Breaking Down News: Gift of the Gab

When narratives of hate violence go unnoticed on social media platforms

Written by Pratik Kanjilal | Published: November 3, 2018 12:21:30 am
US, president trump, Pipe bombs, Donald Trump, terrorism, travel advisories, ABC TV, CBI , CBI vs CBI, CBI Acting director, Indian Express, Latest News  If the recent spurt of violence in the US had happened someplace else, like in India, the US would have issued travel advisories in red letters to keep visitors away. (Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)

If the recent spurt of violence in the US had happened someplace else, like in India, the US would have issued travel advisories in red letters to keep visitors away. And they would have defined the attacks as terrorism. Robert Bowers of the alt-right launched the deadliest anti-Semitic attack ever in the US at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, and Cesar Sayoc is suspected of mailing 15 pipe bombs to prominent Democrats and other opponents of President Trump, including the philanthropist George Soros and Robert De Niro. Since they were dispatched in a staggered manner, there is reason to believe that more are lurking in the US mail system.

ABC TV reported that Sayoc was “talkative and even smiling” in the courtroom, as his lawyers fought against his “extradition” to New York — the US is so big, it appears, that it is possible to extradite within the country. And Sayoc gave out numerous early warning signs on social media before he launched his little crusade. His posts on the at-right social media site Gab were noted after the event, and were not unexpected. They have received widespread coverage, especially his last post, which said he was “going in”, in the time-honoured manner of the marines.

Gab was created as an alternative to mainstream social media like Facebook and Twitter, which have policies against hate speech. In fact, its host GoDaddy pulled the plug on it after the event for violations of its own policy. Did they really not know earlier of the nature of Gab? And while Bowers’ Gab posts have grabbed the limelight, Sayoc appears to have posted threatening material on Twitter, without let or hindrance. Formerly a KREM TV reporter and the Baltimore state attorney’s spokesperson, Rochelle Ritchie is now ‘democratic strategist’ on Fox News, and was one of only two people who had reported threatening tweets to Twitter.

The company declined to intervene, on the ground that there had been no policy violation. Even though the threat was far from veiled (disappearance in the Everglades) and followed an appearance by Ritchie on Fox and Friends. It appears that instead of seeking shelter behind a document listing violations, they need to identify potentially dangerous users more accurately. Why don’t they? An AI would clean up the infamously bloody-minded Indian Twitterverse, too.

Fox is a channel that Slate watches with the indefatigable zeal of an archaeologist uncovering a lost civilisation. It reports that for a week, the morning show had been riveted on the story of the caravan of refugees marching on the US border, reporting it as if its arrival were imminent, though it was still in Guatemala. Perhaps they have been inspired by Times Now’s founding policy, to present the news as if it were happening now, even if it had happened ages ago. They’ve just turned the principle on its head, and reporting future issues as if they were critically present.
However, the channel was diverted from fake news of the caravan by the very real news of pipe bombs arriving in the mail. And it appears to have done a creditable job, as it often does when a threat looms over the homeland, and it has a fine stable of former police and military personnel to shed light on mysterious questions.

Speaking of mystery, the controversy over the financial transactions of M Sandhya, wife of CBI acting director M Nageshwar Rao, with a mercantile company which operates out of a residence in Kolkata, has even drawn the attention of Ganashakti. The doughty old paper is an organ of the West Bengal state committee of the CPI(M), and has dramatically reported a visit to the mysterious building. What a pity Ganashakti is now a modern newspaper. Back in the day, it was more like a wall magazine, pasted up for the neighbourhood to read for free. The kibitzers would have loved this story, with its suspenseful narration.

pratik.kanjilal@expressindia.com

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