Police State

sleeping_policeI ask if you will agree with this humble hypothesis:

Actions without consequence tend to repeat.
–Tom B. Taker

Do you agree or disagree with this statement?

If you stick a fork in an electrical socket and it shocks you, are you likely to do it again? If you touch a hot stove and get burned are you in a hurry to touch it some more?

Tell a dog to stay off the sofa and shoo him away a single time. The rest of the time allow him to lounge all over the bloody thing to his heart’s content. What lesson do you think the dog has learned?

Do you know about the most powerful force in the universe? It’s a child when improperly parented. That particular organism has the potential, in the right circumstances, to learn faster than any form of life we’ve ever encountered. Tell a child, “No, you cannot have the cookie.” Now comes the tricky part: Let the child eat all the cookies it wants. Maybe you’re busy playing Farmville. Maybe you’re composing your next tweet. Maybe, just maybe, you’re sick enough in the head to be doing it on purpose. Whatever. You can bet your life that the message has been received loud and clear. It’s the most instantaneous form of training we’ve ever discovered.

Try to teach them something important and it’s like pounding your head against a wall. But being assholes? That they absorb like sponges.

As I often try to do in my writings, I’m cleverly building to a point. It seems pretty obvious that a lack of consequences does not generally lead to good things. That child? She’s a future Chloe who has a shit fit on national television because her parents bought her a new car for her 16th birthday but it wasn’t an Escalade. She hates them, she does. Poor baby.

Have you accepted the hypothesis yet?

I was thinking about all of this when I violently had one of those aha moments. What if the precocious child in this story was the internet? And what if the role of mommy and daddy was played by the police? What might that look like?

Per usual I’ll begin with a charming anecdote and then slowly build up to the hate. Join me, won’t you? It’ll be fun!

theater-masks
It was the crap of times, it was the shit of times.

It was smack dab in the middle of a personal journey which I would eventually come to think of nostalgically as The Decade of Despair. It was a period that encapsulated eight years of George W. Bush. (Delicious happenstance.) It was a quest for voluntary simplicity that include a salary downgrade of Death Star proportions. It included one small time asshole boss after another, each vicious in his or her own way. Those bosses were responsible for my real education. I was held captive in a pit and they said, “It puts the lotion on its skin or it gets the hose.”

It was still a few years before the first iPhone would be released and make the world an even shittier place.

(Please let me know if this intro borders on the sin of overselling. I’m just keeping it real.)

During this period of time, there was something else, like background noise to the despair. I operated a humble little website with a “forum.” It was like a community bulletin board where people could post items for sale, discuss politics, etc. And make no mistake about it, it was a granddaddy to the evil of today like Craigslist and YouTube comment threads. People have always been and will continue to be major assholes.

The forum only had a few basic rules. Things like “be nice to each other or you’ll be asked to leave.” The goal was to maintain a convivial family-oriented atmosphere.

If you know anything of the internet of today you can well imagine how it went.

Here’s one tiny example:

A guy loved writing about his suggestions to fix America, like his suggestion of planting land mines along the U.S./Mexico border because the “spics” deserved to be blown to bits. He’d already been given several chances. With no other choice, I gave him the boot.

My experiences with a forum taught me one thing above all else: Grown humans do not like to be moderated. Not in the slightest.

Thus began a campaign against me consisting of public shaming, death threats, stalking and much much more.

I decided to take action. I wasn’t going to take it sitting down. I called the police.

“A forum?” the police said. “What the hell is that?”

“How about email? Have you ever heard of that? Here are many printouts of threats and examples of what he’s done. Here’s his name. Here’s his addresss. Here’s his phone number. Here’s a picture of him.”

“Look, there’s nothing here. Our advice is just stay out his way.”

Ah, clever. The dawn of online action without consequence had arrived. The police literally wouldn’t do anything about it. They wouldn’t take a report. They would even shake the guy down or do something drastic, like actually talk to him.

After giving several assholes the boot eventually there was a veritable team of people who hated my guts. They published pictures of me on Craigslist along with my home address. They published pictures of my wife. They photoshopped our pictures in evil ways and said vile, evil things about us. They threatened physical violence. They also came up with some inventive lies in deliberate attempts to damage my reputation. And, in one especially sick example, one of them publicly claimed he had killed my missing cat.

Remember, this all started because I refused to give them a forum to be flaming douchebags of evil.

Throughout it all, the police did nothing. Craigslist itself maintained a policy that shit like this was fine and dandy. Nothing to see here, move along, move along. By the way, we’re making money. It sucks to be you. (I believe that’s literally their verbatim policy.)

Eventually I said, “Fuck it” and pulled the plug on the forum, which was probably the most successful thing I had ever built. I burned it to the ground. Eventually the assholes lost interest and drifted away to hunt other game.

But I never forgot the lesson I had learned and never put it all together until I recently pondered actions without consequence. Look at the evil online today. Did the inaction of police in the way back have anything to do with the way things are today?

What if people were held responsible for what they said online? Even back then the technology existed to track these sick fucks down and punish them. What difference did it make if it was said on TV, in a handwritten letter, letters cutout from a magazine, in person or … gasp … in the online realm?

The police weren’t set up for this sort of thing. They didn’t understand the technology. They didn’t have the resources. Years later, when “cyber crime units” finally began to crop up, those had the single overriding goal of going after child porn and molesters. Yes, a damn worthy effort, but hardly beneficial to people suffering from what I had gone through. Nothing much had changed.

Today there is racism and misogyny all over the internet. It’s enough to make one weep for the state of humanity. Children use social media as a weapon to gang up on each other en masse and induce suicides of their peers. Right now there’s a school where persons unknown are setting up Facebook pages to bully elementary school students. The police and school system are working with Facebook to get the pages pulled down, but not until they’ve been up a while and real life damage has been done. And each time one gets shut down, a few more pop up and the never-ending process begins anew.

Actions without consequence.

Why not just catch and punish the motherfuckers responsible?

This naturally devolves into a discussion about “free speech” rights. If I say, “Go kill yourself” and the person actually does it, am I responsible for murder? What, if any, punishment should I face for my part in it? That’s not a question easily answered.

What about this one? “I hope you get brain cancer and die.” Is that acceptable free speech?

What about anonymity? Does our right to free speech allow us to enjoy the safety of the shadows while making statements like these? Should the person who says, “I hope you get brain cancer and die” be publicly exposed for the world to see?

They played a football game yesterday. One of the players on the winning team acted boorishly. How we judge the behavior is very much a matter of opinion, which we are are entitled to have. But many took to the internet to personally attack the man based on the color of his skin. Should that be anonymous? Should there be punishment?

Ultimately, I think, something will have to be done. We’re going to have to come up with some way of addressing the online world we’ve created or it will only get worse. Can you imagine what that might look like?

Meanwhile I ponder the genesis of this whole situation and the way police treated the situation when it happened to me. Is this indeed the result of no consequences for vile actions? Do you agree with my hypothesis?

21 responses

  1. I agree with you…..well said!

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  2. Snoring Dog Studio | Reply

    No, grown people don’t like to be moderated, but I feel they must. Even at the expense of censorship. I remember a blogger whose blog I frequented. At some point, I expressed concern about the language and demeanor that was being tolerated on her site. She told me that she just couldn’t censor anything. She believed in free speech. That was her right. And it was my choice to be there and then to stop following her. A lot of people would never agree with me and, from what I sense you’re saying, with you, either. People believe that free speech entitles them to all sorts of despicable behavior. To a large extent, it seems to. But despicable behavior ought to be met with certain consequences– for example, calling out people when they’ve been rude, abusive, predatory, whatever. And calling them out can and should include blocking them, deleting their comments, expressing your dismay with their behavior, and subsequently getting the hell away from them. I’m a bit horrified over what seems to be taking place in the blogging world – that is, the propensity of bloggers to anoint another blog owner as royalty, as the high standard we should all strive for. And then out of that, inevitably, a cult seems to form. It chills the writing experience for me when bad behavior is tolerated online and defended in terms of free speech rights. I believe that something has to be done, but everything I’d suggest would offend free speech proponents. Look at what Facebook recently did – they now allow violent, disturbing videos to be posted on their site! All for more hits, more views, better reach and so on. Notoriety seems to be the hallmark of too many successful blogs. The Internet has already devolved into a cesspool of vitriol and vulgarity. It’s a runaway train. There seems to be no turning back. The only thing those of us offended by it can do is to retreat to safer territory, to protect our loved ones from it if we can, and to speak out when despicable behavior occurs. Believe me, call me in favor of censorship if you want to, but I will delete comments and block people from my blog if they’re unable to remain respectful. That’s my backyard after all.

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    1. Thanks for the awesome input. What some call moderation others will call censorship. Whatever. If the action is an attempt to kill, injure or cause property damage to another person, society has got to deal with that. And you’re right about the violent videos leading to more traffic. I quickly learned that controversy drove the forum. Someone tried to run a replacement forum with a zero tolerance policy on drama, and the site quickly died. No one ever used it. There must be a common sense middle ground somewhere in between.

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      1. Snoring Dog Studio

        How sad that zero tolerance wasn’t popular. What IS wrong with us?

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  3. I agree, the net has bred people who see no need to moderate their words or behavior because what they do there has no consequence. People who dare stand up for proper decorum are marked for consequences inflicted by those who should be receiving them.

    I can speak to the inaction from a local policing point of view. Those agencies are set up for response to events that happen in a defined physical space, they’re impotent outside of that space. Where they fall down (in my eyes) is that they do not train their staff in how to direct people who rightly call on them for help, not understanding the limitations they have to work within. The public deserves more than “it’s not what we do, good luck”.

    With the focus on cutting services, I’m not optimistic, but what we need is a federal group who handles internet based cases.

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    1. Often during the writing process I forget to include entire paragraphs. That’s my specialty. I forgot the part about how much I love the police. I’m a big fan and supporter. I always vote YES on levies to give them more money. That said, the fellows who blew me off and made me feel like shit were not quite my favorites. 🙂

      I’m really glad you stopped by. I especially wanted your POV. I know what you mean about the “defined physical space,” but if the death threats had been aimed at someone else (like POTUS) I guarantee you the response would have been markedly different. Alas, it was only me, sad sack of shit, “so fuck off and all that.” I think that proves that defined physical space wasn’t the only factor.

      I believe that we’ll eventually catch up with laws, which always seem to lag behind the problems caused by bleeding edge technologies. I can envision laws that criminalize, for example, sharing photographs of real persons with the intent to hurt and/or cause pain. I can even envision a classification of a felony if the intent is to cause death or serious injury. Perhaps it will come down to a judge and/or jury making the final determination in some cases.

      The free speech issues involved are a bit more slippery, but I still feel they must be addressed. Hurtful actions with impunity must not be allowed to continue. We’re going to have to figure out a way.

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      1. Oh I completely agree. The response varies as to who you are and the outcome.

        You and Mrs. A aren’t as well known as you deserve to be, so even if you contacted the Feds, hey, get in line. If your name were Gingrich, Pelosi or Richard Sherman the wheels of justice start turning immediately.

        Replying on my phone, trying to get back to sleep so I can’t remember if I said I’m glad you both got through the ordeal. Even if I didn’t think you’re always right I’d still be frustrated and angry that fools out you through that.

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    2. Snoring Dog Studio | Reply

      I definitely agree with you, Oma. Given the hacking, the bullying, the terrorizing, we do need a federal agency devoted to Internet crimes.

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  4. When you figure it out, let us know. I don’t know the answer…I just know something has to be done.
    Maybe you could start up a discussion “forum.”
    Kidding.

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    1. There’s an elite team of do-gooders who figure out when the evil goes viral. They leap into action while the humans go shitty. They sift the Twitter for the most egregious examples and scoop it out much like the processing at a sewer treatment plant. They capture screenshots because the coach roaches don’t care much for the light of day. You lift the rock and they scurry like no one’s business.

      Then these social vigilantes put together a Tumblr post (or equivalent) and publish the evil for the entire world to see. There is sits. Documented for all time.

      There’s the recent case of a woman who, upon boarding a flight to Africa, worried about getting AIDS upon landing. No doubt she imagined herself hilarious when thoughtlessly tweeting it out. But, by the time the plane was wheels down across the pond, she was already famous and out of a job.

      I visited one of the more egregious assholes on Twitter after the recent Seahawks ugliness. The account had amazingly been locked down to private mode and all of the tweets were suddenly “protected.” Orly?

      I guess that’s one way to handle these miscreants of evil. Effective social justice. But is it the best way to handle it? There are lots of bad people out there among us.

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  5. The words stand on their own. Whether anonymous or not, people should be able to stand up to the douche canoes in your forum.
    And the consequence of their actions (shunning? calling out?) should be reinforced.

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    1. Thanks! Yet another point I forgot to make. 🙂

      Words alone shouldn’t bother you. They only have power if you grant them power. Obviously, though, this isn’t true for everyone, like the teenage girl that flung herself off the abandoned concrete factory tower. Are those who taunted her guilty of anything?

      On the other hand, words can cause actual injury. Perhaps someone takes to the Craigslist and, completely anonmyously, smears your name by saying that you enjoy sex with barnyard animals and/or molesting little girls. Worse, imagine that the Craigslist campaign includes your home address and other personal details, and that it gets sent to your family, friends, place of employment and church. It’s easy to imagine how total lies would still cause serious damage.

      Sometimes it’s political, too. Like when a “pro-life” protester hints about putting the kibosh on an abortion doctor and distributes leaflets containing the doctor’s home address. Or when political candidates use similar tactics against their opponents. When actual harm (in the form of flying bullets) is the result, the incredible power of words can be understood.

      People have been getting away with stuff like this under the protection of “free speech.” I call bullshiats.

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  6. I’ve always tried to have an internal policy of not posting anything online that I wouldn’t say to a person to their face.

    And the problem with online belligerence is that in addition to being anonymous, the statements are made without any context of facial or body language. “I’m going to kill that guy” can be said snarkily or threateningly, but just as a typed sentence is devoid of context.

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    1. You have the right to voluntarily set person standards that are more restrictive than the broad rights granted through free speech. That makes you an outlier.

      I think context on the internet takes extra effort. I read a study once about context in email. It leads to a lot of misunderstandings.

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  7. You should have seen some of the crappe on Facebook pages — friggin’ Facebook pages! — during the election season. Not only racist … but actual death threats … against the actual president! I did something I swore I’d never do: called the Secret Service. “Free speech” my arse. If these people were so *stupid* that they posted threats on Facebook, then I’m sure they were harmless. But … ACTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES. People need to see that. Repeatedly. So anyway …. I’m with you, sir!

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    1. I can only imagine. One thing that amazes me is that in today’s world of people getting fired over what they say on social media, there is no shortage of people willing to be assholes for the whole wide world to see. I checked up on one of them after the recent racial outburst. The account was no longer public. Awww.

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      1. Their widdwe feewings huwt? What a shame. 😉

        But never fear! Three more idiots will be waiting in the wings!

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  8. I’m a big believer in free-speech, including what is often called “Hate Speech.” Let me say that I definitely draw the line at exhortations to violence, and believe in the “Fire in a Crowded Theater” limitation (although I think it is too broadly used).

    I do believe that it is legally acceptable to say to someone “I hope you get cancer and die,” but it makes you an asshole.

    I don’t like true hate speech, but I worry about the limitations on speech that offends other people. For example, saying something like “I believe gay sex is sinful,” is now widely considered to be hateful. I don’t think it necessarily is.

    I was pretty backward when I got to college, and got the opportunity to interact with a lot of people from a lot of different cultures and orientations. At that time, fortunately, ignorance wasn’t stigmatized the way it is now. Because of this, I felt freer to say what I wanted to say, which exposed some of my more ignorant beliefs to other ideas. Because this conflict of ideas came about in a holistic, non-threatening way, I was really able to grow in my own opinions. Not all of them changed, of course, but I came away with a much better understanding of the whole picture. This can’t happen when a kid gets shouted down for saying something stupid but innocent.

    Remember, a person who is ignorant hasn’t done anything….quite the opposite, he’s done NOTHING. Many people can be reached.

    But then, there are always evil jerks–I don’t deny it.

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    1. These days if someone merely said “I believe gay sex is sinful” I’d probably be so surprised that I’d pop open a bottle of bubbly. That seems downright innocent. We’ve come a long, long way.

      Yes, many of our rights translate into the right to be an asshole. That’s an ugly truth.

      Also, you misquoted the juiciest part. It’s not: “I hope you get cancer and die.”

      It’s: “I hope you get brain cancer and die.”

      Emphasis on the brain gives it that added oomph.

      There’s a lot in my post you didn’t address but that’s okay. It’s hard, hard stuff. What, if anything, should be done when your neighbor’s children “bully” your child into committing suicide? Hate speech? Yes. Criminal? It should be. I still maintain society is going to have to wrassle with this question. The status quo just isn’t good enough.

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      1. There’s a lot in my post you didn’t address but that’s okay. It’s hard, hard stuff

        That’s very true. I didn’t touch at all on the online aspect of your post as, honestly, it’s a bit of a tougher issue for me. I support free speech, but also support the right of a host to moderate speech as he/she feels fit. Also, there’s the issue of the point where (particularly in an online environment) legitimate free speech becomes abuse. For example, publishing a person’s picture and home address is definitely abuse.

        But yeah, I am guilty of cherry-picking my argument a little.

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