What good is internet condemnation really doing?

A new age for social media


Photo by Alvin Buyinza

By Emma Garber, Collegian Columnist

Like many, when I first saw the video of the Covington High school boys harassing Nathan Phillips, a Native American man, I was filled with rage. As I watched the high schoolers jeer and mock the man in prayer, the lines were clearly drawn between good versus evil, the image a clear black and white: the group of rowdy teenage boys were “Make America Great Again-wearing bigots,” the elderly veteran a scapegoat for the boys’ shared rage. But as the week unfolded and new video surfaced, the lines blurred and the image became a confusing gray. It became unclear what exactly happened outside the Lincoln Memorial, who yelled first and who confronted whom. I started to wonder if the general public was ignoring the larger issue at hand. The incident had become a soap opera on the news, with a week’s worth of morning talk show hosts focusing more on who said and did what, rather than the larger issue of racism.

What started as a dialogue surrounding hatred and bigotry ended in a meaningless array of conflicting accounts. This is not the first time this has happened. A recent trend of viral videos in the last year share similar fates as the Lincoln Memorial incident. A Google search of “racist viral video” results in a slew of phone-recorded alleged racists ranting at camera lenses, spewing hate-filled slurs or ignorant comments. There’s the woman from California who called Mexicans rapists, the lawyer who demanded Spanish speakers learn English or the woman in a Phoenix restaurant who announced that she prefers white people. These videos became staples on social media feeds, easy to share with a caption expressing how shocked or saddened one is by its contents. With each video, NBC or ABC is quick to report on the spectacle, often interviewing both the racist and the voice from behind the camera, creating 15-minute celebrities out of bigotry and hate speech. In addition, the reported racist is often shamed off the internet, sometimes even losing their job and receiving death threats.

Clearly, the content of these videos is both unacceptable and disgusting. Such clear acts of ignorance should always be condemned and not taken lightly. But when these acts are turned into a spectacle, several problems arise. First, internet condemnation is not going to solve racism. As much as we would like to, we cannot shame racism out of existence via our Twitter and Facebook feeds. It is impossible to threaten, condemn and shame every single racist.

For every single outspoken one, there is a closeted racist who knows better than to make their beliefs known. Sharing a racist act caught on camera to your Facebook friends is merely scratching the surface; there are centuries worth of systemic teachings and laws that are not going to be solved with one racist being shamed off the internet. While we waste our time debating one specific instance, there are still intrinsic practices in place which continue the legacy of racism in our country. If these viral videos can receive millions of views, why doesn’t mass incarceration, police brutality or biased voter registration laws garner the same attention from the nation?

The dialogue surrounding these viral videos is extremely polarizing. After the Lincoln Memorial video surfaced, some were quick to chastise the boys, threatening them and their families and starting a call for their expulsion. Meanwhile, conservatives came to the boys’ defense, eager to disagree with the opposing political side. I do not believe the solution lies in either extreme. The racism shown in these videos is deplorable, but rather than threaten the person or defend them, the only proactive solution lies in education. These acts display how ignorant many of these people are, and their lack of understanding when it comes to acceptance or unity is saddening. Treating them like monsters will only push them farther away, igniting a brighter flame in their hatred and bigotry. Seeking to teach them why their words or actions are unacceptable can build bridges and perhaps chip away at underlying, systemic problems.

Moving forward, there will likely be more encounters similar to the one between the high schoolers from Covington High School and Phillips. We cannot condone this behavior, but it cannot become our entertainment. Rather than instantly sharing these videos, our primary focus should be to prevent these encounters from happening again.

Emma Garber is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]