Saturday, November 22, 2014

Everyone gets death threats online: Bill Cosby edition

In September I warned the human race that the Internet is a place where casual, death threats happen to everyone, and that someone who receives them has not been vindicated or elevated. Online threats are a bad thing, but they are a near-universal bad thing and they don't "prove" who is on the right side of an argument.

But foolishly, many of you didn't listen and just went about your lives. Students continued to attend classed, fishmongers still went about hawking their wares and silly blogger kept trying to conjure up outrage posts by dredging the Internet for death threats.

Enter Gawker media's Jezebel blog.

The writer decided to present Rose Eveleth as a victim for the backlash she received for a series of Tweets she made criticizing scientist Matt Taylor's glossy pin-up girl shirt that he wore in an interview. But, despite the headline and lede paragraph claiming Eveleth received death threats, the only examples the writer could cobble together that made any reference to death were "Please kill yourself" and a "Jump off a cliff. Please", which was directed at one of her supporters and Eveleth was merely tagged in it.

The rest of the people named-and-shamed were critics. Some of their remarks were rude and uncalled for, but not threatening. Others were downright meek, such as "Why are you objectifying a man by basing your opinion solely on his appearance, and not his contribution to society?" and it is "just a shirt, mi lady". Also note that not one example came from the same day as the original remarks: The writer had to dredge through a lot of posts to find these.

I wanted to show you how useless this type of argument is, so I collected Twitter remarks with threats against Bill Cosby, who has been accused of rape in the media but has not been charged with any crime. Here's a few I found:

We've seen plenty of viral posts where people did this, such as as saying a major earthquake in Japan was justice for Pearl Harbor. All they really prove is that there are indeed some stupid people online. Please note that my Cosby image, and the Pearl Harbor one, has emboldened key words. That reveals that I had to use the search tool to find them using combinations like "Kill Cosby" and "Stab Cosby." This implies that view isn't mainstream, but is something someone has to go out of their way to find.

Under Kevin Drum's Law, that means we are essentially disproving our own position when we have to idiot hunt examples. When I searched for "Kill Cosby" most of the results were Cosby defenders saying the stress will kill him, and a few others predicted he would die from suicide. I had to search a lot to find my five examples, and "shoot Cosby" failed to return any legitimate examples.

It's clear that there is no real trend where Bill Cosby is receiving death threats, but if someone wants to play the death threat victim game, they will have to add Bill Cosby to the roster of cherished snowflakes deserving of our support because of what people wrote online.

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