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Dharun Ravi And Liam Stacey: Online Bias Intimidation Explored

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On May 21, 2012 we learned that Dharun Ravi was found guilty by a court in New Jersey of invasion of privacy, hindering apprehension, witness tampering, and four counts of bias intimidation following the suicide of Tyler Clementi, a gay student he had secretly filmed kissing another man in his dorm room at Rutgers University. Ravi was sentenced to 30 days in prison, three years probation, 300 hours community service, a $10,000 fine, and counseling on cyberbullying and alternative lifestyles. While the story of Tyler Clementi and Dharun Ravi has been rehearsed several times in the media, and while we still have to hear Ravi make an apology that acknowledges his part in a series of events that resulted in a talent young man taking his own life, the question I wish to reflect upon here is, quite simply, what turned this popular and outgoing student into a convicted felon?

In the UK, we have several laws which protect citizens from harassment and have also recently seen such laws put into effect. On March 17, 2012, Bolton Wanderers soccer star, Fabrice Muamba suffered a cardiac arrest during a quarter-final match against rival soccer club Tottenham Hotspur. While doctors fought to save his life on the pitch, Swansea University student, Liam Stacey, posted a series of drunken tweets which were considered grossly offensive and racist. Realising his error (and this bears some remarkable similarities to Ravi’s apology that occurred moments before Clementi’s death), Stacey apologised profusely and claimed that his Twitter account had been hacked and that he had not posted the comments. Stacey eventually pleased guilty to a public order offence and was sentenced to 56 days in prison. Like Dharun Ravi, this was a young man with no history of hate, an educated and well-liked individual who had no reason to embark upon a campaign of racism against a soccer player who had come so close to death.

In trying to understand what turns these young men into criminals, it is important to understand the drivers that encouraged them to express, in public forums, sentiments that ultimately brought them to the attention of law enforcement.

In my research looking at the reasons why young people bully others, I have explored the issue of bias intimidation and looked at the factors that anger those we call “bullies.” Ultimately I found that issues of “difference,” judgements about the relative “value” of those who are different, and expectations or assumptions about those people are key drivers in someone becoming a “bully.” But, what do these three things have in common with Dharun Ravi and Liam Stacey? At face value both chose to abuse people who were different from themselves: Tyler Clementi was “gay” and Fabrice Muamba was “Black.” Perhaps Ravi and Stacey believed that the men they abused were easy targets, and their public humiliation was in some way less meaningful than if it had been a heterosexual room-mate or white soccer star. However what we do know is that both – despite having no overt homophobic or racist attitudes – engaged in behaviours that led them to prison.

So what happened to these two bright young men? In the first instance both were interacting online with others; they fed off those who responded positively and ignored or reacted angrily to those who responded negatively. Secondly, they were engaged in what is, in effect, a solitary activity, with few if any social cues to moderate their behavior. In Ravi’s case, Molly Wei was a willing confederate and thus did not provide Ravi with any physical cues (as far as we know) that would make him think twice. Much more important in understanding their behavior is both Ravi’s and Stacey’s mind set which governed the way they interacted with others online. It was, in essence, solipsistic. Solipsism is a philosophical idea that only one’s own mind truly exists, and that anything existing outside of one’s own mind is questionable at best, or non-existent. In other words, the only “truth” comes from one’s own perspective.

As we become increasingly reliant upon technology in our daily lives, are we too becoming the embodiment of solipsism, acknowledging only our own existence and devaluing or rendering irrelevant the beliefs, attitudes and existence of others? Is this the trap that Dharun Ravi and Liam Stacey fell into? Did they feed off the frenzy of positive reinforcement and ignore those who sought to moderate their behavior? In face-to-face interactions their behavior would have been criticised by their peers, but online we can always find like-minded individuals who are willing, often through the veil of anonymity or pseudonymity, to encourages us to more extremes of behavior. Similarly we should also consider, as social psychologists do, how much a person’s explicit attitudes correlate with his or her implicit ones? Are we more likely to express those implicit attitudes online because our interactions with others are disembodied and thus not “real” (see image above)?

Just how “real” was the hurt experienced by Tyler Clementi in Dharun Ravi’s eyes? Did he truly understand that something watched on a screen, or communicated via Twitter, was not another person’s reality? Did a drunken student, watching a soccer match on a TV really understand how his words could not only hurt the family of Fabrice Muamba but shock online and offline communities alike? Both Ravi and Stacey have lives to build after their sentences, alas Tyler Clementi does not. Fabrice Muamba is well on the road to recovery following his cardiac arrest. We may never fully understand why Ravi and Stacey did what they did and whether they their words and actions online are true reflections of their feelings towards others they perceive to be different. We do know that, despite its prevalence in our daily lives, we do not fully understand how human interact with technology.

 

Ian Rivers is Professor of Human Development at Brunel University, London. He is the author of ‘Homophobic Bullying: Research and Theoretical Perspectives’ (Oxford, 2011), and has researched issues of discrimination in LGBT communities, particularly among children and young people, for nearly two decades.

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COMMENTARY

Trump An ‘Enemy of the Constitution’ Declares Nicolle Wallace, Blasting Call to ‘Terminate’ Nation’s Founding Document

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MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace slammed Donald Trump as an “enemy of the Constitution” on Monday after the ex-president, over the weekend, called for the U.S. Constitution to be terminated.

Trump demanded “the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution,” in light of his most recent – and false – claim the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

That was Saturday, on his Truth Social account.

On Monday, Trump denied having ever said it, despite the post still being up.

Wallace characterized Trump’s call to terminate the Constitution “an extraordinary statement even by the standards of a failed wannabe autocrat who plotted a coup against his own government and recently dined with white supremacists.”

READ MORE: ‘Venom’: Experts Shocked as Gorsuch Angrily Accuses Colorado of Forcing Anti-LGBTQ Baker Into ‘Re-Education Program’

“The disgraced ex-president made his contempt for our democracy as clear as ever, when he called for the United States Constitution to be ‘terminated.'”

Quoting The Washington Post, Wallace said: “Trump’s message on his Truth Social platform reiterated the baseless claims he has made since 2020, that the election was stolen, but he went further by suggesting that the country abandon one of its founding documents.”

She also played a clip of Republican Congressman Dave Joyce of Ohio from Sunday’s ABC News.

Rep. Joyce in the clip twists and turns but ultimately admits that if Trump is the GOP nominee for president in 2024 he will vote for him.

READ MORE: Anti-LGBTQ Slurs on Twitter Up Over 800% as Musk Allows Thousands of Previously Banned Users Back: Reports

“Well, again, it’s early I think there’s gonna be a lot of people in the primary I think at the end of the day, you will have — wherever the Republicans tend to pick up I will fall in behind because that’s –”

ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos interjected, asking,”Even if it’s Donald Trump, as he’s called for suspending the Constitution?”

“Again, I think it’s gonna be a big field. I don’t think Donald Trump’s gonna clear out the field like he did in 2016.”

“I will support whoever the Republican nominee is,” Joyce added.

“And I don’t don’t think that at this point he will be able to get there because I think there’s a lot of other good quality candidates out there.”

“He says a lot of things,” Joyce continued, refusing to denounce Trump.

“Let’s not speed past that moment,” Wallace urged. “This is exactly how Trump happened. All the Republicans in Washington and around the country said, [Trump] ‘says all sorts of stupid you know what. Dorsn’t mean he’s going to do it.'”

“He did all of it, all of it. And then some,” she chastised.

Watch below or at this link.

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'REGURGITATING RIGHT WING TALKING POINTS'

‘Venom’: Experts Shocked as Gorsuch Angrily Accuses Colorado of Forcing Anti-LGBTQ Baker Into ‘Re-Education Program’

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch appeared angry and even hostile at several points throughout Monday’s oral arguments in a case brought by a Colorado right-wing evangelical Christian website designer who is suing the state because she wants to be able to discriminate against same-sex couples who are getting married.

The case, 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, promises to be one of the most important of the term, and arguments extended more than two hours.

During one of the more heated moments, conservative Justice Gorsuch attacked Colorado Solicitor General Eric Olson, claiming the state forced an infamous anti-LGBTQ baker who also went before the Supreme Court, winning his 2018 case in a very narrow ruling, into a “re-education program.”

RELATED: ‘What the Hell, Sam’: Justice Alito Slammed for Making ‘Joke’ About Black Children in KKK Costumes

Jack Phillips, a business owner who refused to bake cakes for same-sex weddings, citing his religious beliefs, was required to attend a class so he could become familiar with Colorado anti-discrimination law.

The Supreme Court’s ruling at the time called it, “additional remedial measures, including ‘comprehensive staff training on the Public Accommodations section'” of Colorado’s anti-discrimination law.

Justice Gorsuch instead called it a “re-education program,” and slammed the state’s Solicitor General, Eric Olson, with it on Monday.

“Mr. Phillips did go through a re-education training program, pursuant to Colorado law, did he not, Mr. Olson?” Gorsuch asked the solicitor general.

“He went through a process that ensured he was familiar –” Olson responded, before Gorsuch cut him off.

“It was a re-education program, right?” the justice blared.

“It was not a ‘re-education program,'” Olson replied, holding his ground.

“What do you call it?” Gorsuch, dissatisfied, pressed.

“It was a process to make sure he was familiar with Colorado law,” Olson explained.

“Some might be excused for calling that a ‘re-education program,’” Gorsuch snapped.

“I strongly disagree, Justice Gorsuch,” Olson said, defending the law.

Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern, who provided the clip above, warns: “It does not bode well for the future of civil rights law that Gorsuch believes a state imposes ‘reeducation training’ on employers when it reminds them how to comply with nondiscrimination rules.”

RELATED: 5 Things You Need to Know About the Supreme Court Ruling in the Gay Wedding Cake Case

“Astounding that Gorsuch, A Supreme Court Justice,” tweeted Adam Cohen of Attorneys for Good Government, “Refers to Colorado giving courses on following civil rights law, As ‘reeducation training.'”

“Like being taught not to discriminate against LGBTQ is the same as being sent to a gulag for protesting communism in the Soviet Union,” he added.

Professor Elizabeth Sepper of the University of Texas at Austin School of Law says, “Justice Gorsuch describes education about antidiscrimination law and compliance as a REEDUCATION PROGRAM. This is beyond offensive. It was a central and SOFT tool of many civil rights movements and was essential to targeting market discrimination.”

Columbia Law School’s Elizabeth Reiner Platt, the Director of The Law, Rights, and Religion Project responded, “OMG Gorsuch repeatedly insists that a training on civil rights law is a ‘reeducation program.’ Good grief.”

Attorney Andrew L. Seidel, Vice President of Strategic Communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State tweeted, “WHOA. Gorsuch asks a very hostile question about sending the bakery to ‘a re-education program.’ He spits the phrase with venom and repeats it several times. He’s regurgitating right wing talking points.”

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'INAPPROPRIATE'

‘What the Hell, Sam’: Justice Alito Slammed for Making ‘Joke’ About Black Children in KKK Costumes

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The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday in one of the most important cases of the term, a case that will determine if the nation’s highest court will or will not allow a person citing their personal religious beliefs to openly discriminate in the marketplace against same-sex couples.

In likely the most salient and important hypothetical example, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson described in great detail a photographer wanting to re-create scenes from 1940’s Christmases with Santa Clauses and children, in sepia tones, and making them historically accurate.

She asked the attorney representing the right-wing Christian website designer who does not want to have to provide her product to same-sex couples, if under her legal theory the hypothetical photographer would have to create photos of a white Santa with Black children.

Kristen Waggoner, the Alliance Defending Freedom‘s attorney arguing in favor of anti-LGBTQ discrimination, was forced to admit that the photographer would be able to say they would not take photos of Black children with a white Santa.

RELATED: Listen Live: SCOTUS Hears Christian Right Religion vs. LGBTQ Civil Rights Challenge

Later, Justice Samuel Alito, one of the Court’s most far-right jurists, decided to use Justice Jackson’s hypothetical analogy to make a point, and he did so by mockingly joking about Black children wearing KKK costumes.

“Justice Jackson’s example of that, the Santa in the mall who doesn’t want his picture taken with Black children,” Justice Alito began, getting the basics of the analogy incorrect.

“So if there’s a Black Santa at the other end of the mall, and he doesn’t want to have his picture taken with a child who is dressed up in a Ku Klux Klan outfit, now does that Black Santa have to do that?”

Colorado Solicitor General Eric Olson replied, “No, because Klu Klux Klan outfits are not protected characteristics under public accommodation laws.”

READ MORE: ‘Anathema to the Soul of Our Nation’: Trump Pilloried for Demanding ‘Termination’ of the US Constitution

“And presumably,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor interjected, “that would be the same Ku Klux Klan outfit regardless whether if the child was Black or white or any other characteristic.”

That’s when Alito decided to make a “joke,” while thousands of Americans were listening to the Court’s live proceedings.

“You do see a lot of Black children in Ku Klux Klan outfits all the time,” he said, presumably sarcastically.

He then laughed, and some viewers in the gallery joined with him.

Many on social media were outraged and offended.

“He is so inappropriate today. And offensive,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, the former President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF). “The Black kids in KuKluxKlan outfits? Not funny. Is this the highest Court of the most powerful country in the world? Good grief.”

Minutes later, NYU School of Law Professor of Law Melissa Murray weighed in, saying, “I’m going to need Justice Alito to stop joking about seeing ‘Black children in Ku Klux Klan costumes.'”

“Seriously, what am I listening to?” she asked, to which Ifill replied, “Just awful.”

“The joke about Black kids in KuKluxKlan outfits?” Ifill also lamented. “No Justice Alito, these ‘jokes’ are so inappropriate, no matter how many in the courtroom chuckle mindlessly.”

Columbia University Professor of Law Katherine Franke tweeted, “Justice Alito is resorting to KKK jokes. Ha ha ha. As if what’s at stake here is funny, and isn’t taking place in a context in which LGBTQ people feel like we have a target on our backs. And, ahem – Klan jokes aren’t funny under any context.”

The Rewire News Group tweeted, in all caps, “I knew Alito wouldn’t be able to resist bringing up the Ku Klux Klan,” and then: “What the hell, Sam.”

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