LONSBERRY: Is Social Media Hate Speech?

 Vincent Vetromile is a 19-year-old Eagle Scout who likes guns.

 

             His Twitter account shows that he follows the president and the vice president, is a Christian, and likes Fox News.

 

                His profile picture is of a 1776 patriot in tricorn hat in front of a Betsy Ross flag, with an AR15 in his hands.

 

                He’s got a Gadsden flag at the house.

 

                He’s an all-American kid.

 

                Who was arrested over the weekend for, according to the police, wanting to travel across the state and kill a bunch of people living at a religious commune called Islamberg.

 

                The alleged terrorist from the suburbs is, on social media, exactly the stereotype progressives have of militant conservatives. He is the monster the Democrats warned you about. But the claims made about him are not a progressive fantasy, they are a conservative reality.

 

                And they are one more chilling cautionary tale about the rage of social media and its potential to spill over violently into the real world.

 

                I write this as a conservative myself. I write this as someone who scrolled uncomfortably through the accounts Vetromile follows on Twitter, hoping not to find my own. I was not there, but many others were who are part and parcel of the conservative cheering section on social media.

 

                As well as still others – Confederate pride groups – who smell of something worse than conservatism.

 

                On his @xXrebel1Xx Twitter account, Vincent Vetromile follows 71 and is followed by 298. That means he wasn’t just drinking out of the bucket, he was pouring in, too. Among his followers were CSA4EVER, Deep State Exposed, CSA Patriot and LifeNRA Patriot.

 

                Among the people he follows are the conservative icon actor James Woods, conservative humorist Cloyd Rivers, Fox News commentator Sheriff David Clarke, and various Confederate, Second Amendment and Trump posters.

 

                He mostly retweeted messages from others – including the White House and Fox News – having to do with illegal immigration, border security, terrorism and the chiding of Democrats and progressive causes.

 

                In short, except for the Confederate fixation, he swam in the mainstream of conservative social media, and the things he followed and retweeted are followed and retweeted by large numbers of conservatives and Republicans all across the country.

 

                And he is accused of being a terrorist.

 

                Which ought to give us pause.

 

                Do we dismiss this kid – and his alleged three confederates – as freaks on the edge, motivated by their own evil and dysfunction? Do we pluck them out of the stew in which they simmered and cast them aside, but keep the stew because we like it?

 

                Or do we wonder if the increasingly vicious tone of political social media has crossed the line that separates civility from savagery?

 

                I believe, increasingly, that it has.

 

                It is easy for me to see the pure hatred that oozes from every particle of progressive social media. It is a battlefront where the only rule of engagement is the destruction and humiliation of anyone whose differing opinion renders them an enemy. It is a cesspool where violence is hinted at and fantasized about.

 

                It is easy for me to see that in progressive social media.

 

                But I cannot deny seeing it in conservative social media as well. Perhaps not to the same degree, but perhaps that view arises from my own partisanship.

 

                There is a bloodlust which dominates the social media postings of progressives and conservatives alike. Not all, but most, in varying degrees. It is not love of country, it is hatred of opponent. There is less fighting for something, and more fighting against something else.

 

                It is the language not of fellow citizens in a Republic, it is the invective of instigators in a civil war.

 

                Some of it is done for money, as invisible patrons fund organizations, or clicks draw advertisers. People define themselves professionally as online assassins. Many do it out of the thrill of passion – even dark passion such as this – and the shallow and weak pose as big and tough behind the anonymity of faceless postings.

 

                It is a knife that cuts both ways, that allows for the exchange of ideas and the advocacy of beliefs, but which also fosters verbal assault and relishes personal destruction.

 

                And somewhere, on the edges, there are Vincent Vetromiles who will believe it is real. And who will take the hyperventilated rage of hateful postings and translate them into tragedies on American streets.

 

                The wise will stop and think, and make sure that the current approach to social media is intelligent and righteous. Viewpoints should be strong, beliefs should be passionate, the tongue should be free. But the hatred should be restrained – by conscience, and by social convention.

 

                For progressives and conservatives alike.

 

                Right now social media is a Molotov cocktail that threatens to burn down the real world.

 

                Vincent Vetromile is just one more indication of that.

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