Spend enough time online and you’ll discover that trolls lurk outside of fairy tales and Lower Michigan. There comes a time, though, when some of these internet trolls don’t just cross the line of appropriateness or maturity, they jump it waving a middle finger at the world.
For anyone who has followed this column knows, a person’s personal thoughts or ideas rarely deserve to be censored; but there are times when, perhaps hypocritically, it is the right thing to do for public safety.
That’s exactly what happened to Chuck Johnson and it resulted in Twitter permanently suspending his account last week.
For those unaware of one of the internet’s most disreputable trolls, this guy is so far right that he can barely grasp the edge of the spectrum- or reality for that matter. This is the guy who, in the wake of the recent Amtrak tragedy, took to Twitter to claim that homosexuality caused the derailment.
The social media site suspended him for using his account to ask his followers to donate funds so he could, and I quote, “take out” DeRay McKesson in response to his involvement in the protests in Baltimore and Ferguson.
Quick to the punch, they also suspended several new accounts- such as @citizentrolling and @freechucknow, which he tried to create to circumvent the decision. Johnson, in turn, called up his lawyers and threatened Twitter with legal action, claiming censorship.
Let’s clarify something about the oft-quoted clause of the First Amendment. It prohibits the government from prosecuting or otherwise punishing someone for their words- through fines and/or imprisonment. It says nothing about private entities limiting the material available through their forums. The Supreme Court has also ruled that the censorship of books or other material in schools is permissible so long as the decision was not made on the basis of political reasoning or personal beliefs.
“Twitter doesn’t seem to have a problem with people using their service to coordinate riots,” Johnson complained on his blog, which has since been downed by an apparent DDoS attack. “But they do have a problem with the kind of journalism I do.”
Does this sound like journalism?
Basically, he is saying that Twitter is differentiating between types of acceptable speech: things you can say in public and things you can’t.
They are, but not in the way he thinks they are.
To be fair, there are times when these public gatherings start out calmly, but rationale and intent are often overridden by humanity’s base instincts and emotions. That being said, the First Amendment still gives citizens the right to peacefully assemble, it doesn’t give them the right to incite bodily harm.
It is safe to say that we all accept as an axiom that it is unlawful to shout “fire” unprovoked in a crowd due to the risk of harm to those panicked.
It is also accepted that thinking harm to someone is one thing, the moral debate of which aside; to actually call out for it is another. Just ask any Pantera fan how that can turn deadly. What Johnson has done, blatantly, is commit the crime of conspiracy to commit murder; so maybe instead of his lawyers building a case against Twitter, they should be preparing a criminal defense.
It is for this reason that I have had to put a disclaimer, a visitor code of conduct, on all of my social websites. Dialogue is fine; derogatory names and threats are not.
Even Reddit, the internet’s champion of absolute free speech, modified its rules to clearly ban harassment on May 14.
A similar incident, also from this past week, was an anti-Islam rally outside of a Phoenix mosque that openly encouraged the 250+ participants to bring guns as a “precautionary measure”, but some brought two or three guns; others wore military outfits. That isn’t precaution. That isn’t peaceful assembly. That’s preparing for a battle.
The protest came after two Phoenix residents carrying assault rifles were killed by police outside a Muhammed cartoon-drawing contest in suburban Dallas earlier this month. Unlike the cartoons from Charlie Hebdo headquarters, which were done as social satire- however tasteless it may have been-, the Dallas event was held for no other reason than to provoke an armed response from those offended, thus bringing innocent citizens in harm’s way.
Sure, those who organized it have a right to protest in the name of their religion, but the members of that mosque also have their right to practice their religion without the threat of harm or death.
Jon Ritzheimer, the organizer of the protest, called it a “patriotic sign of resistance against the tyranny of Islam in America. I want fellow patriots standing right here next to me. This isn’t about me. Everybody’s been thinking it, I’m just saying it.”
Again, thinking and doing are two different sides of the same coin.
The incident wasn’t without some positive outcomes, though.
Jason Leger, a Phoenix resident wearing one of the profanity-laced shirts, accepted an invitation to join the evening prayer inside the mosque, and the experience changed him.
“It was something I’ve never seen before. I took my shoes off. I kneeled. I saw a bunch of peaceful people. We all got along,” Leger said. “They made me feel welcome, you know. I just think everybody’s points are getting misconstrued, saying things out of emotion, saying things they don’t believe.”
Ya Ali Yoseph, also from Phoenix, said, “Of course it’s offensive,” of the cartoon drawing that took place. “We have 124,000 prophets in Islam. Prophet Muhammed was the last prophet. We don’t draw pictures of our prophets. Jesus was a prophet. We don’t draw pictures of Jesus. In the Koran, there’s a quote that says, Allah made you different groups, different tribes, different races, so you can go and learn from each other, so we can come closer to each other. This is a test, to see how you treat people of different color, different ethnicity.”
If only others could see through the rhetoric and arrogance.
For more information on the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project and the complete list of titles covered, please visit the official website at http://bbark.deepforestproductions.com/
Sources: Chicago Tribune, Business Insider, Washington Post
© 2015 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions