Monday, August 22, 2016

Rape and the Internet Vigilante Mob

Controversy has forced comedienne Amy Schumer to distance herself from a writer on her Comedy Central show Inside Amy Schumer who defended a fellow comedian against allegations of sexual misconduct. The writer criticized “internet vigilantes” for condemning the accused without any evidence, and now is himself being slammed as a “rape apologist.” The whole sordid affair is emblematic of the dangers of the social media mob mentality, particularly in a time of hyper-sensitivity to the pervasive conception that we inhabit a rape culture.

The controversy began when comedian Aaron Glaser apparently was banned recently from the famed improv theater Upright Citizens Brigade after an internal UCB investigation into allegations that he had raped one or more women. He spoke out about the incident, which he referred to as a “witch hunt,” in a now-deleted Facebook post: “I know these are serious accusations, and I know they are untrue.”

Glaser went on to write that UCB banned him based solely on the word of the women without providing him any details of the accusers or accusations or any opportunity to defend himself. UCB is “asking me to prove to them that I’m not a rapist,” he complained, and said he has now been banned from other comedy clubs, “not one of which contacted me to ask whether the allegations were untrue.” “I am being deemed a sexual predator,” he wrote, “and my life is being ruined by accusations, not findings.”

Amy Schumer got dragged into the issue when, in a subsequent series of hyperbolically sarcastic and angry Facebook and Twitter rants, her writer Kurt Metzger defended Glaser’s right to be treated as innocent until proven guilty. The social media mob immediately swarmed, labeling him a “rape apologist” and urging Schumer to fire him. She washed her hands of it by declaring that though she was “saddened and disappointed” by his comments, he is not her writer anymore because her show is ending and “there are no writers.”

It is doubtful that Metzger’s profane ranting won any converts to his side; neither did his apparent history of misogynistic social media volleys, which The Daily Beast detailed. In a Facebook post, he later apologized for using inflammatory language and stressed that he was not being dismissive of actual victims of sexual assault. “I was talking to the perennial social media mob who, without knowing victim or accused, GLEEFULLY want to be part of social mob justice.”

“I believe that any accusation of sexual assault is a serious charge that should be taken seriously,” he continued, “and that UCB should have notified the police or at least encourage the victims to go to police before attempting to handle it themselves with an ‘internal investigation.’” Absolutely right. This reasoning similarly should apply to college campuses, where sexual assault allegations should be handled by law enforcement, not timid school administrators terrified of litigation and feminist backlash. 

Despite his graceless, provocative defense of Glaser, Metzger’s point about the injustice of the avalanche of internet condemnation of a man accused of rape holds true. Certainly, as he said, we should take rape accusations seriously and vigorously pursue the truth. But this is a matter for the law, not mob justice, and in our system of law, the accused is innocent until proven guilty. False accusations that spread like wildfire on the internet are not just irresponsible, they are inexcusable.

Let’s make this crystal clear: rape is a heinous crime, and as the father of three daughters I could not feel more strongly about protecting women from it and punishing offenders severely. It should never be dismissed as mere “boys will be boys” behavior, nor should victims be treated falsely as liars or as having “asked for it.” Victims should feel protected and encouraged to come forward, and there are problematic legal procedures that need to be addressed as well.

But precisely because the crime is so serious, it is all too easy in this age of instantaneous, worldwide social media outrage to leap to conclusions and publicly damn the accused. In the understandable rush to sympathize with the female accuser, it’s easy to ruin innocent men’s lives; even defending the right of the accused to a fair trial, as Kurt Metzger did, now gets one smeared as a rape apologist. This ugly rush to judgment is not justice and it does a disservice to both men and women, driving the cultural wedge between the sexes even deeper.

Web anonymity empowers every bully who has an internet connection, and “social justice” conformity encourages unquestioning, self-righteous anger. This is a toxic combination. Such a mob mentality must be resisted and denounced whenever it rears its ugly head. Metzger was right to call out the mob regardless of whether or not Aaron Glaser is ultimately found guilty, in which case the law will handle it. That is justice.

Originally posted as “Why Did Amy Schumer Throw Her Writer to the Internet Wolves?”

at Acculturated, 8/22/16