First things first: threatening and harassing people, via social media or otherwise, is bad. However, take extra caution with academic types, as it’s difficult to tell when criticism might lead to a microcontroversy, which could blossom into psychological terror and an inability to continue teaching.
The Washington Post on Tuesday published a pair of articles on professors facing a backlash on social media. The first was presented as the story of an associate professor who was keeping his teaching gig despite his tweet, “All I want for Christmas is White Genocide.”
The "white genocide" prof is keeping his job, but academics are gearing up for lots of micro controversies. https://t.co/4FxeHOY49P
— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) December 27, 2016
That tweet was nothing more than a “short quip” fired off in response to a TV spot, it’s made clear early on, and yet humorless conservatives seized on the opportunity to condemn George Ciccariello-Maher, an associate professor at Drexel University.
The piece isn’t so much about the educator’s tweet, but about conservative media outlets that suddenly found themselves without a President Hillary Clinton to kick around, and while floundering in that “experimental mode,” discovered that setting upon a “microcontroversy” like the white genocide quip could generate attention and ruin lives.
Wanting to kill all white People is a "micro" controversy…. https://t.co/hV2UMdJCpR
— EducatédHillbilly™ (@RobProvince) December 27, 2016
Hey now, the professor’s joke about genocide was a reference “not to mass murder but to race-mixing,” he would later explain to those unfamiliar with the subtle nuances of genocide humor.
HE'S NOT SORRY: Drexel professor who tweeted about white genocide won't apologize for the racist post, says it was a joke pic.twitter.com/TTeal9kN0Q
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) December 27, 2016
White prof smugly hailing "White Genocide" for Xmas really is the whitest thing ever.https://t.co/0kgLDFgTEh
— John Schindler (@20committee) December 26, 2016
*Prof tweets white genocide*
LEFT: Jeez, can’t you take a joke?
*Student writes Trump in chalk on sidewalk*
LEFT: Get me a psychiatrist!!
— The Trump Train (@The_Trump_Train) December 27, 2016
Hush! We do not speak of The Chalkening anymore. It might have seemed like a microcontroversy at the time, but students did report feeling “unsafe” and “afraid.”
The Post’s second piece wasn’t much of a departure, telling the cautionary tale of a microcontroversy that, once amplified by the likes of Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, would turn a teacher into a victim of terror.
A professor called Trump’s election an ‘act of terrorism.’ Then she became the victim of terror. https://t.co/vT37Oex2dO
— Washington Post (@washingtonpost) December 27, 2016
After a clip of Orange Coast College professor Olga Perez Stable Cox calling Donald Trump’s election “an act of terrorism” in her classroom went viral, she’s been jolted awake by nightmares and reduced to tears and paranoia, “consumed by the idea that around the next corner an unhinged person with a gun or a knife was waiting for her.”
@washingtonpost Since when is an election an act of terror
— sam_shicks (@shicks_sam) December 27, 2016
Let’s not get distracted by the facts right now. Threatening someone over social media to the point of inducing paranoia is terrible … and yes, there is a “but” coming. While academics are afforded a wider berth than most employees when it comes to free expression, the blowback from so-called “microcontroversies” certainly hasn’t been contained within college classrooms.
For example, perhaps the Hunter College professor who tweeted about chasing down Ivanka and Jared Trump to harass them in person on an airplane shouldn’t be excused because she’s “leveraging her father’s power” and somehow deserves it.
Or, as Jessica Valenti put it, “You don’t get to power an administration that’s going to hurt people’s health, lives and families & not hear back from those people.” Similar responses met news that Kellyanne Conway had received death threats: “Don’t look to blame anyone but yourself,” she’s been told.
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UNHINGED: This CEO's Trump assassination threats were vile; Do you believe the apology? https://t.co/PT4gROTyqx
— Twitchy Team (@TwitchyTeam) November 16, 2016