Rod St. Aubyn: The New Form Of Public Lynching

While channel surfing on the TV I caught an episode of that old western called Gunsmoke. In this particular episode, some cattlemen caught someone that they thought for sure was part of a group of cattle rustlers and they proceeded to hang him. It turns out that the poor victim ended up being innocent and just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. I know that these “lynchings” occurred in the Wild West and I am just as sure that some innocent people were unfortunately killed by these lynch mobs.

During my college days I took a Constitutional Law course. The professor was trying to point out the difference between “free speech” and inciting violence. As an example he stated it was protected speech to say that Professor Smith (fake name for that particular professor) was a worthless teacher and should be tarred and feathered. However, if the individual went one step further and said everyone should meet at 8 pm on Main Street where the group will hunt down Professor Smith and begin the tar and feather process. He said those specifics become inciting a riot. Being the smart aleck that I was (am), I piped up and asked, “What time was that again that we were to meet?” Surprisingly, I did well in that course and in my opinion that particular professor was very effective with the course.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]Three recent incidents bring to mind public lynchings and inciting the public and they all involve “social media” which seem to take the place of public lynchings in this modern age.[/mks_pullquote]

Three recent incidents bring to mind public lynchings and inciting the public and they all involve “social media” which seem to take the place of public lynchings in this modern age. Even though they have not yet resulted in actual harm to individuals, I worry that they could if an unstable individual takes the message from these social media sites too seriously.

Situation 1 – Fargo Swimming Pool Photographer – I remind you of the photographer who was taking pictures of young swimmers at a Fargo swimming pool. To my knowledge there has been absolutely no proof of deviant behavior by the “accused” person or any illegal activities by this individual. However on blogs and on Facebook he has been labeled as a pervert and a deviant. One law enforcement officer even voiced his opinion intimating violence even though he insisted that it was satire. It was reported that the accused was worried about losing his job as a result of the “public lynching” on social media. In our society we have means for dealing with these issues in an appropriate manner – police, park board, etc. I don’t know if the critics were right or wrong about their concerns. Based on what I have read I think they had a reasonable reason to question his actions and to report it to authorities. But let’s let the authorities investigate it and take the appropriate steps to deal with the issue.

Situation 2 – Planned Parenthood videos – Most everyone has seen at least one of the Planned Parenthood videos of what reportedly deals with selling of body parts, something that is illegal by federal law and by some state laws. The videos were shocking and especially alarming to those of us who are pro-life. With that said, I find the “social media” reaction to these videos to also be alarming. Some of the “social media” comments and suggestions seem to be borderline illegal and seem to want to incite violence on Planned Parenthood. I am just as disturbed about what I have watched and feel a thorough investigation is not only warranted but is necessary. I think it is important for the proper authorities to investigate these allegations to determine if crimes have been committed. If they have, then vigorous prosecution is required.

Situation 3 – Cecil the Lion – This case is the perfect situation to illustrate my point here. I am a hunter, but have not done any “safari style” hunting or what is called trophy hunting. From the limited facts that I have read, I do not approve how this hunt was done. However, I do not know if those facts are correct or fully tell the entire story. But based some of the “social media” comments made, there seems to be a new type of “lynch mob” out to get this Minnesota dentist. He has received threats and people are advocating closing down his dental practice. What happened to our system of justice where an individual is innocent until proven guilty? We have laws and individuals in charge of investigating and charging accused people. Why won’t we let the system work?

Why do people state such outlandish comments on social media including blogs like this blog? I personally don’t like the fact that many people hide behind anonymous names and make rude, dishonest, and often damaging comments on social media toward people accused of doing questionable activities. It seems that many times “social media” has become the latest form of “public lynchings” in our society. Perhaps it will require civil lawsuits to teach people that there are consequences for their actions. It’s time to let our judicial system do its work. Social media has its place, but at times it is really getting carried too far in my opinion.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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