“Trial by Social Media” vs. Abolition


Trying people in the court of social media is not inherently better than trying them in media, period.

If anything, social media doesn’t even have the illusion of a code of ethics on its side. At least mainstream media arguably had one once upon a time, which although it was frequently shunted aside when it wasn’t busy being smashed on the almighty rock of the bottom line, it still required lip service on occasion.

There are potential liabilities to seeking justice via social media, as well as in media, period.

  • It’s only a matter of time before someone is set up, if this hasn’t already happened;
  • It’s only a matter of time before someone goes to jail who didn’t commit what they’re accused of, if this hasn’t already happened;
  • It’s only a matter of time before someone has their life destroyed, only to have it turn out later that they were not guilty, set up, or both, if this hasn’t already happened.

There are countless examples of all these things happening via mainstream media; at best, it’s only a matter of time before it happens in social media as well.

There are increasing numbers of media outlets that are fast to publish gratuitously salacious and/or violent clickbait, and slow to address underlying causes – especially if the person being covered happens to be famous.

I don’t think reporting and/or tweeting et. al. on the newest alleged dirtbag becomes news just because they happen to be celebrities. I think going after them IS a very good way to increase the number of clicks for a website, which in turn, means more potential advertising revenue.

This tendency overall has nothing to do with providing solutions, otherwise there would be an equal or greater amount of in-depth journalism on the underlying issues – it’s predominately about money.

You can’t advocate for prison abolition (or for that matter, actual justice) on the one hand and retribution on the other.

Revenge isn’t justice, it’s revenge. Consider how casually Michael Jackson was tried and convicted both in the press and online – and not just by white people – despite his having been exonerated. Even when revenge may arguably be justified, the risks involved – from injustice to a McCarthy-like snowballing effect – remain intact.

All of this is why I advocate for abolition. In my view, abolition is not just a rejection of the prison industrial complex; it’s a wholesale tidal shift in how society views justice. Prison is bad enough, but what of the mindsets that lead to imprisonment seeming like a legitimate virtue, in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary? There needs to be a shift in consciousness, not just a shifting of blame.