“We can lead good, ethical lives, but some bad phraseology in a tweet can overwhelm it all – even though we know that’s not how we should define our fellow humans. What’s true about our fellow humans is that we are clever and stupid. We are grey areas….The great thing about social media was how it gave a voice to voiceless people. Let’s not turn it into a world where the smartest way to survive is to go back to being voiceless.” – Jon Ronson
The worst things about social media are the mindless rage mobs. Someone says or does something that’s arguably offensive (usually on Twitter). It gets publicized somehow and then almost unlimited numbers of angry people chime in. They spew profanity, horrible abuse and often threats. In some cases, it gets even worse. The original offender gets doxed. The controversy leads to him getting fired. Many people aren’t used to having hundreds or even thousands of strangers hurling abuse at them and they freak out and withdraw under the strain. Ironically, the over-the-top behavior of many members of the rage mob is often far worse than the behavior that triggered their abuse. Meanwhile, the smug members of the online rage mob feel perfectly justified in joining tens of thousands of other people in egregiously abusing another human being who never intended for the world to know what he was doing.
1. Holly Jones
If you want to actually see the post that ruined someone’s life, here you go.
So, she was a little freaked out by someone dying at the restaurant where she was eating. She got into an argument with a waitress there and given that it was late on New Year’s Eve, would it surprise anyone if she may have had more than a few drinks before she wrote that review on the restaurant’s page? Next thing you know, Holly Jones goes viral. Quite understandably, the restaurant owner dragged her in a savage post that also went viral.
Soon, #HollyJones was trending on Twitter and there were so many nasty phone calls, hate mails, and death threats coming in because of the incident that random women named Holly Jones were getting hit with hundreds. Jones tried the classic “My account was hacked” defense, but few people believed it and she was fired from her job as a hairdresser over the controversy. To this day, there are still THOUSANDS of articles describing the incident on the Internet.
2. Justine Sacco
Perhaps the most egregious overreaction in the history of Twitter occurred in the Justine Sacco case. She made a bad joke on her tiny 170-follower Twitter account: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” It’s not the best joke in the world, but it’s no worse than what you often hear from standup comics these days. Well, Justine Sacco’s somewhat offensive tweet spawned one of the biggest rage mobs in Twitter history. There were not one, but TWO different trending hashtags dedicated to Sacco, who was in the air for 11 hours flying to Africa. The full force of hate caught her by surprise when she landed. We know that because creepy strangers were photographing her as she walked through the airport. She was deluged with rape and death threats to go along with an almost unlimited number of hateful messages. She was told that no one could guarantee her safety. She was fired from her job. She deleted her Twitter account. Her aunt told her she had disgraced the family and, according to Jon Ronson who interviewed her, she seemed, unsurprisingly, to spend an inordinate amount of time crying about the mess that had been made of her life. Happily, online rage mobs tend to be as forgetful as they are angry, so hopefully Justine Sacco has been able to move on with her life.
3. Alicia Ann Lynch
After the Boston Marathon bombing, Alicia Ann Lynch made the mistake of dressing up as a Boston Marathon bombing victim for Halloween. This was obviously in bad taste, but 22-year-olds don’t always have the best judgment about that sort of thing. The online hate mob went into overdrive attacking Lynch. She lost her job. She received lots of death threats. Risque pictures of her were published online. Her home address and her parents’ phone number were also published. Additionally, despite the fact that Lynch was a rape victim, she was deluged with rape threats. Was her costume inappropriate? Sure, but who was worse: Alicia Lynch or the people threatening to rape and murder her? Alicia Lynch or the people calling her parents to scream abuse at them? Alicia Lynch or one of the thousands and thousands of people piling online to hurl hate at a 22-year-old they didn’t know?
4. Anthony Weiner
Mr. Weiner was a Democratic congressman from New York, married to Hillary Clinton’s right-hand woman, Huma Abedin. However, he rather foolishly sent pictures of his junk to half a dozen women on Twitter. This is a bad idea in general, even worse when you’re married and “Hey, let’s see if the Titanic can plow through that iceberg” bad when you are a congressman. After initial denials, Weiner admitted what he had done and, shockingly, since politicians seem to be almost beyond shame these days, resigned.
This was bad.
Worse was his doing the same thing with multiple women after he resigned, including Sydney Leathers, who happily exploited his tweets (and phone calls) publicly as a springboard into a porn career. This came out when he was the frontrunner in a race to become mayor of New York. His numbers collapsed after that and his political career was finished.
That was even worse.
Unfortunately for Weiner, HE KEPT AT IT. That culminated in another sexting scandal, but this time with a 15-YEAR-OLD he met via Twitter. By the time that scandal was done, his wife had filed for divorce (although it’s unclear whether she went through with it), he was sentenced to jail, and he’ll be registered as a sex offender when he gets done serving his time.
That is what’s known as rock freaking bottom.
5. Tysen Benz
This is a particularly sad story. Tyson Benz WAS an 11-year-old boy who by all accounts seems to have been doing very well. He even had a 13-year-old girlfriend. However, his girlfriend decided to play a sick prank on him. She pretended to be other people using various social media accounts and convinced him that his girlfriend had killed herself. Sadly, Tyler bought this completely and was extremely distraught — so distraught that he began to consider killing himself. According to the boy’s mother, he contacted her friends and his girlfriend (unknowingly) and told them that he was thinking of killing himself over her death. They did nothing and Benz hung himself. He was resuscitated, but by then it was too late. After weeks on life support, the plug was pulled. His girlfriend was charged with a crime, but eventually, prosecutors dropped the charges after becoming convinced that she didn’t think Benz was really going to hang himself.
6. Lindsey Stone
Stone was a caregiver for adults with learning disabilities. On a trip to D.C., she made the colossally bad decision to take a picture yelling at a sign that said “Silence.” For good measure, she flipped the sign off. That doesn’t sound so bad yet, right? A lot of us have laughed at similar things, haven’t we?
Unfortunately, the “Silence And Respect” sign that Lindsey Stone took a picture yelling at and flipping off was for Arlington National Cemetery. A few weeks later, Stone’s picture that had been posted on her small personal Facebook page went viral. She was deluged with negative comments including death and rape threats. She was fired from her job. News crews showed up at her house where they interviewed her father. Stone spent a year depressed, stopped dating and barely left her home. Only after that was she able to start unsteadily moving forward with her life again.
7. Walter Palmer
Hunting has been part of life for human beings as long as they’ve been on earth and the vast majority of people in Western nations regularly eat meat and use animal products. So, it’s hard to imagine that hunting would become a huge source of controversy. Yet on social media, where people love to complain and virtue signal, it has created a string of ugly incidents. The worst was with dentist Walter Palmer, who shot “Cecil the Lion” and posted a picture. Palmer had gone to Zimbabwe, paid a professional guide to track a lion down for him, and shot Cecil. Palmer was identified as the killer of the “famous” lion almost no one had ever heard of before. Titanic amounts of abuse were heaped on him. His dentist office was trashed on Yelp and he had to close it for a while. He was condemned by members of Congress, governors, foreign political officials, and Jimmy Kimmel, while Mia Farrow tweeted out his address. He even faced potential legal charges in Zimbabwe and the United States, although ultimately not even his guides were convicted of anything. Judging by the reaction to the picture, you’d have thought Palmer shot a puppy out of the arms of a toddler as opposed to a lion 99.999 percent of Planet Earth had never heard of before he went up to the jungle in the sky.