NEW YORK – It’s the kind of pungent punchline which if delivered at the end of a biting monologue in a comedy club might evince laughter, amidst some boos, before the standup nonchalantly launches something more facetious: “muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj.”
Instead, the likely carefully thought out line was delivered without mirth by a comedian publicly, on Twitter, in the dead of the night, in a moment of pure viciousness.
The despicable line by a nasty White woman with far right leanings, Roseanne Barr, was aimed to humiliate, and likely with the intention to ‘put into place’, a Black woman whom she despised, Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to President Obama.
In Barr’s head, like for other White supremacists and racists out there, there could nothing be more vile on Earth than a byproduct of a Muslim and descendant of an ape, aka, read that as ‘ugly’ looking people, who turn out with skin the color of night.
The punishment for Barr, in the wake of the brouhaha of her racist tweet, was quick, stunning and effective.
In a flash, before she could say ‘Ambien’, Barr lost her highly touted series ‘Roseanne’ on ABC. She’s become a pariah for people of color around the world, as well for civilized people of all color.
The vein of hate seemed to spew everywhere though, not just on Twitter.
Host Samantha Bee is also in a soup, after some big advertisers pulled out from her show because of a stupid monologue she delivered, targeting Ivanka Trump, berating her for not doing more to help undocumented immigrants, who are being separated from their children.
“Let me just say, one mother to another, do something about your dad’s immigration practices you feckless c—t!” Bee said. “He listens to you. Put on something tight and low cut and tell your father to f—ing stop it. Tell him it was an Obama thing and see how it goes.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders denounced the statement by Bee, saying it was “vile and vicious.”
In today’s world, Twitter and other social media vehicles for free speech, like WhatsApp, championed as it is for 24×7 deluge of information, instant communication, is slowly morphing into a beast with little or no control. In turn, that’s put spotlight on anything said anywhere, even on TV, which used to cause only diatribe earlier. Now, heads need to roll for reckoning, lawsuits filed.
MarketWatch reported that the First Amendment protects free speech, but it may not protect your job if you do or say anything that is contrary to the company’s values, even if it’s a joke. In employment-at-will states, employees without a contract can be fired without cause, for a single tweet.
Take the case of Justine Sacco, a PR executive for InterActiveCorp, IAC, which runs dating websites Match.com and OkCupid. In December, 2013, she was fired after tweeting offensive comments about AIDS in Africa, before stepping on a plane to go there. Her tweet went viral while she was on the long-distance flight.
Also is the case of Anthony Weiner, the former Democratic congressman for New York, who last year began a 21-month prison sentence for sexting with a minor. But he first resigned in June 2011 after sending a sexually explicit photo of himself to a college student over Twitter.
Weiner later expressed remorse: “These destructive impulses brought great devastation to family and friends, and destroyed my life’s dream of public service,” he said.
MarketWatch pointed out the case of five workers on a dam in Oroville, California, who were fired earlier this year for taking photos of the dam and posting them on Instagram despite a strict no social media and no photos policy at the site.
Conservatives are baying for blood after the banishment of Barr. There are frantic efforts to make liberals pay too. The Daily Caller reported that MSNBC has remained silent on Joy Reid’s discredited claims that hackers posted anti-gay remarks on her old blog.
The liberal host of MSNBC’s “AM Joy” claimed in April to have evidence that anonymous hackers fabricated anti-gay posts on her old blog, The Reid Report. After media investigations cast serious doubt on Reid’s claims, the host admitted that she didn’t have any such evidence after all. Now, the issue has surfaced again with vigor.
A group on Twitter, Racism WatchDog, which ‘barks’ and ‘woofs’ at racist-laced tweets, has now 400,000 followers. Their new ire is against a tweet by the Indian American conservative commentator, Dinesh D’Souza, who has got a reprieve, is going to be pardoned by President Trump.
D’Souza wrote: “Obama is responsible for the gangsterization of politics. Jimmy Carter or the Bushes wouldn’t dream of targeting their political opponents.”
It’s not just the US, where firings are more common in the wake of egregious tweets. In India, the word ‘firings’ may assume far more dangerous connotations after religious and hate mongering social media goes viral.
The Los Angeles Times reported how police officers in the Tamil Nadu went by road with loudspeakers in hand to 700 villages in four days, to counter fake news on WhatsApp that a gang from northern India had arrived to kidnap children. India is the largest market for WhatsApp with 200 million users.
The damage was done though.
Two people were killed in the state on May 9 by mobs that believed they were child traffickers. A man was beaten and hanged from a bridge, and separately a 63-year-old woman was lynched when she and her relatives, while travelling to a temple, reportedly stopped to hand candies to children.
According to police, at least five people were killed in southern India over the past two weeks in connection with rumors on WhatsApp of child kidnapping gangs, including some that “smash skulls and devour brains.” Another 10 people were beaten in related cases.
In Karnataka, the messages involved violence, including videos of mobs dragging a bloodied man through the street and roughing up two unidentified men before handing them over to police.
Another message accused transgender people of being involved in child trafficking. Over the weekend, in Hyderabad, a mob attacked a group of transgender women, killing one and seriously injuring two, reported the Times. When police arrived, onlookers reportedly attacked their vehicle, accusing them of protecting kidnappers. Some officers were injured.
In May 2017, in Jharkhand, police said seven innocent men were killed after messages spread about a kidnapping gang from other parts of India. Two men were arrested in the killings.
In September 2015, Hindu extremists in Uttar Pradesh spread word that a Muslim man had killed a cow, and kept it in his refrigerator. A mob subsequently barged into his house and lynched him.
Perhaps, it’s time Twitter and WhatsApp did more to monitor racist, religiously-motivated tweets and messages. It’s time they take some of the blame too, for what they have unleashed in the world.
(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)