How Many Social Media Shaming Shares Equal a Year in Prison?
James A. Lindsay -- @goddoesnt
My obsession of the week has been watching the crescendo of outrage over the release of Brock Turner, the Stanford student who was found guilty of sexual assault. He had been found guilty in a rather ugly he-said-she-said proceeding through court (see comments), and the judge sentenced him to six months in prison for the crime. Turner was released after three months, for good behavior, and the Internet (and I'm not quite sure who, but mostly the Social Justice Progressives, of course) went bonkers over what they perceived to be the obvious and outrageous injustice of it.
The Internet isn't the only place where the thing went bonkers, but it's what I want to focus on. It should be noted, however, that open-carry armed protesters (how are they not considered threatening, even menacing?) gathered around Turner's Ohio home, protesting his release with rather intimidating messages on their placards. The story was widely shared by Social Justice Progressives (who usually hate open-carry protests, I thought) tagged with smiley emoticons and words like "Glee!" Other protests were mounted as well, like a vandalized electrical box painted with stenciled words reading, "I was going to paint some streetart on this electrical box, but I realized I could go to jail for longer than a rapist." The photograph of that electrical box went viral on the Internet. Other protests predictably dragged race into the story, indicating how this criminal or that got so much more time in prison than Turner did, chalking it up to "white privilege." Others called it male privilege in that it was a male convicted of sexual assault getting off (by standards the protesters had decided were) relatively easy. (Incidentally, I didn't see any comparison memes between Turner and convicted women, since women enjoy the privilege of going to jail for far less time than men, even when convicted of the same crimes.) [Note that if Turner's case is an outlier, as we have good reasons to suspect it is, all such comparisons are simply cherry picking. Cf. the electrical box: "than a rapist," like one, in particular, one the court didn't convict of rape but three lesser charges of sexual assault, anyway.]
The responses on social media, besides examples like the viral electrical box, were astounding to me. Picture after picture after picture of Brock Turner's face with the word "rapist" emblazoned upon them were shared. All of this was done in the name of seeking justice that the sharers felt wasn't achieved, except in those cases where people were just delighting in the buzz of dealing out second-hand shame for society's villain d'jour.
Let's get some perspective here, without getting into any of the nasty particulars of the Turner case. A trial is held, and a man is found guilty of sexual assault. He's then sentenced by a judge, is delivered to prison, and serves time, later to be released early on account of good behavior, in accordance with the laws of the state of California. While he is imprisoned, since there is much outcry, with considerable justification for it, the state of California has already acted and drafted legislation that mandates minimum sentences for those found guilty of certain kinds of sexual assault, especially rape, in the future, and that legislation is expected to move forward in the legislative process of the state.
Here's a slightly different summary of the circumstances: a person is found guilty of a crime in the state of California, is sentenced by a judiciary in that state in accordance with California law, serves the portion of his sentence that the penal system of the state of California finds acceptable and in accordance with California law, and in the meantime the weakness in California law that the case has exposed has legislation proposed to fix it, in according with the constitutional processes of the state.
Where's the injustice? What justifies the demonstrated level of outrage and disgust? I, thinking the sentence probably too lenient myself (not that my opinion counts for anything, really), understand the outrage when he was originally sentenced. In fact, that outrage probably succeeded in triggering the needed change in the law. But why the outrage when he served that portion of his sentence required of him according to the standards and laws of the state of California and its penal system, especially since the perceived flaw in the law has already been brought before the legislature to be remedied?
My real question is the title to this note, however, and I'm deadly serious in asking it: how many times do shaming photos of someone like Turner, emblazoned with the word "rapist," have to be shared to equal a year in prison? That's obviously the goal of the social media "justice" campaign -- to make up for the lack of justice served by the law and courts of the state of California. Seriously, how many? In the name of "justice," Turner is being tarred as a rapist -- as though a legal conviction of three felonious counts of sexual assault, including "intent to commit rape of an intoxicated or unconscious person" won't do it, although somehow more prison time would have. If the goal of this campaign is to achieve justice, and sharing outraged photos of him as widely as possible on social media is to be the means of exacting that justice, this question must be answered. How many shares of such photos equals a year in prison?
Answer that question, and all that's needed is some guess at the "appropriate" sentence Turner "should have" been handed, and "social (media) justice" becomes possible. Otherwise, what hope is there? And what's being achieved instead? Pressingly, of course, how will the mob collectively know it has determined and dealt the right sentence and thus, collectively, agree to stop?
I get it. What's really going on is that people are outraged and venting their spleens, and they want to hurt a perpetrator of a hurtful crime. The real questions are why we want to pretend it's a kind of justice, and what we're going to do since we should realize it isn't.
Correction: Turner was not convicted of rape, as the original version of this note stated, but rather: "Turner subsequently withdrew from Stanford and was charged with five felony counts, later reduced to three: assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated or unconscious person, sexual penetration of an intoxicated person, and sexual penetration of an unconscious person." [LINK] The author regrets the error.