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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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Democrats Discredit GOP Claims on IVF as Republicans Try to Regain Ground After Fallout

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One week after the Alabama State Supreme Court ruled frozen human embryos are “children,” causing several medical institutions to pause their in-vitro fertilization (IVF) programs, Alabama and the GOP have seen tremendous nationwide anger, upset, and confusion from the left and the right over the decision, the Christian nationalist chief judge, and the Republican Party that set this in motion.

Now, GOP lawmakers and political groups are trying to regain ground after some Republicans quickly embraced the decision that, as White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre predicted Tuesday, would cause “exactly the type of chaos that we expected when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and paved the way for politicians to dictate some of the most personal decisions families can make.”

“As a reminder,” Jean-Pierre added, “this is the same state whose attorney general threatened to prosecute people who help women travel out of state to seek the care they need.”

President Joe Biden condemned the Alabama ruling: “The disregard for women’s ability to make these decisions for themselves and their families is outrageous and unacceptable.”

But U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) cheered his state’s Supreme Court, while appearing to not fully grasp what IVF is.

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“I was all for it,” he said of the Alabama Supreme Court ruling, calling young people “our number one commodity.”

But when pressed, Tuberville declared, “I’d have to look at the entire bill, how it’s written, I have not seen it,” referring not to legislation but the ruling.

And when told that women will now not be able to have IVF treatments, Tuberville repeatedly replied it was “unfortunate.”

On Thursday night, speaking to a group of religious broadcasters, Donald Trump denounced the Alabama ruling and vowed to protect IVF. On Friday, the beleaguered Chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) issued a memo directing Republicans to defend IVF. Also Friday, the Attorney General for the state of Alabama, mentioned earlier by the White House Press Secretary, effectively suggested he would ignore the state supreme court’s ruling, promising to not prosecute IVF families, as ABC News reported.

But Democrats are making clear that despite whatever claims or promises Republicans make, the IVF ruling is the direction conservatives are taking the Republican Party.

READ MORE: Smirnov Scandal: Experts Call for Investigations, Warn GOP of Possible Conspiracy Charges

“First Republicans banned abortions so women couldn’t terminate a pregnancy. Now they are coming for IVF so women can’t begin a pregnancy. The GOP agenda is about one thing: government control of women,” observed U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) (photo).

CNN congressional correspondent Lauren Fox reports a new NRSC memo “instructs [GOP] candidates to reject clearly and concisely government attempts to restrict access to IVF.”

Just hours later, Sen. Murphy responded, saying, “umm the chairman of the NRSC sponsored the bill to ban IVF.”

He added, “newsflash: no matter what they tell their candidates to pretend, when they get power they use it to control women.”

The NRSC’s goal is to help get Republicans elected to the U.S. Senate. It is chaired by Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, a MAGA Republican and member of the Senate’s Pro-Life Caucus.

As Bloomberg’s Matthew Yglesias notes, Senator Daines is an original co-sponsor of the Life at Conception Act.

The Center for American Progress’ Colin Seeberger adds, Daines “quite literally has been a longtime co-sponsor of the Lifetime at Conception Act, which would establish legal protections for the unborn just as the Alabama Supreme Court ordered and has led to the suspension of fertility care across AL.”

Meanwhile, Media Matters’ Matthew Gertz notes that the “text of GOP‘s most recent platform claims that ‘the unborn child has a fundamental right to life which cannot be infringed’ and calls for a constitutional amendment that would ban all abortions — and jeopardize IVF — by granting 14th Amendment rights to fetuses.”

READ MORE: Why Was GOP’s Star Witness Re-Arrested? He May Have Been Trying to Flee the Country: Report

Indeed, as The New York Times reported, far-right Christian conservative Tony Perkins, head of the Southern Poverty Law Center-designated anti-LGBTQ extremist group Family Research Council, called the Alabama Supreme Court ruling a “beautiful defense of life and the Alabama Constitution.”

Friday afternoon Donald Trump followed up his vow to protect IVF with a social media post that claims in part, “Under my leadership, the Republican Party will always support the creation of strong, thriving, healthy American families. We want to make it easier for mothers and fathers to have babies, not harder! That includes supporting the availability of fertility treatments like IVF in every State in America. Like the OVERWHELMING MAJORITY of Americans, including the VAST MAJORITY of Republicans, Conservatives, Christians, and Pro-Life Americans, I strongly support the availability of IVF for couples who are trying to have a precious baby.”

Former Obama senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer responded, asking: “Why would anyone believe this? In 2016, Trump pledged no cuts to Medicaid and then spent four years trying to gut the program.”

And as Axios reports, “House Democrats’ main super PAC is promising to pour money into attacking Republicans on fertility treatments in the wake of a controversial, first-of-its-kind Alabama Supreme Court ruling, Axios has learned.”

“Trump’s call came a day after President Biden’s re-election campaign blamed him for the ruling, noting his appointment of conservative justices to the Supreme Court, which overturned Roe v. Wade,” Axios adds. House Majority PAC, in a memo set to be released Friday, listed nearly a dozen current and former House Republicans in competitive districts who have co-sponsored at least one version of the Life at Conception Act between 2021 and 2023.”

See the social media posts and video above or at this link.

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Why Was GOP’s Star Witness Re-Arrested? He May Have Been Trying to Flee the Country: Report

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The re-arrest of Alexander Smirnov, the former FBI informant who allegedly may have provided House Republicans with Kremlin propaganda that was the basis for their efforts to impeach President Joe Biden and attack his son Hunter, raised some eyebrows on Thursday.

Smirnov, once considered House Republicans’ Jim Comer and Jim Jordan’s star witness, was re-arrested even after a magistrate judge ordered him released, and at his attorneys’ offices, raising eyebrows from even national security experts, insisting there had better be a good reason for it.

Now, according to a noted legal expert, it appears there was.

“A California judge seems to be suggesting [Smirnov’s] lawyers are complicit in his efforts to flee, in a remarkable line ordering detention for the FBI source whose lies propelled Biden impeachment efforts,” writes professor of law and MSNBC legal contributor Joyce Vance, a former U.S. Attorney.

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U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright II in his order wrote on Thursday: “It has come to this Court’s attention that counsel for defendant has sought an emergency hearing in the District of Nevada to arrange the release of Defendant Smirnov, likely to facilitate his absconding from the United States.”

After detailing Smirnov’s arrest and release, Judge Wright ordered his re-arrest, adding: “The U.S. Marshal Service is advised there is to be no deviation from this Order.”

Just Security’s Adam Klasfeld calls Judge Wright’s order “wild,” and adds that Smirnoff’s lawyers released “a terse statement about the extraordinary order.”

“They did not respond to questions about the language in the judge’s order suggesting a ‘likely’ aim to ‘facilitate’ their client ‘absconding from the United States.'”

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Vaccine-Laced Lettuce and Tomatoes? Tennessee GOP Lawmaker Worried

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A Tennessee Republican state lawmaker says he’s worried Tennesseans might overdose on vaccines if they eat too many tomatoes.

State Rep. Scott Cepicky claims vaccines can already be added to foods like lettuce and tomatoes, and to tobacco products, so he has filed legislation to require grocery store items containing vaccines to be labeled.

“University of California Riverside has already perfected the ability to put human vaccines into our lettuce right now,” Rep. Cepicky told his fellow lawmakers Wednesday while discussing his legislation. “Also, tomatoes, has the ability to do that also per UC Berkeley. And then big tobacco, RJ Reynolds and stuff has perfected the ability to put a human vaccine in tobacco products.”

NCRM could find no evidence supporting his claims, although researchers starting in 2021 were studying if it is possible to do so.

Cepicky, who has been endorsed by U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), warned, “there is no law, deeming those that when you go into a grocery store, you should know as a consumer, this head of lettuce is a head of lettuce. The head of lettuce right next week could contain a vaccine in it. All we’re saying is if it does have the vaccine in it, make sure it’s listed as a pharmaceutical so people can get the proper dosage.”

READ MORE: ‘Insultingly Stupid’: Trump’s Move to Toss Out Classified Docs Case Torn Apart by Experts

Facing some pushback from Democratic Rep. John Ray Clemmons, Cepicky went on to say, “This is more of a consumer protection bill right here, is to make sure that if you’re going in to buy tomatoes, and there’s a polio vaccine in there, that you are aware of what you’re buying has a polio vaccine. The problem you have is if it’s not treated as a pharmaceutical, being the size and difference between you and me, how many tomatoes do I have to eat to get the proper dosage versus how many tomatoes that you have to eat? And if you eat too many do you get a overdose?”

Asked if his legislation was necessity, Cepicky added, “Well, if you’d have a child that is allergic to a certain vaccine, and it’s not disclosed, when you go to buy that, that vegetable, whatever it is, and your child dies from that, I would think that having place is going to make sure that that is treated as a pharmaceutical so that the consumers know exactly what they’re buying.”

Anti-vaxers gained a foothold during the COVID pandemic, spreading false claims about vaccines. Last year the fact-checking website Snopes deemed it “false” that “mRNA from COVID-19 vaccines has entered the food supply via genetically modified plants bred to contain it or through the consumption of vaccinated livestock.”

“Claims regarding COVID-19 vaccines ‘in your salad‘ have persisted on the internet and recirculated due to misreadings or misinterpretations of several press releases or scientific research,” Snopes added, “Mike Flynn, during a September 2021 podcast appearance, referenced this research, describing it as ‘putting the vaccine in salad dressing.'”

READ MORE: Kremlin Infiltration of Congress Alleged by Ex-Trump Prosecutor: Republicans ‘Duped or in on It’

Flynn, the former Trump U.S. national security advisor, is a far-right Christian nationalist and Trump MAGA activist.

Tennessee lawmakers voted to move Rep. Capicky’s forward.

Watch Rep. Capicky’s remarks below or at this link.

 

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