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After nearly every school shooting, right-wing media scramble to find reasons why guns should not be blamed for gun violence.
After 10 people were killed during a mass shooting at a high school in Santa Fe, TX, pro-gun proselytizers in the conservative media sphere insisted that gun safety laws would not have prevented the shooting and instead pointed to other aspects of American culture that they said required reform. Here are some of the excuses right-wing pundits offered for the May 18 shooting:
In February, after the school shooting in Parkland, FL, claimed 17 lives, conservative media took the very same approach:
Jones praised "pro-Trump" Sinclair Broadcast Group: "They know what to do"
Alex Jones boasted that the programming from his conspiracy theory operation Infowars now airs on “over 300" TV stations, including “over 70 cable systems or so and maybe over 15 TV stations,” and he praised the strategy of Sinclair Broadcast Group, claiming it “knows what to do” in pushing out pro-Trump propaganda on local stations.
During the May 8 livestream of his show, Jones noted that his programming is carried by cable systems, which he said he has accomplished by making his content “free to air” and gifting the 15 minutes of advertising on each hour to the cable provider or local station, while he plugs his dietary supplements and apocalypse-preparedness merchandise during his regular programming. Jones bemoaned that his programming isn’t on Sinclair “at this point,” while calling Sinclair “the leader, nationwide, in local television.”
The right-wing Sinclair Broadcast Group is already the largest provider of local TV news in the country and is now further expanding thanks to the Federal Communications Commission under President Donald Trump. Sinclair requires its news stations to run fearmongering rhetoric and pro-Trump propaganda on a regular basis, exploiting the trust communities have in their local news. In March, Sinclair stations around the country started airing promotional segments in which local anchors had been asked to attack media outlets for their “irresponsible, one-sided stories.” The segments looked like a “hostage” video. Jones went on to praise Sinclair’s “pro-Trump stuff” model, claiming that “it sells”:
ALEX JONES (HOST): I don’t know why I said in that promo over a hundred TV stations -- it’s over 300, over 70 cable systems, and that was as of about a week ago. We just signed a couple smaller deals, another 15 stations or so, few more radio stations came in. But I think we’re gonna get a deal with 200 -- 200 more. And a lot of these are in big cities and are the main channels where they’re doing stuff like carrying my show but taped to air at night during family hour, and then they tell people, “And tune over to our sub-channel for 24 hours a day.” It’s very smart. Now again, in the late ‘70s they said that AM stations were gonna turn off. But then conservatives and libertarians and people like the great patriot who helped us get rid of the Fairness Doctrine had the ideas to, hey, launch political talk radio on there and get around the leftist control that dominated television. So the internet of the ‘80s and ‘90s, before we really had the modern internet, was AM radio, and it’s still there today and it’s still doing pretty good despite all the attacks because people decided to use it. Well, they say TV -- local cable, local broadcast TV -- doesn’t have the listeners it used to have or the viewers. That’s not true. You put specialty things on, local sports, local news, it has huge ratings. You put special political programming on that’s pro-America, that people are hungry for -- why do you think Sinclair has had all this pro-Trump stuff on? Cause it’s popular. It sells and it’s good. So, again, ladies and gentleman, Sinclair knows what it’s doing -- they’re the leader, nationwide, in local television and we’re not on Sinclair at this point. But I’m saying, they know what to do. So these TV stations, these cable systems are putting us on all over. It is explosive. This is very, very exciting.
Pam Vogel contributed research to this piece. Find out here if Sinclair controls a local news station near you.
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Infowars’ new European bureau has praised nativist identitarians and relies on the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim dispatches of a correspondent who used to spread the "Pizzagate" conspiracy theory
Infowars is expanding its empire of conspiracy theories and anti-immigrant fearmongering to Europe, launching a site that claims to give audiences “the full details of European news” that “European media outlets leave out … to keep its (sic) European audiences from knowing the truth.” A far-right conspiracy theorist is producing content for Jones' new site.
In the midst of fearmongering rant about an immigrant “takeover” of Spain during the April 30 broadcast of The Alex Jones Show, Infowars host Alex Jones announced the launch of an Infowars European bureau, which seems to be a one-stop shop for the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim narratives Jones has branded with the “anti-globalism” euphemism.
The site started posting content on April 3, and as of this writing, nine out of its 12 pieces push anti-immigrant and/or anti-Muslim narratives.
One of the articles praises the construction of a small fence on the Italian/French border, a stunt put together by Defend Europe and Generation Identity activists, a white supremacist "identitarian" movement with ties to far-right YouTube commentators Brittany Pettibone and Lauren Southern. Defend Europe is perhaps best known for its anti-immigrant antics, like a failed attempt to disrupt humanitarian rescue missions looking for stranded refugees in the Mediterranean Sea. Southern, Pettibone, and Pettibone’s boyfriend, Martin Sellner, the “de facto spokesperson” for Generation Identity, were recently banned from entering the United Kingdom for presenting a “serious threat to the fundamental interests of society."
All of the content on the Infowars Europe site appears to have been penned by “foreign correspondent” Dan Lyman, an American linked to a pro-Trump site that pushed the debunked “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory back in 2016, claiming high-profile Democrats were running a “pedophile syndicate” in a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant. Inspired by such claims, a shooter entered the pizzeria to self-investigate in December of that year.
Lyman also pushed the conspiracy theory on Twitter:
Lyman has also:
In 2017, Breitbart announced plans to expand its European content from the U.K. to Germany, France, and Italy. As Breitbart's traffic has recently collapsed following the ouster and excommunication of Steve Bannon, Infowars is evidently setting out to follow in Breitbart's footsteps.
While misogynistic online groups praised the attack and called for an uprising, right-wing conspiracy theorists and prominent far-right trolls blamed Islam and the alleged perpetrator’s ethnicity
On April 23, Alek Minassian allegedly drove a van into a crowd of pedestrians in Toronto, Canada, killing 10 and injuring 15. In posts on Facebook that the social media company has confirmed as his, Minassian alluded to online message board 4chan’s women-hating “involuntary celibate” community (whose members call themselves “incels”). The "incel" community, part of the broader "men's rights" community, has cheered the attack, while right-wing conspiracy theorists and far-right trolls have blamed it on Islam.
In his social media posts, Minassian also used the terms “Chads” and “Stacys,” which are often used by online “incel” communities to mean “attractive popular men who are sexually successful with women” and their female partners.
CBC says that Facebook confirmed this post from the Toronto rampage suspect — heavy with references to being involuntarily celibate, 4Chan and "Chads and Stacys" — is real https://t.co/IEZQSRY2LW
— Will Sommer (@willsommer) April 24, 2018
In the same post, Minassian praised Elliot Rodger, who went on a killing rampage in Isla Vista, CA, in 2014 that Rodger described in a note as a “Day of Retribution” for his virginity, which he attributed to “the cruelness of women.” The incel community often celebrates and discusses Rodger, and in his post, Minassian wrote, “All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”
Sites linked to the “incel” community responded to Minassian’s attacks with violent memes, celebratory postings, and called for “More Trucks of Peace,” in apparent reference to the use of heavy vehicles to attack pedestrians. The most popular post had memes calling for a “Beta uprising” saying, “It’s now or never.” In the message thread, one poster complained about not having a “good enough weapon,” to which another member replied, “Get a car you cuck.”
In the aftermath of the attack, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones scrambled to connect the attack to Islam during his live show. In a later video titled “Reporters Face Ten Years In Prison For Covering Islamic Truck Attack In Toronto,” Jones claimed that such truck attacks were “part of radical Islam” and said that the accent of the killer “sounds Islamic, sounds Middle Eastern.”
Even after learning of the alleged killer’s ties to women-hating groups, Jones continued to link the attack to Islam during his April 24 broadcast, claiming that “he has an Islamic-sounding last name” and that “he’s a foreigner” and attributing the misogynistic aspects of the “incel” movement to Islam.
Like Jones, prominent far-right internet trolls used the attack to smear Muslims and Islam on Twitter, mirroring conversations taking place on internet message boards Reddit and 4chan.
Conspiracy theorist and online troll Laura Loomer:
Leading anti-Muslim voice Pamela Geller:
Troll account "Alba_Rising:"
In a since-deleted Facebook post, the Canadian chapter of McInnes’ Proud Boys chimed in with anti-immigrant sentiments, stating, “The blood may be directly on the hands of the Trudeau regime for this latest terror attack.”
Fox News’ line of questioning suggested the attack had connections to ISIS. Immediately following a press conference in which authorities explained that the identity and motives of the attacker were still unknown, guest Howard Safir and host Maria Bartiromo discussed strategies to combat ISIS, suggesting to audiences a motive and connection that had not been confirmed by authorities.
A Reddit thread connected the attack to Islam: “It's such a sad thing that civilized western nations are allowing this to happen. There's a reason why Islamic nations are in a constant state of tyranny or chaos”:
A 4chan thread linked the tragedy to the QAnon conspiracy theory: A thread in the “politically incorrect” 4chan message board connected the attack to the Alex Jones-endorsed far-right conspiracy theory known as “The Storm” or QAnon. The conspiracy theory posits that President Donald Trump has a master plan to kneecap members of the “deep state” and that an intelligence officer with the highest clearance level is keeping people informed by posting anonymous messages and signing them as “Q.”
4chan users called the attack “a government orchestrated false flag.”
On YouTube, the channel ThePureVeritas claimed that the attacker was a “MUSLIM man.” The video is still up and has over 9,000 views.
Hyperpartisan website Conservative Daily Post also blamed Muslim immigrants for the attack:
“While police have yet to reveal the motive behind the attack, the timing of the incident coupled with the cultural shift in Canada raises serious questions. … It also comes as Canada has become a hotbed for radical Islamic terrorism. Canada has not only allowed tens of thousands of Muslim migrants to assimilate to the nation, there has also been a dramatic uptick in crime against civilians. … [Trudeau’s] allowing Sharia Law to overtake Canada, and now innocent civilians aren’t even safe to walk down the street any longer.”
Natalie Martinez and Alex Kaplan contributed research to this piece.
Rapper Kanye West promoted two pro-President Donald Trump figures in the span of a few days. On April 21, West praised Candace Owens, a far-right YouTuber who, among other things, has called for all Dreamers, people protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, to “be sent home.”
I love the way Candace Owens thinks
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) April 21, 2018
And on April 23, West tweeted out in nine parts a Periscope session by Scott Adams, Dilbert comic strip creator and prominent Trump supporter, during which Adams praised West for “alter[ing] reality.”
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) April 23, 2018
The far-right MAGA internet erupted in cheers, taking the tweets as evidence of West’s definitive “red pilling,” a term that far-right trolls co-opted from the movie The Matrix and that refers to “seeing things as they really are.” (The MAGA trolls popularized the term during the 2016 election cycle to refer to adopting the sort of contrarianism that denies the benefits of feminism and refuses to acknowledge the need for social justice.)
It is unclear to what extent West aligns with these pro-Trump personalities. But it is undeniable that his endorsement elevated the profiles of these two figures who have espoused toxic positions.
Owens built an online presence on Twitter and YouTube (where she used to go by “Red Pill Black”) through her commentary on race and politics. However, what launched her to prominence among MAGA trolls was a video she posted after the white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA, last summer in which she dismissed white supremacy as a narrative created by the media, minimizing the extremism displayed at the rally and the violent death of a woman who was protesting the white nationalists. It earned her an invitation on Infowars, Alex Jones’ conspiracy theory outlet, where she talked with Paul Joseph Watson and Jones about the myth of “black-on-black” crime and likened Black Lives Matter protesters to animals:
Owens was then appointed urban engagement director for Turning Points USA, which actively fundraises off of fearmongering about “nuttiness on college campuses” on Fox News. She has called for all Dreamers to be sent home:
Owens has used her growing platform to push various debunked myths, such as the idea that undocumented immigrants are voting illegally or that immigrants “have been directly harming the black community” by taking their jobs, a talking point espoused by an anti-immigrant “hate group” for which Vox says “the receipts simply don’t exist.”
Mirroring her dismissal of white supremacy, Owens has also been equally blasé about the statistical evidence that shows racial disparities in the way police uses force against Americans. She has claimed, “Police brutality is not an issue that is facing the black community whatsoever.” She has also argued that Trump “represents the very first opportunity for black Americans to jump off of this ideological slave ship that is the Democratic Party.” And despite “freaking out” about West tweeting that he “loves the way” she “thinks,” Owens once claimed in a video directed at celebrities that “we do not care, not in the slightest particle of an imaginary thing, what you think.” On her first Infowars appearance, Owens also praised West for being “awake,” “never subscrib[ing] to any type of politics,” and “slaying this idea of groupthink.”
Scott Adams, known for creating the Dilbert comic strip, is a prolific Periscope user (with 100 broadcasts so far) who rose to prominence among MAGA trolls because of his prediction that Trump could win the 2016 election. Adams reacted to the news about West’s tweet by doing a Periscope session full of his usual pseudo-intellectual arguments, claiming that history never repeats itself and that West “ripped a hole in reality” with his tweet about Owens:
Scott Adams tells you how Kanye showed the way to The Golden Age. With coffee. https://t.co/RCFwKuXjCA
— Scott Adams (@ScottAdamsSays) April 22, 2018
While many pro-Trump commentators lavish praise on the president, Adams’s commentary stands apart. Salon’s Amanda Marcotte rounded up some of the things Adams has said about Trump:
"If you understand persuasion, Trump is pitch-perfect most of the time. "
"The Master Persuader will warp reality until he gets what he wants...."
"A lot of the things that the media were reporting as sort of random insults and bluster and just Trump being Trump, looked to me like a lot of deep technique that I recognized from the fields of hypnosis and persuasion."
"Trump has the best persuasion skills I have ever seen."
"You see apple pie and flags and eagles coming out of his ass when he talks."
In January, after rapper Jay-Z criticized Trump for reportedly questioning why America should take in immigrants from "shithole countries," Adams wrote a pro-Trump rap verse and called on his followers to record videos of them rapping the lyrics.
In his foray into MAGA politics, the comic illustrator has made waves by issuing tone-deaf commentary on feminism. He once compared women to children on a blog post he deleted after getting backlash -- but not before claiming that readers offended by his misogynistic rant lacked reading comprehension and were too emotional to understand it:
That's the reason the original blog was pulled down. All writing is designed for specific readers. This piece was designed for regular readers of The Scott Adams blog. That group has an unusually high reading comprehension level.
In this case, the content of the piece inspires so much emotion in some readers that they literally can't understand it. The same would be true if the topic were about gun ownership or a dozen other topics. As emotion increases, reading comprehension decreases. This would be true of anyone, but regular readers of the Dilbert blog are pretty far along the bell curve toward rational thought, and relatively immune to emotional distortion.
Adams has also argued that rape and other sexual offenses can be attributed to men’s “natural instincts”:
Powerful men have been behaving badly, e.g. tweeting, raping, cheating, and being offensive to just about everyone in the entire world. The current view of such things is that the men are to blame for their own bad behavior. That seems right. Obviously we shouldn't blame the victims. I think we all agree on that point. Blame and shame are society's tools for keeping things under control.
The part that interests me is that society is organized in such a way that the natural instincts of men are shameful and criminal while the natural instincts of women are mostly legal and acceptable. In other words, men are born as round pegs in a society full of square holes. Whose fault is that? Do you blame the baby who didn't ask to be born male? Or do you blame the society that brought him into the world, all round-pegged and turgid, and said, "Here's your square hole"?
BuzzFeed’s Ryan Broderick summarized some of Adams' misogyny:
Adams is also an outspoken men's rights activist. "The reality is that women are treated differently by society for exactly the same reason that children and the mentally handicapped are treated differently. It’s just easier this way for everyone," he wrote in another blog post.
When asked about his blog post, he wrote on the site Feministe that women were compromised by their emotions and couldn't understand what he was trying to say.
Adams has written extensively about the "the global gender war.” In a 2015 blog post, Adams wrote that we live in a matriarchal society we believe is actually a patriarchy, said sex is “strictly controlled by women” and argued that lack of sex drives teen boys to violence. He’s also written about how he believes the 2016 Democratic National Convention lowered men’s testosterone levels.
Adams has tweeted that the real effect of the #MeToo movement was that managers would hire fewer women because of perceived legal risk. He’s claimed that he could persuade his readers to have an orgasm with his blog post.
His blog is also very popular in both pickup artist and men’s rights communities. In a post from 2016 on the “humiliation of men,” he writes, “Many of you can’t talk about this topic without being accused of sexism, losing your jobs, and being cast out of your social groups. But I can talk about it because I endorse Hillary Clinton for president. I did that for my personal safety, because I live in California, but still, I’m on the progressive side now. That gives me some extra freedom of speech.”
Adams has also claimed that police shootings and racist incidents were former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s “doings to win the election.”
Adams has catered to conspiratorial far-right groups by appearing multiple times on Infowars, where he excused Trump calling El Salvador and Haiti, among others, “shithole countries” by blaming the aides who leaked the comments and the journalist who wrote them up. Adams has also declared himself a believer of the conspiracy theory that Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich's death was linked to the email hacking of the committee.
Why does YouTube hold Alex Jones to a lower standard than other users?
Update: As of 1:50 p.m. ET, the video has been restored to YouTube.
On April 17, two Sandy Hook families announced defamation lawsuits against conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. While Media Matters has long documented Jones’ claims that the 2012 mass shooting in Newtown, CT, was staged, upon hearing the news of the legal action, my colleague Leanne Naramore made a compilation video of some of Jones’ attacks, which a cursory search showed no one had done before. Watch:
— Media Matters (@mmfa) April 17, 2018
At some point over the next five days, though, YouTube removed the video from its website. If you go to the link now, this is all you see:
Upon logging into the YouTube account, we were greeted with this message:
In February, Jones’ YouTube page was reportedly one strike away from being banned. Shortly thereafter, a large number of advertisers pulled their ads from his channel; President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee kept airing ads on it, though.
It is not clear why YouTube holds Alex Jones to a lower standard than it does other users. The Sandy Hook hoaxes are not the only example of harassment on his channel. It’s pervasive -- part of Jones’ entire brand.
Meanwhile, research shows that YouTube’s algorithm directs users towards videos like the ones Jones posts, which the site then profits from. And while Facebook has undergone significant scrutiny in recent weeks, YouTube has thus far escaped significant criticism. There’s no better time than the present to change that.
Agenda-driven right-wing figures and online media outlets are using their platforms to try to discredit Judge Kimba Wood, a federal judge overseeing the case of President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen, currently under scrutiny for possible bank fraud and wire fraud. Right-wing media started targeting Wood after she ordered Cohen to disclose the name of his anonymous legal client on the basis that there was no legal ground to withhold it; the client turned out to be Fox News anchor Sean Hannity. Far-right Twitter trolls, conservative writers, and Fox News commentators -- among others -- dug into Wood’s past, scandalized her ties to Democrats, and attacked her for training as a Playboy bunny while in law school.
This is a familiar tactic for right-wing media figures, who regularly attempt to defame any judge with whom they disagree. Right-wing media have also launched a full-on offensive against special counsel Robert Mueller and his team’s investigation into ties between the Trump orbit and Russian officials. Here are some of the things these figures and outlets have claimed undermine Wood’s credibility:
True Pundit: “Cohen’s Judge & Stormy Daniels Have Much in Common: Playboy Bunny Judge Worked for Hugh Hefner”
Infowars’ Jerome Corsi: Wood “worked as a Playboy Bunny at a Playboy casino in 1966.”
Infowars: “No Joke: Judge Who Forced Cohen to ID Hannity Performed Soros Wedding”
Right-wing troll Mike Cernovich: "On the same day that Soros-funded Media Matters announces a boycott, The judge who performed Soros' wedding names Sean Hannity as a Michael Cohen client. TOTAL COINCIDENCE."
The Daily Wire’s Ryan Saavedra: “The judge who ordered @SeanHannity's name to be released performed the wedding for far-left billionaire George Soros.”
Fox News host Melissa Francis: “Kimba Wood taking time away from Michael Cohen matter to perform George Soros wedding.”
Conservative commentator Jeffrey Lord: Bill and Hillary Clinton “pressed to make [Wood] Attorney General.”
FrontPage Magazine: “Judge Kimba Wood was Bill Clinton's nominee for Attorney General. But then her nomination fell apart over her employment of an illegal alien and the Playboy thing. ... It's a safe bet that Judge Kimba Wood might harbor some resentment toward Republicans."
Fox’s Sebastian Gorka: Wood “is a Clinton confidante who was chosen by Hillary to be AG. The #DEEPstate is real.”
Right-wing radio host Mark Simone: “Michael Cohen's bad luck was getting a judge from the Clinton administration.To give you an idea of her politics - Kimba Wood was chosen by the Clinton's to be Attorney General and she performed George Soros's wedding.”
American Thinker: Wood “was Bill Clinton's second choice to be attorney general. … Is this amazingly great luck for the Mueller-U.S. attorney tag team or what?”
Disclosure: George Soros made a donation to Media Matters in 2010.
In the last year, they’ve compared King to Trump and misrepresented his legacy
On April 4, 1968, civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, TN. Fifty years later, most of the United States remember King for his tireless efforts toward achieving racial equality and his leadership during the civil rights movement. But in the last year alone, various right-wing media figures have misrepresented King’s legacy and invoked his name to push for their own interests. Here is what they’ve had to say about the King in the last year:
Former CNN commentator Jeffrey Lord twice compared President Donald Trump to King. He told CNN viewers to “think of President Trump as the Martin Luther King of health care,” and then doubled down on that comparison, claiming Trump and King used similar “strategy.”
Lord then penned an op-ed for The American Spectator in which he claimed that identity politics -- “the grandson of slavery” -- “is merely the modern version of the segregation that King would give his life fighting to end.” Lord also scolded the NAACP for being insufficiently grateful to Trump after “black unemployment had hit its lowest level on record.”
Fox’s Pete Hegseth attacked King’s 9-year-old granddaughter, who spoke at the March For Our Lives: “Her grandfather, Martin Luther King, did so much for this country, but she's saying, ‘I dream of a world without guns.’ It's like, I dream of a world without Islamists, too.”
Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones compared himself to King, claiming, “I’m one of the biggest proponents of nonviolence [along with] Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.”
Fox’s Neil Cavuto questioned whether King would have recoiled at Confederate statues, asking King’s niece Alveda King, “Did your dad or uncle have anything to say about growing up in the Atlanta area and the South where there were a lot of these statues back then -- did they recoil at them? Did they hate them?” King’s niece replied, “There was never a recoiling.”
Pro-Trump writer Jacob Wohl compared Trump to King, tweeting: “President Trump, like Martin Luther King, is a civil rights icon.” Wohl also argued that “Martin Luther King would be a Trump Supporter” and recycled a favorite right-wing claim that the Democratic Party was the party that “opposed Abraham Lincoln, founded the KKK, supported segregation and attacked Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”
Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson tweeted, “Modern ‘progressive’ activists & #BlackLivesMatter supporters oppose everything Martin Luther King stood for. Judge people on the content of their character, not the color of their skin.”
Fox opinion contributor Jeremy Hunt wrote, “Please stop politicizing Martin Luther King Day. It's a day for national unity, not political division. … On a day designed for public service and national unity, some in the media insist on making it about politics.”
The New York Post's editorial board wrote, “Race is no longer a barrier to elective office, let alone to voting,” and added that King would be “distressed by today’s hypersensitivity and growing political correctness that have made honest dialogue and discussions of race and other issues nearly impossible.”
During a white nationalist rant, Alex Jones compared King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech to the rise of Trump-ism in America: “It’s just incredible that we’re in the middle of this epic historical battle. And Trump’s right when he said this is the new American moment. This is like Martin Luther King 'I Have a Dream' speech.”
The Atlantic’s Kevin Williamson wrote, “Using King’s moral stature to promote socialism or global-warming legislation in 2018 is morally and intellectually dishonest.”
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The Parkland student survivors behind the #MarchForOurLives are now public figures. Their social media presence is massive, they’re a fixture on TV news, and according to a poll from Public Policy Polling, they have a “56/34 favorability rating.” Their advocacy has inspired many Americans to engage (or re-engage) in the fight for gun safety. It’s also inspired a steady stream of harassment and hoaxes from the right.
The latest attacks on the students, right after their wildly successful march, are particularly vile. They include doctored images, memes suggesting that the students support communist dictators or Nazis (apparently communism and fascism are one and the same now), and accusations that student David Hogg wasn’t actually present for the shooting (just for the record, we know Hogg was there because he recorded interviews with his fellow students during the shooting). Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones took things to another level entirely when he released videos depicting a Parkland survivor as a Hitler Youth member and transposing a Hitler speech over another’s words. The students were even mocked by Rep. Steve King, R-IA, a congressman, on his Facebook page.
To be clear, these are high school students, most of whom are still minors, being attacked for over a month by adults who should know better. And tech companies allow their platforms to be weaponized over and over again for this purpose.
None of this should feel normal but somehow it is. It’s the circle of life on the internet: If half of social media is building you up, the other half will inevitably be tearing you down. We’ve accepted bullying and harassment as the price we pay for a more connected society, and that includes the harassment of minors advocating for their right to be safe at school. Looking over the social media landscape, it’s hard to argue that this isn’t normal. Does it have to be?
All of the tech platforms have policies against harassment in their terms of service, but none include special protections for minors who are harassed. All terms of service prohibit hate speech or harassment based on protected classes, including age, but only when the attack is made on the basis of that characteristic. So while disseminating doctored images of Emma Gonzalez supposedly tearing up a copy of the Constitution (she wasn’t) or memes suggesting that David Hogg is a Nazi or that he gave the Nazi salute at the #MarchForOurLives (he isn’t and he did not) are out of the bounds of human decency, they appear not to violate any one company’s terms.
It’s understandable that tech companies would avoid taking political positions and do everything in their power to prevent the appearance that they’re censoring a political viewpoint. But doctoring images of the Parkland students and spreading false information about them and their families online isn’t expressing a political opinion; it’s harassment. People should be able to express political viewpoints without harassing minors. They should be able to disagree with the students’ views without superimposing their heads on Nazi uniforms. More important, tech companies should be able to understand the difference.
The Parkland students survived one of the worst mass shootings in modern American history. They lost friends and classmates, and their lives were completely disrupted. Whether or not you agree with their views on gun safety, we should all be able to agree that teenagers have a right to advocate for their own safety at school without fear of weaponized social media attacks against them. It should never be acceptable to spread false information and doctored images that threaten the safety of anyone, especially if that person is still a student in high school. Tech companies shouldn’t allow their platforms to become dissemination engines for this type of attack. That’s not politics; that’s just human decency.