I’m just going to say it. Enough with these hashtag trials and online lynchings. If evidence exists of wrongdoing, fine, but let’s not presume guilt over innocence.
Enough is enough, my friends. These trials by hashtag have to stop. I know it feels lovely, these free hits, but the time has come to start behaving like civilised human beings again. Yes, I know, we’ve all been victims of one thing or another. But the Western world prides itself, rightfully so I might add, on the fact that we are guided by the rule of law. If you have been (sexually) abused, you go to the police, which starts the judicial process. A process that dictates that somebody is innocent until proven guilty. And that they have the right to a lawyer and their day in court. Heck, we even allowed that to the Yorkshire Ripper, so surely we can do the same for somebody who sends “inappropriate text messages” and brushes somebody’s knee. And no, before you fly into a rage, I am not saying sexual abuse is not horrendous, or that perpetrators should not be punished. What I am saying is that we’ve got a rational process to do that.
And online lynching is not the way.
What is happening at the moment reminds me of Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible, which tells the story of the Salem witch trials. Something bad has happened to the small American town of Salem and people are looking for a scapegoat. In an orgy of accusations, a particular group is being blamed for “dancing with the devil” and putting the community in danger. Soon everybody who has a score to settle feels free to yell everything they want. In fact, vindictive vengeance is now “elevated to the arena of morality”, as Miller writes, where long-held hatreds can “be settled on a plane of heavenly combat”. Of course, in the hysteria every reason goes out the window and in the end, people die because of it, leaving the town purged but (morally) broken.
Metooistan: a place where you can accuse anybody of anything without having to show any evidence. Where the rule of law has been shelved to make way for trial by hashtag.
As we know, Miller’s play was an allegory for the 1950s witch-hunt overseen by then-Senator Joseph McCarthy. With America in the grip of the Cold War, people were so scared of being seen as communists (which meant losing their job, their income and sometimes their freedom) that they started accusing everybody else. Friends turned on friends, sons on fathers, wives on husbands, and people were sacked, blacklisted and families ripped apart on the basis of often not much more than hearsay. That begs the question why we are metoo-ing each other now. Why we are yet again in the grip of mass hysteria, salivating at an orgy of victimhood and finger-pointing. Might there be something big, something scary, that we can’t control? Something that threatens war, suppression, the end of the world as we know it? Somebody, maybe, with their crazy finger hovering over the red button? Could it be that the only way of channeling our fear is to turn on each other? If we can’t kick up we might as well kick down? Hit out at people who can’t defend themselves lest they are accused of victim-blaming? Or is it just narcissism gone mad? Are we so enamoured with staring at our own navel that we can’t see what really needs our anger and activism? The men at Manus, the slowly encroaching civil war in Spain, Adani, rampant capitalism, a malignant American president out to destroy us all?
Also, my friends, metoo-ism is not feminist. It is not empowering women. And it is not advancing the case of more understanding of sexual abuse. It is portraying women as victims. As people who couldn’t stand up for themselves when something bad happened to them. As people who didn’t trust the judicial system enough to activate it. As people who only speak up if they can hide behind others, and behind the vagaries of allegations without the evident need of proof. And worst of all, it portrays sexual abuse not as a serious matter that warrants serious investigation and appropriate punishment, but as something that only needs an online slur and allegation to be “true”.
Sometimes, in my darkest hours, I think that maybe we have fallen so much in love with our favourite dystopian television series that we have felt the need to create our own Dystopia. Metooistan: a place where you can accuse anybody of anything without having to show any evidence. Where all men are bad and women avenging angels clad in white. Where the rule of law has been shelved to make way for trial by hashtag. Maybe that is, to misquote a French diplomat, the society we deserve. But be careful, my friends. Any revolution has the tendency to eat its children. You can be the accuser now and the accused tomorrow. And then there is nobody left to defend you.