In Montreal this week, a male blogger, an older man, was arrested and charged with inciting hatred against women.
It’s not the first time. He was arrested a decade ago around the anniversary of an attack on Dec. 6, 1989 by a lone gunman on Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal that left 14 young women dead. The shooter was an anti-feminist named Marc Lepine, who committed suicide afterward. The blogger was called “a ticking time bomb” by the judge, and sentenced to community service.
He glorified and praised Lepine then and now. Police have reportedly been keeping an eye on him and his various blogs, all with the same angry theme against women, apparently.
So, fearing he might incite violence in the week marking the 30th anniversary, the cops picked him up.
Quite rightly, in my view.
No doubt there are some who might consider the arrest as censorship of free speech, but I’m not seeing (yet) any mainstream newspaper columnists standing up for the blogger. The public safety issue is paramount, and even the most ardent champions of free speech seem to get that. Yes, free speech comes with responsibilities. It is not absolute, they would admit after all.
The police seem to draw the line at potential violence, at least in this case, though it is important to remember that the blogger is only alleged to have done anything legally wrong at this point.
And I suppose that is a line in the sand for free speech, too. You can badmouth groups of people, you can dehumanize them, you can marginalize them. You can use all manner of hate speech to attack them. That has become acceptable in this era of social media, which is awash in bigotry and dehumanization.
Just don’t talk about shooting them.
I doubt law-enforcement officials and web monitors can keep up with all the nastiness on social media.Tough decisions have to be made: who to monitor? Who might be a ticking time bomb?
Ultimately and fortunately, a lot of hatefulness on social media is not getting any attention. It’s ignored, and that may be the best approach to it for most people. But there are haters who cross the line, and it is often afterward that authorities see the telltale signs in their social media pages.
But where should mainstream media draw the line?
There is no clear answer. We have seen media outlets report on and, in some cases, support hateful bloggers seeking larger public forums under the guise of free speech. Yes, it is OK for the blogger to dehumanize an already-marginalized group like trans women, according to the media — as long as there is no evident threat of violence.
I found myself having to draw a line this week, too. I launched a new project that could have five to 10 writers monitoring Canadian media’s coverage of trans people and related issues. We would be watching for transphobic coverage, essentially, and calling it out — if the project gets off the ground.
The question was, who do we monitor and who do we ignore? We can’t monitor it all. We don’t have the time or the resources. And what’s the point of monitoring known transphobic publications with relatively small readership? So, strike the blogs and ezines of social media, along with the hateful right-wing web publications. They have little influence on the masses, anyway.
The mainstream media, on the other hand, has considerably more influence. For the most part in Canada, they treat everyone fairly in their reports. There really isn’t a lot of transphobia in Canadian mainstream media.
But there is some.
And it bears watching, given its reach.
Mainstream media is not supposed to be cultivating bigotry against anyone.
That’s where we set the bar.