While extreme economic and political inequality are making it increasingly obvious that we no longer live in a democracy or a republic, the social will of the American public is being exercised more than ever, thanks to the Internet. It feels like we’re holding court publicly on a daily basis. Social media and the immediate nature of online news have changed everything.
Rich and powerful racists, misogynists and bigots who used to be able to hide behind their money, buying silence and intimidating whistleblowers into submission, are beginning to see that the moment they slip up will be the moment they feel the wrath of the American public.
As President Obama said recently, “When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don’t really have to do anything. You just let them talk.”
And they’re talking more than ever. Or at least we’re hearing what they’re saying more than ever.
Let’s review some of the guilty verdicts we’ve seen in the past week alone: Nevada rancher and anti-federalist Cliven Bundy said that African-Americans – or “the Negro,” as he so eloquently put it – were better off as slaves. Guilty. Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who was planning on accepting a lifetime achievement award from the NAACP at a May 15 banquet, allegedly made comments to his girlfriend suggesting that African-Americans are second-rate citizens, aren’t welcome at Clippers games and certainly aren’t worthy of associating with him. Guilty and, needless to say, he will not be receiving that lifetime achievement award. After being arrested for allegedly beating his girlfriend in August, RadiumOne CEO Gurbaksh Chahal avoided 45 felony charges, instead pleading guilty to two misdemeanor charges. He was fired last night after public outrage, most of which took place online.
The three men have a combined net worth of over $2.2 billion. Thanks to the involvement the Internet allows, an engaged public was able to take down all three of them. They won’t be able to buy back their reputations.
Gurbaksh Chahal avoiding 45 felony charges and receiving a slap on the wrist instead seems to highlight perfectly the contrast between the deterioration of economic and political equality and the emergence of public social accountability in America. A high-profile tech CEO receives probation and will never serve a day behind bars for hitting and kicking his girlfriend 117 times in 30 minutes, while American jails are packed with… Well, you know where I’m going with that.
Whether or not the Internet can help restore some economic and political equality is still to be determined. If anything, it would appear it’s done the opposite so far by cranking out multi-millionaires by the minute. I think this move toward social accountability is a good thing though. Even though it’s often a murky process because of the volume of misinformation, there’s something pure about it. It’s a huge group of people that can’t be bought or quieted. The one world where everyone is judged equally, regardless of power or influence.