One of the first things about the Internet that worried people was that it conferred 2 dangerous qualities, distance and anonymity, and that they provided protection for savage incivility.
Even people hurling insults under their own names were too far from their targets for a punch in the nose, and since the Internet is a global magnet for false identities, vicious disparagement, both broadscale and personal, thrived where no one could be held responsible.
Soon the habit of spewing hate and rage online became as commonplace as pizza for breakfast, a minority taste, to be sure, but not unacceptable.
Many people seemed not to notice that online civility had jumped the screen and spilled across everyday argumentation. Until, perhaps, President Donald Trump’s personal appearances, speeches, rallies, news conferences, off-the-cuff-remarks became more and more repetitions, expansions, and defenses of his nastiest Tweets. And the online loudmouth was protected from the consequences of his lies and insults by a perpetual shield of on-the-ground bodyguards.
Ever since Nikolas Cruz killed 14 students and staff at a high school in Parkland, Florida, surviving students have turned the tragedy into a catalyst for change on gun control. And as a result, they’ve become the targets of remarkably savage, and false attacks, most of them delivered online.
Among the most grotesque was this observation: “Nikolas Cruz tried to save us from monsters like Emma Gonzales and David Hogg,” launched from the Twitter home page of @repgregstover — Husband to Stephanie. Father to Tanner & Kinsley. Consistent Constitutional Conservative. Republican State Representative for Nebraska’s 93rd District. Go Huskers.”
That last was a nice real-life touch on a post that is otherwise completely fake. There is no Rep. Greg Stover, there is no House of Representatives in Nebraska, nor is there a 93rd District.
So who is responsible for what is at best a tasteless joke, a parody of right-wing rhetoric, and at worst, exactly what it seems to be. 1191 people Liked it, and 1663 people follow @rep.gregstover. But are they people, or are they bots? And what about the fakeStover site, is it the work of a real American or a Russian propagandist?
Several organization dedicated to tracking Russian bot propaganda sites say the Parkland murders have replaced Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation of the President as their hottest trending topic.
But the online manipulations, — falsely showing Parkland student leader Emma Gonzales tearing up the Constitution, actually she was tearing up a shooting target sheet, or implying she stirred the Washington March for Our Lives with a Nazi salute were less ugly than the language used at a realworld campaign rally by a right-wing Republican in Maine. She called Gonzalez – who was a safe 1000 miles away — a “skinhead lesbian.” The backlash in Maine forced her to withdraw her candidacy.
If you didn’t consider the source, a Facebook blast from the campaign of Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King, might have seemed more uninformed than offensive. By a picture of Emma Gonzales was posted, “This is how you look when you claim Cuban heritage yet don’t speak Spanish and ignore the fact that your ancestors fled the island when the dictatorship turned Cuba into a prison camp, after removing all weapons from its citizens; hence their right to self defense.”
But the source, Congressman King, has a long record of racist rhetoric. “We can’t restore our (meaning White) civilization,” he tweeted last year, “with somebody else’s babies”
And 10 years before Trump proposed his anti-immigrant wall, Rep. King showed off a model of an electrified border wall of the kind, he noted, to control livestock. In 2012, he compared immigrants to dogs.
But here’s the big irony…Steve King built his political career around a call for “English-only America.” Clearly his objection to the charismatic Ms. Gonzales is not that she doesn’t speak Spanish, but that she speaks English too well.
Russell Contreras is a law enforcement and immigration reporter/photographer/videographer at The Associated Press in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Before moving back to New Mexico, Contreras worked for the Associated Press in Boston where he helped with coverage of the death of U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and wrote about DREAMers and Iraqi refugees. Contreras teaches composition at the University of New Mexico-Valencia. He has worked at the Boston Globe and the Albuquerque Journal, and he has been an active member of the Native America Journalists Association.