When 'see something, say something' goes wrong

When 'see something, say something' goes wrong
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Social media websites do not do enough to address threatening behavior or hate speech that leads to violence and even murder. I should know, as I reported suspected mail bomber Cesar Sayoc to Twitter, before he was arrested.

I was told that despite him threatening to “submerge my body in the swamp of the Florida everglades and to hug my loved ones closely when I leave my home,” his tweet, per Twitter guidelines, was not abusive in behavior.

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As a black political analyst on conservative news outlets, I am unfortunately, often called the n-word on social media after my guest appearances, but Sayoc’s words were certainly more volatile and deserved immediate attention. 

Fast forward to two weeks after his initial threat, it has now been revealed that he is the man responsible for one of the largest bomb scares in American history. After posting about my disturbing and brief, encounter with Sayoc ‘ a white supremacist, and Twitter’s poor response, — they eventually posted an apology for their “error” in not taking my report more serious.

Regardless, the dismissive attitude by social media websites exposes the weakness in the “see something, say something” motto when it comes to the worldwide web. It appears that “see something, say something” only applies when riding the New York subway or catching a flight and also when African Americans are doing normal things, like having a barbecuesleeping in the common area of their dormitory or going into their apartment, those tend to justify a call to the police or being shot to death.

When it comes to social media, celebrities, elected officials and political commentators often become the targets of cowards who hurl insults and threats, usually behind avatars of cartoon characters and fake accounts.

There are others like Sayoc, such as Robert Bowers, who murdered 11 Jewish people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, and do not hide in the shadows. They are in public view, spewing their hateful and racist rhetoric with no repercussions.

You would be hard pressed not to find a white supremacist, or mass shooter that has not been reported on social media for their alarming rhetoric and behavior, or who has not made questionable remarks to friends, family, or co-workers that raised an eyebrow or two.

Since learning of Sayoc’s Twitter threat towards me and his connection to the pipe bomb scare, I am hesitant to check my mail. I open my mailbox or the door to the mailroom slowly and breathe a sigh of relief to find nothing.

Some have suggested I should have gone to the police, but I am not sure if that would have made a difference considering Sayoc was known to law enforcement authorities for making bomb threats before and had obtained a slew of charges. However, he was still free to walk the streets and attempt to carry out the deadliest political assassinations in our country. His freedom, despite his danger, only reiterates my frustration of being seen, but not heard.

I certainly found Sayoc’s tweet disturbing, but did not think he would do anything harmful. His page reminded me of a lot of Trump supporters that verbally attack me with racial slurs and derogatory name-calling. I assumed Sayoc was just another “nut job”, and felt reporting it to Twitter in hopes of getting his page suspended temporarily or indefinitely would be enough of a lesson to him. Finding out that he was the man allegedly behind the pipe bombs certainly changed my view on how dangerous he could be.

Social media websites have a role to play in “see something, say something.” Threatening someone’s life online is not only abusive behavior, but should be considered a criminal act that warrants more than a seven-minute review to determine if my life or the lives of others are worth protecting. Perhaps if Sayoc had shared plans to shoot up a school, or threaten the lives of a police officers my report would have made a difference and been taken more seriously.

It is time for members of Congress to put forth legislation that deems — by law — white nationalist organizations, participants, and accomplices as a terrorist enterprise to ensure that before their hate speech turns into a hate crime they are locked up with no sign of being free ever again. It’s also important to note that Sayoc has not been charged with terror-related crimes.

“See something, say something” is not enough to protect the American people, after all it only works if “seeing something and saying something” leads to protecting public safety in the end.

Rochelle Ritchie is a former press secretary for House Democrats.