If you judged the rise or fall of racism based on the hate-fueled words spewed out over social media the past few years, you’d think racism was on the rise.
While I don’t think America or the world is any more racist than it has been in the past, I believe people are more vocal, and have more opportunities to express their opinion, than ever before.
After President Obama won a second presidential term, the explosion of “nigger” tweets and Facebook posts seemed astounding. The vitriol ginned up via the Ring Wing fringe media spilled over onto social media, and people were questioning the President’s birthplace, hurling racial slurs, and threatening or encouraging his murder.
While people may have thought their hate speech was protected (and it is under the First Amendment), for many, their words were not without consequence.
Case in point, Denise Helms, a California woman who posted a Facebook status calling President Obama the n-word and wondering, “Maybe he will get assassinated.” Helms found herself under investigation by the Secret Service, and although she claims she’s not a racist, she lost her job with Cold Stone Creamery because the company said her views were not in line with their vision.
Helms wasn’t the only one to take a hit. After the election, Jezebel posted a series of tweets—with visible names—of people whose racism spilled out into offensive Twitter rants. After they were roundly criticized and shamed by a large part of the Internet, many closed their accounts or claimed to be hacked. But Jezebel took it a step further, contacting many of the teen Twitter users’ schools to inform them of their hate speech.
Aside from large media outlets like Jezebel or The Huffington Post covering hate speech, there is a growing crop of microblogs that publicly shame racist social media users. One interesting site is the tumblr, Hello There Racists.
Instead of blurring names and faces of racist social media users, Hello There Racists puts them on full blast, posting their pictures and hometowns along side of their words.
While some have criticized these practices—of publically outing racists, especially teens—others have praised the tactic.
Despite the conversation about whether or not public shaming is the proper course of action, one thing is clear: People are watching.
Those who take to Twitter, Facebook, and other non-anonymous social networks to spew hate should know that, although the law protects their speech, there are also consequences.
Jobs, scholarships, and other opportunities may be lost; if you threaten the President, the Secret Service will investigate you; and in this day in age in which everything we say online is catalogued and searchable, the repercussions may be felt for years to come.
You’ve been warned.