Does Social Media Protect Predators?

By E.M. Lunsford

*names have been changed as there is now an active criminal investigation.

Well, I’m suspended on Twitter again. Did I do it? Yes, I did. What did I do? I was mean/abusive/harassing someone. Who? A man who was endlessly harassing another Native American woman. I admit it it. I am mean. I swear a lot. And the endless harassment my people get makes me very angry. What makes me angrier is that social media endlessly allows it, but will instead punish US for speaking out. (http://www.bronzevillebee.com/2019/10/a-minor-twitter-movement-oct1st/)

This woman and her husband (let’s call them Jane and John Doe) are both in Native American journalism. They do a great deal of work, put a lot of care into all they do. They are never harsh, yet are faced with incessant harassment and abuse from others, sometimes for the most innocent posts on their social media. In this case, this individual (We’ll call him “Chuck”) took exception to posts about Pocahontas. The real one. Who was a child victim of kidnapping and multiple sexual assaults. Their information comes from Pocahontas’ own tribe, researched in depth. Despite any real proof, “Chuck” claims to be a descendant, and to hear him tell it, the ONLY descendant, claiming the entire story is wrong. This is apparently what set him off, and he set about harassing Jane endlessly. Problem is, despite finding ONE Native woman in his genealogy, it comes from nowhere near Virginia.

Chuck was apparently harassing Jane for some time before I saw what was going on. She told him to “back off” and “stop harassing me”.  He would not. So I responded. He told me to mind my own business. This is what predators and abusers do. They want their victim to themselves, they do not like anyone else getting involved. And social media supports this. Soon, many Native people were involved, responding, reporting. Eventually, he was telling us to “stop” and “quit harassing him”—meanwhile, his harassment of Jane continued. He harassed others so much, they blocked him, which he proudly crowed about on his timeline, declaring “victory” over “cows” (cowards). He was telling us we didn’t know who we were messing with. He was declaring connections to tribe after tribe. He claimed he was a “hereditary prince” (the ONLY reference I found that could support this is that he had an ancestor who was literally named “Princess”—note, Native Americans do NOT have a ‘royal structure’. We do not do “kings” “princes”, etc. White people would call and record our leaders and their families as such). We reported his harassment, his name calling (“SERPENTS!” “CANNIBALS!”…and calling women the ‘b’ word). He left a huge cyber footprint, though. Links to other sites where he is also making these claims. We discovered he used multiple aliases, several e-mail addresses, a handful of phone numbers, and has had 18 addresses in 24 years.

We’ve been here before. An individual or group that comes on hard after Native people, claiming connections they do not have. Non-Natives do not realize how easy it is for us to find out if you’re telling the truth or not with just a Google search or a phone call.

Then it happened. One of our more ardent researchers finally found it: he is a convicted child rapist. Has to remain on the registry until 2033. The victim was 12. It has also been discovered he abused his own children, and was charged. He would bind and gag them, as punishment for bed wetting, and leave them in a bathtub for up to 14 hours, covered in feces and urine.

The following morning, I checked, and Chuck had nearly 100 more posts, all attacking others, calling them vile names, making vague threats. Report, report, report. Next thing I know…Twitter goes blank. “You must remove these tweets…”. There was about six of them. In most of them, I did not even name-call or swear. My crime? I used all caps. They were determined to be ‘abusive’. Seven day suspension. Meanwhile, the abuser? All those reports so many of us made? All found to “not be in violation”. As. Usual.

But, it gets worse.

Chuck then locked his account. “Protected”. Like social media seems to do to abusers and predators. We could report his account as being abusive, but we could not report individual tweets. But he could continue to harass from behind that wall. He bragged about getting me suspended, while he was not.

And if you didn’t think the situation was bad enough, the ardent researcher found his alternate Twitter account. Which he is using to reach out to teenage boys. Yes. This convicted child rapist is using another Twitter account to make contact with teenage boys. His victim’s general demographic. Terrifying.

I imagine the parents, as is common, are completely unaware of who their children are in contact with online. I see it often. YouTube is also a big violator in this way. At least one is alleged to have, along with their transgender husband, groomed young girls from troubled homes, grooming them to be sex partners, then psychologically destroying them. Another is alleged to have sexually violated a young woman who was passed out from intoxication, live on camera. That is just two of many. At least one, so far, has resulted in a conviction. Austin Jones was given ten years for soliciting child porn from underage female fans. And YouTube refuses to de-platform these people, regardless of how many allegations come up. Indeed, they allow these people to abuse their system to silence victims. YouTube WILL, however, de-monetize content creators for using the word, “predator”, among many others.

This is not an occasional thing. This is happening every day. Around the world. Native Americans, and other minorities and marginalized communities, experience this sort of harassment and abuse incessantly, being punished by social media for daring to speak out, or speak back, while the predators and abusers are coddled and told they did nothing wrong. We get death threats, sexual threats, we get doxxed and our personal information put on sites like 4-Chan/8-Chan. And the people who run all these sites do NOTHING. Or claim they can do nothing. So, you can suspend me for telling someone to leave someone else alone, but you can’t suspend the one originally committing harassment? How? Why? These are questions we have no answers to, as there is no way to contact actual humans. For some reason, it’s all run by computer algorithms that seem to be set to punish POC, and protect white predators, male and female.

“Just don’t use social media, then. Stay off it!” THIS IS NOT AN ANSWER. On the positive side, social media helps marginalized communities connect, stay connected, exchange information, and organize. Plus, staying off social media solves nothing. It lets platform owners and abusers off the hook. We should not be forced to hide to avoid the bullies, nor should we be punished while the bullies are allowed to continue on, unabated.

How do we get them to actually look at “context”, or “what was going on that these people responded in this way?”? How do we get them to apply their rules evenly? How do we get real humans to look at concerns such as “this person is not only abusive, but is a predator with a criminal record”? WHY are there no humans dealing with this?

I’m tired. I’m tired of fluff pieces with the CEOs saying, “Gee, well, we can’t…we can’t…”. They are multi-billion dollar companies, yet they “can’t”. Sit them down and make them look at these examples, until they’re so exhausted they can’t remain upright. Then make them look at more. Make them keep looking until they UNDERSTAND the scope of what they themselves have created and continue to support. I had a man threaten, twice, to rape me anally. Twitter decided that was not a violation. But me “yelling” at someone to leave someone else alone…that does violate. This is a huge mess, and the ones making the mess expect the rest of us to clean it up for them, while refusing to actually give us the tools to do so.

I’m exhausted. And I am incredibly angry. But at this point, I am not surprised.