My friend Sean Stokholm penned an interesting op-ed in the National Post questioning the value of vigilante mob justice. In principle I agree with his underlying point, that the mob tolerates no dissent, or questioning of its motives. I have made my own argument in this regard.
(Disclosure, in the current Jian Ghomeshi affair, I am probably a member of "the mob" Sean is taking aim at. The shoe as it is said, is on the other foot.)
The online community, at least as I experience it on Twitter, can get very shouty. If you have a contrarian opinion, hordes are willing to shout you down and launch vicious attacks on your personality, your friends, your employer and everyone associated with you. That aspect I cannot stand. I cringe when I see people I respect engage such behavior themselves. I hope I have never done it myself. There is disagreeing with an opinion, and having a discussion (or even an argument) and then there is just shouting insults at each other, which I believe is never useful.
For that part of the argument, I completely agree with Sean.
So I why do I identify with "the mob?"
This Jian Ghomeshi affair is a unique incident. It was precipitated by Jian himself, with his now infamous Facebook post. With that post, Jian asked us to rush to judgement. He demanded that we believe him. If he wasn't a semi-famous celebrity, the resulting uproar would likely not have been as loud. But Jian opened the door to the mob, hoping to attract only the mob of his defenders and well...
If you open the door to the mob, don't be surprised when the wrong mob comes through your door.
Because Jian asked the online world to believe his side of the story, it is natural, it is expected, it is hoped, that the opposing viewpoint would become available. And holy shit did it ever become available. We, the mob that Jian asked our opinion of, now had more information. We had two sides to the argument. We could make a choice. Just as Jian asked us to. An awful lot of us chose not to believe Jian's side. Suck it up loser.
I have seen many people asking that we all choose the third way, "Don't believe either side until we have proof." It is a reasonable request, but in this case it ignores the proof that we have, and the proof that is rapidly becoming more available. This isn't just a "he said, she said" argument, this is a "he said, she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said and she said" argument. And a lot of the "she said" stories are remarkably consistent with each other. Which either requires a grand conspiracy, or that it actually happened the way these women are reporting. Even when the Toronto Star (finally!*) broke the story, we had four women that anonymously questioned Jian's version of events.
The fact that these women chose to be anonymous bothers a lot of people. To which I say "Why?" You are currently reading an anonymous bloggers post, I have many people reading my anonymous Twitter account. People regularly engage with my "anonymous" self online all the time and take my personal stories at face value. And I can attest from personal experience and personal belief, that an individual's desire for anonymity can (and most likely) does not impact their ability to impart a truthful statement. If a person you know can lie to your face, an anonymous person can tell the truth. Knowing someone's true identity has little value in determining the truthfulness of their statements. Society wrongly puts huge value in knowing the name behind a statement, and as the online world is really showing, anonymity empowers people to state truths they would otherwise hide for fear of reprisal. (And yes, anonymity does enable trolls to show their nasty side to the world, but I submit they are sharing their true ugly selves. They're not faking it.) Let me put it simply, people have a multitude of reasons to stay anonymous, those reasons are completely independent of the truth behind their statements. Granted you cannot cross-examine them, but you are not a lawyer, and we are not in a court of the law. Those rules don't apply to society at large.
So what we had pretty quickly was one person, Jian, sharing one side of the story and four other people sharing the other side. I submit, if you were fence-sitting, refusing to choose sides and waiting for more evidence, you were engaging in deliberate moral cowardice**.
Now as a member of "the mob" I do have the responsibility to not shout down others with opposing viewpoints. I have the responsibility to engage, with respect, and to listen and to rebut if I can. If we can come to agreement, great. If not, well, if I could convince everyone to always agree with me I would be King of the World. The fact that I am not even close illustrates my rate of success. And I have to be content to live with that.
As should you. Be respectful. Try to make your debates productive.
* I have quite vocally questioned the Toronto Star for sitting on the story until Jian released his Facebook statement. This story should have been broken earlier. Sitting on it was an irresponsible choice that continued to endanger the safety of women exposed to Jian Ghomeshi.
** I chose to word it that way deliberately, to provoke you the reader, to
sit back and ponder the impact of that. You can disagree, but
understand that I am not God sitting on his throne casting judgement on
you. I am just trying to provoke you.