A lot of headlines have been made, but we need to back up and really think about what went down. In 2016. Yes, we should all be shaking our heads. SOH, or whatever.
Leslie Jones certainly wasn't the first person (celebrity or otherwise) to be bullied on social media, nor was she the first to be the target of racist invective. And there's plenty wrong with that statement of fact right there, considering the subject at hand is abuse. You can call it virtual, because it takes place online, but it's all too real.
Moreover, Jones—a standup comic, a performer and writer on Saturday Night Live and a star of the new Ghostbusters—has been the target of hateful comments in the past. But Twitter managed to top itself yesterday, resulting in her decision to start calling out those who were sending racist messages and memes her way. Which, of course, resulted in Jones having to defend her decision to engage rather than ignore.
"@Lesdoggg a comedian that cant handle banter, that's new," one person actually wrote, calling hate speech "banter" and also apparently thinking he was rather clever for nailing a comedian for having thin skin.
"Really? People tell me I look like the happy merchant all the time. Am I on twitter raging? Grow up. IGNORE IT," offered another.
"@VictoriaValkyri @palindromicness have you gotten violent tweets threatening your life or calling you nigga? I'm gone need you to shut up," Jones replied.
This is a minuscule sample of back and forth that went on for a number of nauseating hours, with random Twitter user after random Twitter user piling on with either a racist comment or photo or some annoyance that Jones was taking the opportunity to shine a light on a sickening, sad problem.
Because this isn't the same as other problems that are the love child of social media and seemingly terrible (or terribly bored) people's delusions of grandeur.
Body shaming (and all the shaming) is a very real, and very disgusting, example of this 24/7 critical society we live in. People can have thousands of strangers telling them exactly what their problem is in a manner of minutes if they dare voice an unpopular opinion. All it takes is one person to make an observation and one more person with enough visibility to make it go viral.
A lot of annoying crap happens on social media, and on Twitter in particular. Twitter giveth, and it taketh away.
And sometimes it is baffling as to why public figures, including entertainers, bother to engage with strangers whose opinions are about as important as [insert whatever is least important to you in life right here]. Why give trolls the time of day? Not to mention the fleeting sense of importance they might possibly feel from having their tweet grabbed and posted for posterity somewhere.
But what we saw an example of yesterday facing Leslie Jones was virulent, inexcusable, blatantly racist behavior. The kind that no one wants to even believe still exists, despite the incontrovertible evidence that the present day is still haunted by past injustice that, over time, became the way of the world—a hole the world is still digging itself out of.
Jones deserves all the credit in the world for being brave enough to engage in what must have been a devastating experience in order to expose whoever (I like to think it was one loser, many accounts, but that's probably not the case) sent such purposefully demeaning, hurtful messages her way.
Because those are people, who even if they never posted such a tweet before in their lives, had it in them to do that. And that's really alarming.
If one positive arose from this, it's that #LoveforLeslieJ started trending, and most of those messages were lovely. It was at least some reassurance that there's common sense out there, not to mention a reminder that Twitter is still a place where tens of thousands of people—black, white, Asian, Hispanic, men, women, gay, straight, etc.—can come together for good.
"Leslie Jones is one of the greatest people I know. Any personal attacks against her are attacks against us all. #LoveForLeslieJ @Lesdoggg," tweeted Ghostbusters director Paul Feig.
To say the least. But while this is a sampling of the outpouring of support from celebs and thousands of non-famous people rightfully outraged that this had happened…
It's hard not to wonder sometimes if the existence of Twitter is worth it. Sure, it has some good uses (one of them being that it reminds people not to rest on their liberal, inclusive laurels because there's still work to be done), but it has also uncorked a seemingly never-ending stream of bad. Do people who tweeted pictures of monkeys and or who called Jones the N-word deserve such a prominent platform, regardless of what their rights are?
"Twitter I understand you got free speech I get it. But there has to be some guidelines when you let spread like that. You can see on the…Profiles that some of these people are crazy sick," Jones tweeted toward the end of the day. "It's not enough to freeze Acct. They should be reported. And for all the 'don't stoop to their level people' it's way past that. So please have a seat. Don't tell me how to react."
Regarding "abusive behavior," Twitter's help center states that they "do not tolerate behavior that crosses the line into abuse, including behavior that harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence another user's voice."
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for CinemaCon
"You may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease. We also do not allow accounts whose primary purpose is inciting harm towards others on the basis of these categories," reads the note on "hateful conduct."
A few of the posts retweeted within the confines of Jones' account had been deleted—whether by Twitter or by the posters themselves is unclear.
Some of the initial comments directed at Jones may not have technically qualified as threats or the promotion of violence, at least as spelled out by Twitter, but weren't they all intended to harass? Or abuse?
In response to her calling out Twitter, Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted last night, "@Lesdoggg Hi Leslie, following, please DM me when you have a moment."
What did he tell her? Presumably he was sorry that she had that experience. Maybe a few dozen people will even be kicked off Twitter. But it wasn't a first. And it won't be the last time, whether the next trigger is race, ethnicity, religion or anything else that historically, and often tragically, divides.
If only this level of reprehensible behavior was confined to the Twitterverse.