It shouldn’t come as a surprise that anything that begins with good intentions can suddenly be turned on its ear. Social media, once that charming and quite innocuous way of using lightning-fast technology to allow people around the planet to connect with one another, has now morphed into a modern day Star Chamber.
In medieval England, Star Chambers were created to supplement the traditional justice system that could be subject to corruption and influence. Not surprisingly, they also were equally, or even more, likely to abuse power.
We don’t need our traditional justice system any longer, it seems. Gone are the days when a criminal or civil conviction—at least in our so-called democratic countries—took an often long and complicated process that included investigations, arguments, judge or jury deliberations, appeals and, most importantly, the presumption of innocence until proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is determined.
Now, seemingly overnight, people are being charged, tried, convicted and sentenced within hours. Their lives are badly damaged or even destroyed, because the court of public opinion is a monster that cannot be tamed.
With the movie industry being the current focus for allegations of abuse, often based on incidents from ten, twenty, thirty, forty years ago, it’s easy to look at a guy like Harvey Weinstein and just say good riddance. There are numerous allegations, many from apparently credible sources, and corroboration by others. The entertainment industry, it seems, has long been a fertile hunting ground for men in power on the prowl. With stars in their eyes, these “victims” say they took the abuse and forged ahead, not because they feared for their lives, but because they didn’t want to jeopardize their chance at success in a business where it takes the luck of a lottery winner for even the most talented aspirants to succeed.
Social media provides any Jane or John Doe with access to an Internet connection the chance to subvert the justice system. Make an accusation that captures enough attention and the results of the “trial” are known before the accused has had a chance to face a charge. Their only hope, and it is a slim one, is to immediately apologize, even if they are bewildered by the accusations.
One of my own motivations for leaving Facebook came from reading that American sports commentator Al Michaels had issued an apology the morning after he made a comment during a football game. Describing the rash of injuries that had plagued one team in recent days, Michaels commented that the team “had a worse week than Harvey Weinstein.” That simple, innocuous remark by someone who is paid to make the game more interesting than it often is would not, until recently, have raised much more than a smile from his audience. Instead, the social media police went ballistic, accusing Michaels of being insensitive and dismissive of the pain that Weinstein had (allegedly) caused for so many.
Pandora’s box is open, and the ills are flying about in a frenzy. As the wise Pogo said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance