Hashtag Activism and The Modern Mob.

Moderation cartoon

Is being radically moderate the same as being moderately radical? In any case, I feel impelled to put on my Radical Moderate hat again. Not to say anything radical and new, just to again register my dismay at what Hashtag Activism is doing to our society and conversations.

Hashtag activism: A term coined by media outlets which refers to the use of Twitter’s hashtags for Internet activism. The term can also be used to refer to the act of showing support for a cause through a like, share, etc. on any social media platform, such as Facebook, Google+, or Twitter.

Two incidents brought this back to mind. One, the Incident At The Capitol Mall (you know, the one with the Catholic teens and the Native American elder) is still churning Twitter, Facebook, and many, many professional media platforms. More on that in a moment, but I’ll talk about the other incident first.

Earlier this month, a Chicago woman was assaulted by a young man in an attempted mugging. He approached her while she was waiting alone for the bus in the early morning, brandishing a gun. The police report is short on concrete details, but it makes it clear that 1) there was a struggle, 2) the woman was also armed and she drew her own gun, 3) she shot her attacker in the neck, 4) he took her gun from her, but 5) fled the scene. The young man was apprehended only a few blocks away, and taken to the hospital where he died of his injury.

The incident was picked up by a local news channel. Locals were interviewed. It seems the area is known for its assaults and shootings, and the neighborhood response was pretty much “She did what she had to do. Good for her.”

That probably would have been the end of it, except that a few conservative voices online took note of this woman successfully protecting herself by exercising her 2nd Amendment Rights and gave her kudos for it. Cue Zack Ford, an editor for Think Progress.

Zack is very “anti-proliferation”; we know because he says so.

Zack Ford on Twitter, 2017.png For context, his philosophy of anti-proliferation is basically that it’s a bad idea for civilians to arm themselves because the criminals are armed. That just puts more guns out there, which is bad. Call it the neighborhood version of nuclear anti-proliferation.

Anyway, Zack took a look at the story and the conservative response, and fired off this sage hot-take:


But although Dailycaller.com expressed satisfaction at the assaulted woman’s successful self-defense, it didn’t dance a jig over the death of her assailant. It simply reported “A 25-year-old Chicago woman with a concealed carry license shot and killed a man who attempted to rob her at gunpoint last week.” It also reported one of the interviewed local’s responses. ““It’s tragic that he did die, but the lady had to do what she had to do,” Bianca Daniel, a local resident, said about the bus stop incident. “I’m kinda of proud that, like, that’s what she did because she stuck up for herself.””

I’m sure a bunch of reader comments were less restrained, which is of course part of the problem. But Zack probably felt pretty righteous about his own tweet, until the numbers on his twitter-feedback started dipping very negative indeed. Also, while he got the expected indignation from conservatives, he also got a lot of push-back from liberals, followers on the left, the Good Guys, whose response was pretty much “Wait, what?”

So he tried to clarify his position:


For some reason this line of progressive logic didn’t make Zack’s twitter followers any happier and as the criticism deepened he continued to make his case:


Sooooo . . . yeah. Everything’s clear, now. If she hadn’t had a gun, she wouldn’t have shot him and he wouldn’t have died. She shouldn’t have resisted. She should have just let him rob her, at gunpoint, because he probably wouldn’t have shot her. Probably.

And anyway, her successful resistance led to praise for gun ownership, which is bad because, proliferation?

For some reason, this didn’t help. Finally, Zack took down his original tweet and put this up:

Screenshot_2019-01-15 Zack Ford on Twitter.png

Now, we can debate Zack’s line of reasoning all we like, but I think one thing clear from all this is the sheer stupidity of trying to intelligently debate anything on Twitter. Zack’s big mistake was two-fold. First, although you “tweet to your community” your tweets, once made, can and will go anywhere. Others will see them. They can respond. Their responses can very easily derail your pithy point if it’s even a little shaky. Even those who agree with you in general might see reasonable disagreement (fortunately for you, most tweeters aren’t more reasonable and restrained than you, but still, it’s a risk).

Second, you’re absolutely stuck with your original statements, however ill considered. You can try and spin them, but you can’t unsay them. The bit that made me laugh out loud was his first apology statement “I believe people have the right to defend themselves. My tweet suggested otherwise, and for that I apologize.” It’s very clear from his initial and follow-up statements that he does think that, while she might have had the right to defend herself, she didn’t have a right to defend herself with a gun. (Unless of course, he believes she has the right but shouldn’t have exercised it because proliferation. Or something.)

In other words, once you be-clown yourself on Twitter (or Facebook or online in general), it’s impossible to recover your credibility. Your stupidity is forever. To quote the Goblin King, “What’s said is said.”

Of course while Zack felt the heat, I’m sure he was only moderately mobbed. Actually, by today’s standards it wasn’t a mobbing, just a “What the f–?” cascade. But it certainly didn’t contribute to a thoughtful discussion of the right of self defense.

Since this blog’s getting a bit long, I won’t describe The Incident at The Capitol Mall or its media aftermath. If you don’t know what I’m talking about and want the history, go here.


Or you can do your own research; I like Reason.com because I’m an Independent and while I don’t agree with them on every issue they don’t usually parrot the spin of the Right or Left. The point is, when the Reason.com reporter wrote “Partial video footage of students from a Catholic high school allegedly harassing a Native American veteran after the anti-abortion March for Life rally in Washington, D.C., over the weekend quickly went viral, provoking widespread condemnation of the kids on social media.” he wasn’t kidding. Doxing and death-threats were made. It seemed like half the social media users in the country engaged in a perfect storm of Two Minutes Hate.

For those unfamiliar with the reference, “the Two Minutes Hate, from George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, is a daily period in which Party members of the society of Oceania must watch a film depicting the Party’s enemies and express their hatred for them for exactly two minutes.”

Everybody jumped on the kids. If you were on the left, you piled on because, well, what they did was hateful. If you were on the right, you did it because if  you didn’t utterly condemn their horrible, horrible, actions, then you were part of the problem. Or something. And it was social media, not government, that instigated this Two Minutes Hate. Orwell would never have seen that coming. Or possibly he would.

Then more video was released and . . . great, we all just condemned, abused, threatened, and generally horribly bullied a bunch of high school boys for . . . what? A huge number of pundits, bloggers, tweeters, journalists, and celebrities are now trying to walk back their Two Minute Hate. But a lot of other people are seeing the whole “Look! MAGA hats! White boys! In a chanting crowd! Horrible!” response and the stupidity of it all and it’s yet one more, forever-to-be-remembered pile-on by the social media mob.

So, two examples of hashtag activism gone horribly wrong, one small and one large. I’m sure everyone can think of their own examples, recent and receding, buried under the latest pile-on but always to be remembered when one side or the other needs a “how awful” club to swing at the other.

This is why I don’t tweet, and why I don’t usually respond to an “incident” on Facebook until more information comes out. Because I’m human, I do have firm opinions, and sooner or later I’ll be-clown myself.

Remember Zack. Remember the Capitol Mall. Don’t be a hashtag clown.








15 thoughts on “Hashtag Activism and The Modern Mob.

  1. Two Minute Hate?

    I suspect that the boys and their families would have preferred “just a two minute hate”. 😦

    Of course, considering the talk about legal actions (from supporters of the boys), you have to wonder if the “taking down the tweets” is because of fears of lawsuits against the tweeters.

  2. When you commit a crime wielding a firearm, you have escalated. When the victim responds with comparable force it is your own stupid fault. This is not a difficult concept.

  3. I stopped buying your books because after the Vegas shooting you went in s reactionary posting spree calling for antigun laws. You basically became the clown you just some of. Now that time has passed have you walked back your antigun beliefs that would have done nothing to stop shootings by crazies determined to commit murder?

    1. If I didn’t read stories by writers I don’t agree with, my library would be much, much smaller. But I assume you’re referring to my post Here We Are Again? If that was be-clowning myself, then I’ll wear the red nose. However, you’ll need to be clearer. What “antigun beliefs” are you referring to?

      My argument in that post was that, after any mass-shooting, “Gun-control advocates want fewer mass-shootings and to reduce the death-toll from our horrific levels of gun violence. Gun-rights advocates want that too, but want to keep the 2nd Amendment from being rendered meaningless through the step by step advance of gun ownership restrictions.”

      And I floated a few suggestions that in my opinion might accomplish both things. Was that a “reactionary posting spree calling for antigun laws?” A lot of readers disagreed with me, and said so. We had a good discussion.

      Where do I stand today? Pretty much the same spot. Anti-gun advocates want to end, or at least significantly reduce, the killing in this country (and they should). Gun-rights advocates want to keep their Second Amendment-protected right to armed self-defense (as they should), and don’t see how any of the anti-gun activist’s current proposals would have any affect on rates of gun violence anyway (and they’re right). They also fear the slippery slope of anti-gun restrictions (as they should).

      My opinion was then, and is now, that the Second Amendment is as important to American liberties as the other amendments in our Bill of Rights. Our right to keep and bear arms is protected by 2A, as surely as our rights to speak freely, write freely, criticize our government, and worship (or not worship) and live according to our respective faiths are protected by 1A. (Not established, protected; all of these rights are pre-political, and cannot be granted or taken away by government. They can only be recognized or ignored. That’s what inalienable means.)

      I’m happy to debate particular policies all day long. Would they be constitutional? Could they work? Could we get them into law? That’s how I felt when I wrote Here We Are Again, and that’s how I feel today.

      Does that answer your question?

      1. Its the right to bear arms in a militia. Why does everyone forget that part. If you believe that the amendment is sacrosanct then you should fufill all its criteria. Otherwise you must recognise that the amendment has been corrupted way out of proportion to meet the need of then current gun culturemin america

      2. When somebody says “Why does everyone forget,” that’s usually a sign that they themselves are ignoring or simply missing something known to the “everyone” they’re referring to. In this case, I believe you’re simply incorrect; the debate over what the right to “keep and bear arms” meant when the Bill of Rights was drafted has been definitively answered by thousands of works of historical scholarship. It’s clear from the historic texts that the people’s right to possess weapons (arms) for their own defense was a feature of English Common Law, one of the Rights of Englishmen resorted to by the revolutionaries in their fight against the crown.

        The structure of the 2nd Amendment is what it is because it was written to reassure the states that 1) the new federal government couldn’t disarm the state militias (defined at that time as all able-bodied civilians eligible by law for military service) by regulating them out of existence because 2) the right of the people to keep and bear arms was as much a natural right as the rights listed in the 1st Amendment. Since the federal government had no more right to infringe upon the people’s right to “keep and bear arms” than it did upon the people’s rights to worship freely, speak freely, and assemble peaceably, the power of the states to resist federal military power was safe.

        As I said, this much is evident from the copious scholarship of the last three or so decades, and it’s this reality that our modern laws and courts need to deal with. (If you’d like a good explication of the issue from a liberal historian’s perspective, I recommend “Living With Guns”, by Craig R. Whitney.)

        Which doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of room for debate. No right is pure and unlimited. The right to possess weapons for defense doesn’t imply a right to possess any weapon one might desire to own; no reasonable person thinks you have the right to keep a canon in your backyard or take a flamethrower to work. And what obligations go with weapons ownership? However, any regulation of the right to keep and bear arms must be held to the judicial standard of strict scrutiny. And if enough modern Americans feel that nobody in society today should have the right to arm themselves simply because they wish to be armed, there is always the amendment process which allows us to make any changes to our constitution we can democratically agree on, even our Bill of Rights.

      3. Good answer and politer than I might have been. 😀

        Of course, I can’t help but remember the “Grimworld” segment of “Team Work And Crossovers”.

        Where Hope saw plenty of regular people practicing Open Carry in “Grim Chicago” which wasn’t legal but the cops ignored it. 😦

      4. In Grimworld, things were so bad that law enforcement was stretched to the breaking point and the federal order was close to breaking down. I don’t recommend US citizens attempt to exercise a right to Open Carry in any state that doesn’t recognize that right today; if they’re lucky, they’ll just get arrested.

      5. I understand that.

        And I have no desire to see something like that happening in the Real World.

      6. No worries. Another constitutional question faced by 2nd Amendment defenders is the issue of whether it applies equally to state governments (via incorporation through the 14th Amendment). After all, when the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution, the enumerated protections applied only vs. the federal government, not the states. So even conceding that the 2nd Amendment protects citizen’s rights to keep and bear arms from being taken away by the federal government, there’s at least room to argue that state and city governments can regulate or ban private gun ownership. For sound historic reasons I think its an argument that can’t be supported, but reasonable people can and do make that argument.

      7. Yup. If it ever happens then a lot of people are going to be happy with the contents of their weapons locker. Personally I think the chances of something like that happening are very, very small. But not non-existent.

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