August 14: Can the ‘innocent selfie’ be turned around to incite hatred?
The horrific events in Charlottesville of Saturday are still reverberating, especially the murder of Heather Heyer and it is in her case that we see hatred being promulgated through the selective display of images.
Consider this page grab from Daily Stormer:
In it is an article which selectively sequences wide-angle close-up selfie photographs of Heyer to construct and ridicule changes in Heyer’s appearance in order to denigrate her as a ‘junk food’ consumer, ‘fat-shaming’. This item appeared only hours after her death, maliciously slighting her in order to belittle her demise, which they discount as being the result of ‘road rage’ in a cynical, cowardly move to disown their comrade, the murderer who marched with them in their earlier tiki-torch march (their easy disloyalty to their own should give pause to those who might join these white supremacists)
Their headline above summarises the sentiment in words you can read for yourself.
The photographs are drawn from the activist Heyer’s own Facebook posts and most are selfies shot at close range.
I am horrified to find that WordPress, on which you are reading this, also hosts a site that uses the pictures in the same manner and copies Daily Stormer almost word for word though with a slippery imitation of the ‘political correctness’ it purports to condemn in order to avoid being taken down.
That is the action taken on Sunday by the host of Daily Stormer, GoDaddy, which gave the Daily Stormer 24 hours to move its domain to another provider.
I am not going back to copy and paste from the WordPress ‘plagiarist’ (read fellow traveller) of Daily Stormer, and thus give the owner the pleasure of more ‘hits’, but if need be you can do a search yourself to find them.
Instead I took the action of making a complaint to Automattic, who is the company behind WordPress.
In line with the usual efficiency of WordPress customer relations, I got a response overnight (I’m in Australia):
Thank you for your report. WordPress.com is deeply committed to free speech and will not take content down just because we find it offensive or disagree with the point of view. However, we don’t allow genuine calls for violence or death against individuals or groups to be posted on WordPress.com. For more information about our policy on terrorist activity, please see:
If you believe the content at issue was created by an individual, group, or entity on the Specifically Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (https://www.treasury.gov/ofac/downloads/sdnlist.pdf) please let us know.
Additionally, if you believe that genuine calls for violence or death against individuals or groups have been published to the blog(s) in question, please identify the specific content and provide the exact URL(s) at issue so that we can fully investigate.
Aline F. | Community Guardian | WordPress.com
In the meantime, despite mealy-mouthed prevarications by Donald Trump who will still not name this domestic terrorism because he is so anxious to preserve his base of support from the ‘alt-right’, even Republicans, including Cory Gardner, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Orrin Hatch have clearly condemned the killing of Heyer as a ‘domestic terrorist attack’ by a ‘white supremacist’.
I replied to Aline (firstname.lastname@example.org) that the WordPress blogger I was objecting to is aware of likely reactions to the provocative and ugly nature of their writing and chooses not to use their actual name, so only Automattic knows if the individual is on the on the Specifically Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List, for which she provided a link, or belongs to one of their organisations. I can’t tell, and the US-government-Treasury-generated list only refers to ‘foreigners’, not to home-grown terrorism.
The WordPress blogger has allowed commenters to utter their own cheap asides about Heyer that clearly are intended to discount the horror of the manner and the intent with which her murderer acted…out of hate. The act is widely described, as I have pointed out, even by those on the conservative side of politics, internationally, as ‘terrorist’. Can Automattic not see these connections and implications?
Numbers of the blogger’s posts also deprecate and attack Jews and those of colour in a manner that is intended to diminish and devalue their humanity, continuing the principle that granted black slaves 3/5ths the ‘value’ of a white American. If the writer were a Moslem cleric WordPress would terminate this blogger’s account immediately, though only because they would be forced to do so by enforcement of the Specifically Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List, and perhaps not from any moral stance.
However it is clear from the writer’s comments in posts that he has been warned by Automattic before about his incitements to violence, so I hold out hope that Automattic does not condone these expressions, though perhaps it ignores taking more assertive action in favour of maintaining a revenue stream. Such profit-oriented motivations over moral ones would prompt most readers here to sincerely reconsider their financial support of any service that ignored ethics out of greed.
In its efforts to “uphold ‘free speech’ even if it is disagreeable”, Automattic in this case may be ignoring what is plainly hate-speak i.e. incitement to hate, and therefore incitement to violence, exactly what they say they ‘don’t allow’.
Failing the guts to act from that cause, the company has an escape clause by asserting the condition that:
“Automattic may terminate [a users] access to all or any part of our Services at any time, with or without cause, with or without notice, effective immediately.”
According to that clause Automattic therefore may act to withdraw bloggers’ accounts based on their own moral discretion in such cases, despite the numbers of disclaimers inserted in their agreement.
Since in their contracts with bloggers they make it clear that they ‘own’ content produced by bloggers, do they also ‘own it’ if it is racist and terrorist? Do they want it? Why? This case pulls up all kinds of sticky dilemmas for the company, especially when one considers their duty as a publisher.
On Automattic forums, the advice to fellow WordPress bloggers like myself who are enraged over another’s posts, is to ‘let the offender condemn themselves with their own words’. Perhaps I should, though I’m finding it very hard when this case revolves around cold-blooded killing inspired by white supremacist hate and a sense of self-righteousness engendered merely from some white American’s perceived loss of privilege.
In Heyer’s own words:
If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention