Paul Gosar, a Republican Arizona Representative was criticized Tuesday for posting an animated video on social media showing him attacking Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). It was also reported that Rep. Gosar had set out to attack President Joe Biden by using a club.
This 90 second video was posted on Sunday. It was an edited version of the Japanese anime series. Twitter removed the video without warning, but added a note to the tweet warning that it violated the Twitter Rules concerning hateful conduct. Twitter has decided it’s in the public interest that the Tweet be accessible.
A statement The Washington PostJessica Lycos who is Gosar’s digital director denied that the video was intended to glorify violence. She said: “Everyone need to be relaxed.”
Social media has made open hostility among elected officials a commonplace. However, it’s more than words being exchanged. This is a worrying trend. Users are engaging in threats and attacks against legislators at all levels, including the local.
On Tuesday, The National League of Cities (NLC), released a new report titled “On the Frontlines of Today’s Cities – Trauma, Challenges & Solutions:” The report found harassment, threats, and violence against local elected officials is on the rise at alarming rates. These worrying behaviors are most common via social media.
Eighty-seven per cent of the local officials polled reported an increase in violence and threats against public officials over recent years. 81 percent also claimed to have experienced harassment, threats, or violence.
“Personal Attacks.” Assaults on the body. Cyberbullying directed at themselves their children and families all while having to manage multiple crises in their communities – this is what it means to be a public servant in 2021,” said Clarence E. Anthony, NLC CEO and executive director. Our local leaders are human too. It is easy to forget this. In addition to their title of “mayor”, “councilmember,” or “commissioner,” they also serve as a parent, friend and neighbor, among many other roles.
Social media has made it too easy
The threat of attacks via twitter are perhaps most worrying because there is so much more people making threats. Social media has made it possible for anyone to be a keyboard activist, where in the past only a handful of “hot heads” could have written a threat letter or phone call.
“Despite social media being a major driving force in civic life, the reality is that it is becoming more common for people to be intimidated by misinformation and personal attacks through the use of social media,” stated Mayor Jake Spano from St. Louis Park MN.
“Social media is like any tool. It has many upsides,” Spano stated. You can feel anything from angry to afraid for the safety of others, but it does not provide anonymity.
While many people may believe that they are somehow saving democracy by making such threats, in reality, this has the exact opposite effect. If they are constantly threatened on social media, who will be interested in running for local office?
Susan Campbell (University of New Haven, distinguished lecturer, and advisor) warned that this will create a calming effect and no one will be interested in running for office on behalf of the city council or school board. Charger Bulletin.
“It is really unfortunate – people feel that if they make these comments, even direct threats, online it could be seen as just venting,” added Chris Haynes, associate professor of political science and national security at the University of New Haven.
Haynes stated that they use tweets and posts as a way to convey negative emotions and energy. But they aren’t seeing the effect because of the Internet. The consequences of hurting someone can be avoided.
Some people may mistakenly think that it’s just Freedom of Speech. It isn’t protected speech to make threats.
Haynes said, “People don’t really think about what else they are posting.” Social media legitimizes these tropes and negative comments.”
The lack of accountability
Twitter’s treatment of Rep. Gosar’s Tweet is a great example of how platforms might not take the required responsibility. Twitter claimed that Gosar’s tweet was in the public interests.
Was it in the public’s interest, or Twitter?
Haynes said, “There’s clearly an absence of accountability right at the moment.” “The platforms do not step up when they should.”
This is contrary to the platform’s best interests. Facebook has shown that discourse can actually be beneficial for businesses, as we saw with Facebook.
Campbell stated, “That’s very much built into the business model.” Outrage is an excellent selling tool.
Even though some platforms claim to be fighting hate-filled content, they can still do more.
“Within the past year, we have seen social media companies do more to limit disinformation on their platforms, and that’s an important step,” added the National League of Cities’ Anthony. However, they still have a bigger role to play in making sure harassment isn’t tolerated. They should definitely be doing more. A stronger regulation of these businesses could help to solve the problem. That said, our new report was developed to raise awareness of this issue, and focuses on what cities can do to combat some of the harmful consequences o social media in their local leaders’ lives.”
An even stronger law enforcement response, that hasn’t taken online threats as seriously as it should, might be the solution.
Campbell stated that anyone who leaves threats should knock at the door. A threat against any elected official should always be investigated, much like if they made the threat directly to their face.