Imagine a life where every time you signed on to your social media account, you were DM’d a threat or insults flooded your timeline and mentions column. The unrelenting harassment and stalking could potentially be overwhelming. Talk about being the topic of such a dark trend. Even when you’re running for public office and have a social media management team in place, answering press and speaking publicly about the persecution at every stump and having to engage continuously is cruel and unnecessary punishment.
When you research the term cyberbullying, references are typically about teens and the millennial culture’s use of social media, with an exception for gay bullying. It has laid the groundwork for a national bullying prevention strategy. But bullying occurs beyond the virtual schoolyard and is prominent in celebrity culture and more recently in the political race for the Oval Office.
In his commencement speech to Rutgers University’s 2016 graduating class, President Barack Obama condemned the culture of ignorance that overshadows real issues that Americans care about and this country’s values.
A Weapon of Mass Humiliation, When Keyboards Get Into the Wrong Hands
“The world is more interconnected than ever before, and it’s becoming more connected every day. Building walls won’t change that,” Obama said to the crowd of more than 17,000 graduates.
“To help ourselves, we’ve got to help others. Not pull up the drawbridge and try to keep the world out. Isolating or disparaging Muslims, suggesting they should be treated differently when it comes to entering this country … it would alienate the very communities at home and abroad who are most important in fighting the war against extremism.”
These words have fallen on deaf ears in the presidential race. And over social media platforms, they’re drowned out by the confusion and noise of climate change deniers.
“I really believe he’s got to clean up the way his new media works.” –House Speaker Paul Ryan, R., Wis.
Presidential hopeful Donald J. Trump caused quite an explosion over the July 4th holiday weekend when a re-purposed tweet showed up on his @realDonaldTrump Twitter account that read, “Crooked Hillary –– Makes History” and the complementary graphic was the face of the former FLOTUS, Hillary Clinton, atop a pile of $100 bills and a six-pointed star, that resembled the Star of David, and was added obviously for emphasis. It was like a fireworks blast that ignited a cacophony of criticism, praise and acrimony. The meme was replaced with the same spew of disgust for Clinton in the caption reading Crooked Hillary — “Makes History! #ImWithYou #AmericaFirst” but the six-pointed-star was miraculously replaced with a circle.
According to mic.com, the meme with the six-pointed star made its inaugural appearance on Twitter on June 15 on @FishBoneHead1, with a description for a comedian who regularly tweeted out anti-Clinton and right-leaning messages and images. By Sunday, July 3 @FishBoneHead1 had been deleted. And on June 22, on /pol/, an active neo-Nazi Internet message board that features many anti-Semitic posts, the “meme” made its encore. The Associated Press confirmed @FishBoneHead1 once existed.
Re-tweeting posts from white supremacists’ sites is common practice for @realDonaldTrump but this one was a gut-wrenching portrait of Anti-Semitism masked as edification.
There’s no denying Trump’s social media tribe is filled with white supremacists. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) said in his interview with Wisconsin radio station WTMJ’s Charlie Sykes, “Look, anti-Semitic images, they’ve got no place in a presidential campaign. Candidates should know that. The tweet’s been deleted. I don’t know what flunky put this up there. They’ve obviously got to fix that. We’ve got to get back to the issues that matter to the public.”
He continues, “Yeah, I really believe he’s got to clean up the way his new media works. But most importantly, as you know … one of the few times I spoke out against him during the primary very forcefully was in this area, when he failed to disavow supremacists, white supremacists. And so look, I’ve made this really, really clear.”
What’s really, really clearer is Trump’s #KeepAmericaFirst slogan derived from bigotry. White supremacist and America First leader Charles Lindbergh advocated against American intervention during World War II and the Holocaust. The Anti-Defamation League has reportedly asked Trump to refrain from using the slogan due to its overt anti-Semitic implications.
Merriam-Webster defines cyberbullying as “the electronic posting of mean-spirited messages about a person (as a student) often done anonymously” while Oxford Dictionary’s definition is a little more general, “The use of electronic communication to bully a person, typically by sending messages of an intimidating or threatening nature.”
Mean-spirited? Check. Intimidating? Check. It’s behavior that by tick marks is cyberbullying but in reality there’s no recourse; there’s barely reprimand. And the rhetoric is so repetitive a broken record would make a more harmonious soundtrack. The campaign of online harassment didn’t start and won’t end here, but as we near November, when will the real campaign issues be addressed on both sides? A member of Congress needs to propose a keyboard violence bill.
“Like seriously, it’s but so much a person can take. Good f—ing bye. ” –Nicki Minaj via Twitter
Back in April 2012, Nicki Minaj temporarily quit Twitter telling her then 11 million followers, “Like seriously, its but so much a person can take. Good f*cking bye,” she tweeted just before taking down her profile. The trolling started when she blocked her longtime fan site, NickiDaily, for leaking her music. They posted snippets of Nicki’s Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded album before the release date. Blocking the site led to spirited banter with a group of her followers whom she called “very mean” before deleting the profile. Today, @NickiMinaj boasts of more than 20 million followers.
Actress Jennifer Lawrence (Hunger Games) has vowed to never get on social media. In an interview with BBC Radio1, she said, “So the idea of Twitter is so unthinkable to me. I’ll never get Twitter. If you ever see a Facebook or Instagram or Twitter that says it’s me, it’s not me … the Internet has scorned me so much that I feel like it’s that girl in high school that I’m like, ‘Oh, you want to talk about her? Yeah I’ll do that!’ Take my hoops off, I’m ready to go.”
She’s among a list of white celebrities who refuse to share their personal lives on such a public platform: Daniel Radcliffe, George Clooney, Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, Kate Winslet and Emma Stone to name a few. And then there’s the mysterious disappearance of Sinead O’Connor on Facebook.
Taking part in a panel in 2014, Emma Stone had this to say about social media, which really sums up Trump’s motivation in a big way, “It’s that need to be liked, that need to be seen, that need to be validated, in a way, through no one that you know. And so people ask the question about fame, or what it feels like, and it seems like everybody knows what that feels like. It seems like everyone’s cultivating their lives on Instagram or on different forms of social media, and what pictures looks best of their day.”
Social media was sold to us as a tool for individuals and celebrities to self-promote and directly communicate with fans. We can no longer distinguish between fans and fools. Even those in the world of sports have it bad. Michelle Beadle, co-host of SportsNation on ESPN2, had the best comeback for a troll spurring him to duck, hide and privatize his Twitter account. She tells @JustLikeISaidHo, “You should be so lucky to fail this well dear” and (wait for it) I hope you have even a modicum of my ‘failure’ Best of luck! His last public words were: “Good Luck with the Spurs in the NBA Finals..Oh Wait”.
The NBA Finals made for a Twitter trolls’ field day with a stream of photoshopped Curry family portraits with the winning team’s Lebron James and Kyrie Irving’s face posted over Stephen’s smile, and daughter Riley’s hazel eyes were colored a darker brown. Ayesha Curry and her family became targets after she claimed the 2016 NBA Finals were “rigged,” prior to the Golden State Warriors loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
There’s not enough editorial space to address the #Harambe and #AlligatorAttack tweets and memes that are further illustrations of how inhumane and unloving social media users can be.
With one Twitter user commenting “the #CincinnatiZoo kid will have #Harambe’s blood on his hands for his whole life. Children are the evil of the world, a biblical plague” and another commenting “#AlligatorAttack Again the negligence of parent results in tragedy and animals being euthanized for their stupidity. #accountability”
You’d think children were off limits. No human being is safe in cyber space. Perhaps the better question to ask is does the Internet have a heart?
The Internet can sometimes be the modern equivalent to the 20th century Tin Man with considerably less humanity. Children’s literature great Lyman Frank Baum, who penned The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, said it best, “Some people without brains do an awful lot of talking. … I shall take the heart. For brains do not make one happy, and happiness is the best thing in the world.”