad joke or concede that such pilling on is immoral because it fails the categorical imperative.

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            • When you say “intent doesn’t matter much” as far as what happens (the “is”), that’s obviously correct. People are gonna react however they react, which is often knee-jerk and immediately, and I’m not trying to absolve speakers of the responsibility of at least carefully considering some of the obviously-forseeable consequences of their actions.

              If we consider what should happen (the “ought”), then I think it’s more debatable and context-dependent; and should incorporate the principles of charitable-reading and mistake-forgiveness (both of which should consider intent as a factor) wherever possible.

              Everyone should be able to stick their foot in their mouth occasionally, without everyone else trying to nail that foot to a cross.

              It was pretty clear to me that her “joke”, however ill-thought-out and -executed it was, was a poor attempt at a sort of gallows humor, referring to the harsh unjust racial disparity realities of the world; acknowledging that a poor black person in Africa is far more likely to die of AIDS than a rich white American.

              The “joke” (which, again, was poorly-considered on multiple levels, and a Bad Idea for many, many reasons) was an amateur riff on that nihilistic cosmic absurdity.

              It was, IMO, less a “racist joke”, than a “joke about our racist world” and as such doesn’t warrant infinite and eternal shaming (though the loss of her PR(!) job was fully-deserved and inevitable).

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            • Being called names on the internet is one thing, where I get off the bus is where the mob then moves on to doing everything they can to ruin the offenders life; death threats (especially against women) and harassing employers to fire people from their (unrelated to the offense) jobs or wrecking their businesses seems badly over the top as if it’s calculated to make the cause the mob is acting on behalf look bad.

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              • death threats (especially against women)

                I assume you mean that women are especially likely to get death threats, rather than that death threats against women are especially bad. But is that true? The closest I could find to statistics on death threats is this Pew survey, in which 6% of women and 10% of men said they had received physical threats online.

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                • A couple interesting things about that survey. One is that it makes no distinction between threats that are credible and those that are not, ad says nothing about acts that move from online to real-life. Like, if in the heat of an argument someone said you needed to be taught a lesson you’d remember until the bruises faded, you’d probably be no more than momentarily annoyed. If someone said the same thing and then told you your street address, shit just got real.

                  Another is that the percentages are much higher for younger people, which is not surprising, but mostly very similar for young men and young women. Except for the two that really stand out: stalking, young women 26% to young men 7%, and sexual harassment young women 25% to young men 13%.

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                  • That’s a perfectly reasonable, if speculative, objection. As I said, that’s the closest thing I could find. It’s entirely possible that for death threats the numbers are reversed. I’d be interested in seeing serious research on the topic, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to conclude that women are especially likely to receive death threats based on a handful of high-profile cases which are high-profile largely because the victims are women.

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                  • “[The article] makes no distinction between threats that are credible and those that are not, [and] says nothing about acts that move from online to real-life. ”

                    Of course, neither does anyone else who tells us about how online death threats prove that American society is disgustingly sexist.

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                  • This is all very well and good, but the criteria of “credibility” is highly subjective and vulnerable to highly biased interpretations.

                    That is, violence against a woman is seen as more morally culpable, since women are thought to be outside of the sphere of physical conflict. This is, in fact, ridiculously counterfactual, but it’s the basis of all chivalry. It is this attitude that brings us “women in refrigerators”. It was once framed as women being the “weaker sex”. We don’t want to go back there, right?

                    It’s also the case that death threats made by people we like or know are likely to be judged as “less credible”, and that death threats made in the service of causes we support are likely to get our accolades than our jeers. That’s how performative violence works – it enhances the status of the actor within the ingroup.

                    And that’s the aspect of this I find most troubling – the outrage seems less about the target and more about the status of the outrage performer.

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    • As the Vox article points out, it’s *really* hard to distinguish ‘mob justice’ about Cecil from what happened with ‘Gamergate’, where a different group of people also thought they were getting ‘justice’.

      As I’ve been saying for a while, it’s *really* easy to sit there and complain about mob justice against ‘people who don’t deserve it’, and then completely ignore it when ‘the guy deserves it’. Likewise, it’s easy to pretend what your side is doing is fine, but the other side is always ‘over the line’.

      I’m glad, with the case of Cecil, we finally have a few people going ‘Uh, you know, I think this guy did a bad thing too, but maybe this is not actually the way this system should work’, where screaming hoards descend, en mass, upon some random person who might, or might not, be guilty of some sort of misbehavior that the mob doesn’t like.

      And I, on top of that, will add the caveat that the mob justice seems *suspiciously* directable and often a rather insane selection. Yes, yes, I know the ‘Why are you outraged about this instead of this worse thing’ is a dumbass logical fallacy when applied to any specific discussion…’I am talking about my outrage about this thing instead of the other thing because this thing is the *topic of discussion*, duh’.

      But that doesn’t change the fact it’s pretty odd for a whole bunch of people to get outraged all at once about a specific, almost trivial thing. Yes, the *hunting laws* in Zimbabwe are of major importance to most Americans, so much so that many of them can recite statistics like ‘Where the hell is Zimbabwe?’

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  8. So how do we get people to calm down and react in ways that is not the ID running out of control?

    I have no idea how WE do this, but on an individual level I think you gotta go with WOPR in War Games: the only way to win is to not play the game.

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  9. I remember back when I first started paddling around on the internet. Back then the big concern was the horror of spam and scam. Spam was clogging up everything and scammers were gypping people out of tons of money. Everyone thought it was the end of the internet(tm). Then over the course of a decade it went away. I suspect that our current outrage mob mentality is set for the same process.

    People adapt, organizations adapt, people get cynical and jaded, they update their filters. I am confident that the receptive ears to these collective fits are going to adapt, that the people who transmit them are going to get jaded and above all that the outrages are going to proliferate themselves to death. These internet outrages are already blowing up faster and fizzling out quicker than they were at the start. It’s like yeast in a brew; the alcohol levels are rising and the sugar is disappearing. On that level I don’t think there’s much to worry about.

    On a different level, however, I think there’s cause for concern and that’s on an appropriation level. There are a lot of academic and sociological critiques that are being appropriated by the peddlers of outrages and I think there’s a danger that when the collective social consciousness tunes out the outrage mongers there’s a danger that those critiques will get lumped in too and ignored. Racism and anti-Semitism, for instance, are being used to death. Heternormative and a whole host of left wing academic critiques are getting spammed out and used enormously. I wonder (and worry a little) if when our collective consciousness discards indulging in outrage culture if those things might not end up painted over too. Those who think those are deeply important critiques should worry about it a lot more.

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    • Academics seem delighted that their terminology is getting used by more people and a wider context. They seem to think it is a sign of influence, which it is. Since academics are generally irrelevant outside the world of scholarship, I can’t really fault them for this.

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    • I actually think it will be a good thing if the type of left wing critiques to which I think you’re referring return to the academy. Not being familiar with most of them in their academic context it’s hard for me to judge their merit but I don’t think the sort of smug question begging style in which they arise on social media is doing the left any favors. I know Freddie de Boer has written at length about that issue.

      Generally though I think you’re right, that the pace of outrage turnover will eventually neuter most of the harm most of the time. This is purely anecdotal but if I recall correctly my Facebook feed was in full outrage mode about the Lord’s Resistance Army for weeks whereas more recent outrages barely seem to make it for 72 hours if that.

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  10. To be honest, I also think that this is part and parcel with the age of the participants.

    I don’t know, but I deeply suspect, that the average age of the people outraged by the (insert recent outrage of the moment here), is well under 27.

    Now, of course, I know that there are prominent examples of outraged people who are well over 27. I just think that for every year of every person who is well over 27, there are more than enough people who are under 27 by enough years to counter-balance those folks. To the point where if you added all the years of age of all of the participants together and divided by the number of people, you’d get a number under 27.

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    • Additionally, the publicity that comes with stuff like facebook and twitter and whatnot is creating a new dynamic that I could only compare to living in a world with eavesdroppers everywhere and a presumption that you should only say something that you don’t want eavesdroppers to hear if you are in a soundproofed bathroom.

      Teenagers complaining about their jobs or their bosses on facebook being informed that, good news! They don’t have to come in tomorrow because they’re fired. (Need examples? I’ve got them!) Moreover, these kids are now forever tainted as being troublesome kids who complain about their bosses in future searches.

      When I was a kid, 17 year olds went home, sat with their friends, and complained about their dumb bosses and their dumb jobs and how it was dumb that they had to do dumb work with dumb customers for dumb pay.

      It was one of those things that gave you the strength to put on that apron again the next morning.

      Now, should employers have thicker skin than that? Hells yes. Absolutely.

      But, once upon a time, we had a society in which it would have been considered completely inappropriate for your boss to have heard what you said 3 hours after shift, in your own friend’s garage, as you all sat around commiserating.

      Now the general attitude is something like “well, you shouldn’t have said it in public.”

      And that’s making expectations of teenagers (among others) that JUST WEREN’T THERE 20 years ago.

      Not in the US, anyway.

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      • This is exactly right. I know as a teacher, before the internet age, maybe you overheard a student proclaiming their distaste for your class. Now, you can see it starring you in the face from your computer screen. It changes the social dynamic, but it is the exact same thing we used to do in decades prior. I think we all need to get tougher skin about this issue.

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          • It sounds like a harbinger to a terrible new age.

            Is it a new age, though?

            I had read about UT’s problems with freedom of speech earlier this year, and found them abhorrent. At the same time, though, it’s hard not to look at all the colleges/universities that get a pass for similar (and indeed far more intrusive) policies. Up until very recently, you could get expelled at BJU for dating a person with the wrong skin color. You can still get expelled for dating a person who spouts the wrong ideas. Up until recently you could get banned at Liberty for being a registered Democrat. At both those Universities and a bunch of others, you can get expelled for blogging something pro-choice, or — at least according to school policy — for associating with people who blog something pro-choice.

            I’m not defending TU here. But I am saying that for pretty much ever, we have allowed non-public colleges and universities to do this kind of stuff all the time. As Will always says, it’s complicated — but even so I do wonder why a private university who kicks out people at the first sign of budding liberalism gets a shrug and “that’s the price of freedom,” and a private university that does something equally silly on the liberal end is harbinger of democracy’s End of Times.

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            • Tod, I think a part of the difference in how I see it is that if you go to Bob Jones or Pensacola Christian College, you have to sort of know what you’re getting in to. I would think the same thing of Evergreen State, if it weren’t a public university. Antioch College would be an example, though, of “If you went there you already agreed to certain things.”

              Not that these policies aren’t still worthy of condemnation. And they’re condemned, to varying degrees. I’m not sure you can say that nobody cares about these bad things that they’re doing. They’re regularly criticized to the point that individual policies that would be bigger news at another university elicit a shrug because we already know what BJU is.

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            • Hey! I have family members that went to BJU! Like, in the 60’s, even.

              As such, my stories about BJU all involve stories about how “it’s an awful place, with an awful culture, and represents some seriously effed up assumptions about the universe.”

              They aren’t my stories to tell but, lemme tell ya, the stories that I’ve always hear about BJU are not ones that end with a shrug but with angrily asking for the kleenex box.

              And now we see more and more of the country getting like this?

              But, maybe you’re right. Maybe the fact that more and more of the country becoming like BJU should elicit a shrug.

              After all, if I don’t like it, I can go to Somalia.

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            • I actually think the more straightforward answer is that there’s a difference between what we can and should allow when it comes to private versus public institutions. Public institutions are there, at least in theory, to serve everyone and as part of the government it’s actions need to be looked at through a constitutional lense. I wouldn’t argue that there’s never a reason to advocate for certain types of regulations on private universities but part of living in a pluralistic society I think requires tolerance for private institutions behaving in ways that are more arbitrary.

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        • Eh, I’m not really sure what I think of that case, but it’s not even as close to as straightforward as “Guy A wrote something and Guy B got suspended for it,” particularly since it’s quite clear that the two guys were working together (and it wasn’t just on Facebook, it was sustained online harassment, which is why it’s probably not just a free speech issue), harassment that involved violating confidentiality rules related to proceedings that may have resulted in something like this anyway. The dude’s an asshole, an asshole who it’s quite clear used his partner to avoid being accused of directly attacking people (and even posted some of the attacks on his own Facebook page!), and I have little sympathy for him.

          East Germany this ain’t. Perhaps before making such hyperbolic comparisons, people might take to the Google.

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        • http://www.boston.com/news/education/higher/articles/2007/04/08/scandal_puts_spotlight_on_christian_law_school/

          In its decision, the university said that after Barnett was told to remove the posts from his Facebook page, he was then responsible for them.

          That is, he was given the chance to disassociate himself from public attacks on not only two professors but also a fellow student, and declined to do so. That’s not being punished for someone else’s behavior.

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      • “once upon a time, we had a society in which it would have been considered completely inappropriate for your boss to have heard what you said 3 hours after shift, in your own friend’s garage, as you all sat around commiserating.”

        Well, sure, but what if I’d driven around the streets with a megaphone strapped to my car yelling to the general public about how my boss was a jerk and the customers were stupid?

        And is a publicly-viewable Facebook post more like you and your friends in the garage, or me with a megaphone strapped to the car?

        Maybe the answer is to recognize that the Internet isn’t just something that nerds and kids do anymore, and that there’s no such thing as privacy there.

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        • Even if I were willing to agree that writing something to your facebook wall were the equivalent of using a megaphone, I am now being creeped out about how this is no longer a reason to merely fire a dumb 17 year old, it’s a reason to not hire the now 18 year old, the 19 year old, or the 20 year old.

          Good God, if some of the dumb shit I did when I was 20 was “in public” rather than “in private”, I’d still be unemployable today because there would always be a candidate who managed to do his or her similarly dumb shit “in private”.

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  11. “There’s no way to predict what each new outrage of the week will be….but the counter-outrage is always quite predictable: Ideologues who feel shut out of the current outrage express outrage that so much outrage is being directed toward an outrage that they consider minor compared with the major outrage that really does matter, which just so happens (coincidentally) to be their favorite pet issue.”

    By David Cole
    Couldn’t have said it better.

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