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OPINION: How social media gives hatred a platform

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Opinion writer Azavieria Payne argues social media companies aren’t doing enough to stop hateful individuals from taking violent action. 

In our environment of political polarization, social media has given a platform for everyone ranging from the far left to the far right to express their political ideologies. In some cases, these ideologies have racist, anti semitic, xenophobic, and sexist undertones.

In the past week, there have been a series of attacks on elected officials and minority groups such as Jewish people and black people. While there is a such thing as free speech, those who spew out hatred and make threats of violence (real or fake), should not go unpunished.

On October 24, 2018, a suspected bomber named Cesar Sayoc allegedly mailed a series of packages to a series of Democratic Party members, including Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Rep. Maxine Waters, among others.

Sayoc had a history of crimes ranging from steroid possession to threatening a bomb attack on Florida Power and Light, claiming that it would be “worse than September 11th.” Debra Gureghian, Sayoc’s former employer, claims Sayoc referred to himself as a white supremacist, and although he expressed hatred toward gay people, black people, and Jewish people, she never fired him.

Gureghian believed that Sayoc was a “model employee,” despite the fact he aligned himself with white supremacy, and she “can’t believe” he would send out mail bombs. This is a common narrative among those who know suspected white supremacist that turned violent. People who openly express hatred towards specific groups should not be ignored.

On October 27, 2018, Robert Bowers walked into Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue, affirming his hatred for the Jewish by killing members of the congregation in a 20 minute attack. In a horrendous act of hatred and bigotry, 11 people lost their lives. In the wake of this tragedy it is important to remember the victims and their stories.  

Bowers has posted anti-semitic rants on social media, including Gab, which is an “alternative” social media platform that hides behind the assertion of “free speech.” Bowers frequently posted on the site, saying things like, “Jews are the children of Satan,” among other things.

Hours before his attack, Bowers posted, “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw our optics, I’m going in.” HIAS is the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, it was designed to aid Jews fleeing from pogroms in Russia and other areas of Eastern Europe. Since then Gab has been temporarily shut down amidst the shooting, pending further investigation.

Similarly, Sayoc made a series of threats via Twitter. Sayoc’s account was used to praise Trump and threaten members of the Democratic Party, referring to them as “liberal scum.” Joe Biden was a target of those threats and later had a bomb addressed to him. Following his arrest, Sayoc’s twitter was suspended.

Social media is a powerful platform that can be used to either unite or divide us. The messages we post can be viewed and shared among thousands. Everyday people post violent and hateful messages online in the guise of “free speech,” and these messages can be potentially dangerous.

Social Media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube have become a hub for white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and other extremists to come together and share hate filled comments. For months, these two men were given the platform to make death threats, and shared hateful messages until they finally acted on it.

It is important that social media platforms takes death threats, hate speech, and potential acts of violence seriously. Instead of allowing these dangerous ideologies to be shared and letting hate groups multiply, social media platforms should put an end to them and contact law enforcement.

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