A TALE OF TWO PROTESTS
These are frightening times to live in. We have more than one pandemic spreading across these United States. There is coronavirus, but then there is the misinformation, conspiracy theories, and quackery that also pose a great risk to the lives of Americans. There is police brutality leading to the deaths of black people, but then there is the misuse of law enforcement by elected officials trying on the emperor’s new clothes to see if dictatorship is in fashion this year, and the small business owners who have not been able to count on law enforcement to protect them from looters.
When protestors showed up with guns at state capitals during Safer at Home, most without face masks, and most refusing to follow social distancing, I was struck by how few arrests were made. I saw pictures of deranged white men and women yelling, and likely spitting, into the faces of police officers. What was peaceful about those protests? These protesters were thugs, and yet no tear gas was deployed, and no one was pushed to the ground.
On the other hand, protesters who took to the streets in Washington D.C., were beaten, sprayed with pepper spray, exposed to tear gas and flash bang grenades. These protesters were wearing face masks, respecting social distancing, and marching to protest the excessive use of force by certain police officers that resulted in yet another black life taken. They were peaceful. They were following the rules, and they got brutalized. Why?
We the people have the right to assemble in public places to protest peaceably. We do not have the right to threaten violence or use weapons to intimidate government employees, yet those who exercised their constitutional rights were wronged, and those who truly acted like thugs were cheered on by the president. When will I wake up from this nightmare?
There is one thing that has given me hope recently: when Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, made the decision to place disclaimers and warnings on the president’s tweets. Now I know many reporters shrugged this off and stated it won’t make much difference, and Twitter’s fact checking effort may be too little too late. But poking the bear in this way might just land that bear in a trap of his own making.
The president became infuriated by Twitter’s actions, complaining that it was a violation of free speech and signing an executive order that, if enacted, would likely cause social media platforms to ban the president because he often uses these platforms to libel others. It is highly unlikely that this executive order, which would repeal protections granted to online platforms via Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, will be taken up by either the Federal Communications Commission or the Federal Trade Commission.
I, for one, would very much like to see that happen because when online platforms allow conspiracy theories to be on a level playing field with facts, people get hurt in countless ways. Without media literacy, people have fallen prey to financial, healthcare, and romance scams. More recently, people presented with misinformation coming out of the Whitehouse have gotten sick; some have died.
What is even more horrific is how the president’s fiction may lead to the military slaughter of American citizens. If the president and his allies characterize people who take a stand against fascism as members of a terrorist organization, we could see Americans gunned down in the streets. If that happens, the blood will be on the hands of all who refused to call out the misinformation coming out of the Whitehouse.
Many people in this country had never heard of Antifa before Trump took office, or if they did, they may have recognized this ideology as one that was embodied by those who fought the Nazis in World War II.
Labeling misinformation as such online is an important part of restoring our democracy. I believe that social media platforms should be held responsible for their part in spreading dangerous misinformation, hate speech, and libel.
Since social media is the place where so many Americans get their news, these companies should be held to the same standards as other news media. They function as the publisher. If a newspaper runs a letter to the editor where the author of the letter libels another person, it is the newspaper that is responsible for damages. It’s time to take responsibility and hold truth to power.