Warning: this post contains language which may be offensive.
Ferguson has brought conversations on racial inequality to the forefront, causing a wave of buzz on both mainstream and digital media. People are expressing their opinions on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. It has brought extreme emotion to the surface; many people are frustrated with the justice system and want to send a clear signal that policies and process, as they exist today, are in need of change.
This site on Tumblr was brought to my attention recently: Racists Getting Fired. It not only called out racist comments, it also went as far as to identify the individual(s) behind the posts and sought to bring this to the attention to their employer, with the intention of getting them fired. When I posted this on Facebook, what resulted was a maelstrom of comments, with many defending the existence of this site.
Note, within days of the site launch, it gained over 40,000 followers and 15,000+ submissions.
Not everyone agreed with my perspective, so we decided to provide two viewpoints: Samantha Estoesta gives an argument for the Tumblr site, while I outline the ramifications of using social media to take justice into one’s own hands.
When the quest for justice seems elusive….
We’ve seen this time and time again: a controversial event happens that carries with it heightened emotion and it creates a divisive argument that is amplified in social media. The stronger the emotion, the more heightened and angry the debate becomes.
After I posted a link to the racist site on Facebook, the following comments ensued:
Although at first blush we all agree that calling out these people is the right thing to do, the fact of the matter is that these curators are dubbing themselves Judge, Jury and Executioner.
This site has one purpose: Use the internet to not only shame racists but get them fired. Do they have that right?
I saw this account on Twitter @YesYoureRacist. It’s mandate is the same:
If you have to start a sentence with I’m not racist, but….’ then chances are you’re pretty racist. RT≠endorsement, obviously
I absolutely agree that people have to be accountable for their actions, however, not everything is black and white (apologies for the unintentional pun). Things are not always as they seem.
With the Internet, we can easily lose context
There is a reason that we have a judicial process. There is a reason why people are innocent until proven guilty.
Dexter is one of my favourite shows. When the bad guy seems to get away with murder, it’s reassuring to know that Dexter will set everything straight. When our justice system is thwarted by red tape and politics, it’s good to know there is an alternative right?
Yes, if people are stupid enough to put these remarks on social media, they may very well ‘get caught.’ However, without a formal policing authority, should we punish these people without due process?
Unfortunately, we have witnessed situations where accounts have been hacked; many times people are impersonated with the very purpose of causing harm to their reputation. Taking something at face value is extremely dangerous without knowing the facts. This is what I fear as people look to the internet to to mete out justice.
Mistakes are made and innocent people get hurt; such was the case of Brianna Rivera. She was identified as one of the perpetrators of racially-charged hate speech on Facebook.
This was brought to the attention of Racists Getting Fired. Later on, the site was notified that Brianna’s account was a fake. Her ex-boyfriend created the fake account in an attempt to get her fired from her job, but also to develop a smear campaign against her.
The Slippery Slope
While we may be deeply offended by some online behavior, I also warn….
Ferguson surfaced a lot of anger and sites like these are trying to reinforce a collective to drive this type of behaviour into the public spectrum so we can deal with it — because obviously the respect for authority has waned. What this curator has done is call out remarks that people have made and demand action from the employer. No one is calling the authorities, not that I see. They are curating a public hanging by pushing out this blog — and now BI pushing it out amplifies this. Calling out something because it is wrong is one thing, but what you guys are intimating borders on mob mentality.
Ryan Cox’s remarks helped me solidify my position.
Have we moved past the point where we can use the Internet as a means to exact our own justice if we’re not satisfied with the outcome?
Fighting for the underdog has its place, but we also live in a civil society. With that comes laws, and due process that we must trust. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Samantha Estoesta’s Take:
An Argument for Racists Getting Fired
Dr. Sheldon Nahmod, of the Chicago-Kent College of Law, defines Hate Speech as:
Hate speech can be defined as speech directed at a historically oppressed religious or racial minority with the intent to insult and demean. Hate speech undermines social attitudes and beliefs, it isolates its targets and it tends to silence them because they are often stunned and unable to respond. Hate speech also traumatizes.
Here’s the thing, unlike almost every other country in the world, the United States does not have a constitutional or criminal code that explicitly discusses Hate Speech. So, unless these people pick up a bat and physically harm someone (or incite others to do the same) and/or go after a select number of individuals in the form of harassment, you can’t go to the police.
So what do you do then? Clearly the person has said something discriminatory and derogatory publicly. Let’s say you have an accessibility issue and a person that tells you that your mother should have aborted you. What do you do? Well, if you know anything about that person, you usually report it to their school (if they are a student), their employer, private or public sector.
Usually we do this in our own time; when the blog Racists Getting Fired came online, this traditionally individualistic reporting became a public forum where people could submit examples of racist reactions to Ferguson and give employment contact information to call to report the individuals’ actions.
There were outcries of how this was vigilante justice and removed due process; that these individuals were being tried without a defense.
I disagree, and here’s why:
- Vigilante justice would be actively posting private information for people to use to ruin their lives (i.e. doxxing).
- Most people think the Internet is so big that what they say can be ignored and they can get away with anything, so they post things publicly online that they would not say offline.
- You post it under your name so you are accountable for your actions. Period. If someone said the same thing offline, they would be accountable for their actions. Online does not make this any different.
- By reporting with evidence, and not personally going to the individual’s house and acting out, this allows the employer to make the judgment based on their policies. (i.e. it’s not my job to kick a student out of a university for saying that all sexual assault victims are liars, but it is my civic duty to report it to the Dean of Students).
- Yes, larger companies often have people who monitor social media profiles of their employees. In addition, many companies ask for customer to report problem employees on their websites under Contact Customer Service and Contact Us sections.
- Brand management includes the behavior of employees outside of the workplace.
- There is actually nothing illegal happening on the side of those reporting; there is, however, a breach of policy on the side of those posting racist comments.
The Internet is a beautiful tool. I can order food and stay in my pajamas while binge watching Orange is the New Black and reading multiple international newspapers. But, at the same time, it makes a public and permanent actions that were once easier to forget. You can forget the exact words when someone says derogatory remarks, making reporting more difficult, but you cannot deny multiple screenshots. Before social media, people would record (audio or video) individuals saying these things and expose them; social media is just a different medium to the same story.
At the end of the day, you are responsible for your actions and the consequences that come with said actions, no matter who or how they come to light. Period.
Founder at ArCompany, and Director, International Council on Global Privacy and Security by Design Hessie is a seasoned digital strategist, and intelligence analyst having held senior positions for top ad agencies including Ogilvy, Rapp Collins, ONE and Isobar Digital. She also has extensive start-up experience in AI technologies, social tech, online publishing and artificial intelligence like Yahoo! Answers, Overlay.TV, Jugnoo and Cerebri AI. Hessie is the co-author of EVOLVE: Marketing (as we know it) is Doomed! She is also an active writer for Forbes, Cognitive World, Towards Data Science and Marketing Insider Group.