Social media—our public text—came more clearly into view today. First there was the statement by Julian Assange, about the Barrett Brown case, where he described how statements or retweets made in social media were being used out of context, by the U.S. Government prosecutors as evidence to support charges of a death threat by Brown against an FBI agent who had threatened his mother.
Later, Sony announced it was suggesting to local cinemas, to use their discretion when considering to show the film, “The Interview“, on December 25th. Although described as a comedy, the film depicts the CIA using journalists to carry out an assassination of the current leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un.
North Korea has been upset about this film release. There have been numerous attempts to threaten Sony about the film, including hacking their computers, and when that did not work, telling Sony that American audiences should remember 9/11. This last threat caused Sony to pull the release, something Obama felt was wrong. But was it?
Obama stated that Sony caved to Korean “terrorists”. But what would we have done if North Korea or Russia released a film depicting the assassination of a U.S. president, and did so as a “comedy”? Yes, North Korea has many differences in their culture that are often not understood, but isn’t it wrong to elevate the idea of an assassination of their leader to a public forum?
How can Obama feel Sony is wrong to fear a shooting or deaths in a public cinema, when this has clearly happened before? How can he call the North Koreans terrorists for making threats about the release of a film that threatened their leader, when after Wikileaks released the film of U.S. Soldiers killing innocent civilians in Iraq, (called Collateral Murder), his own senators publicly issued death threats against Assange on Fox TV?
Author James Redfield discusses the importance of truth in our times, and the desire for it rising in our global culture. But how can there be truth in a field of social media that has such flux? If we as a culture have no ballast in truth, no social agreement to tell the truth and feel nothing is sacred, then there is no transparency no matter how many voices we hear speaking through social media. If any statement can be used out of context in courts, by our leaders, by our law enforcement to create false witness, then what we anticipate in these texts is only the opaque face of propaganda from a multitude of sources or the fearful guarded statements of individuals. The only thing we can read in the texts of social media or online is what you are allowed to view through the goggles of Google, which has a 30% ownership by the department of defense in the U.S. government and who allowed these early investors to participate in the development of their viewing apparatus.
Maybe some things should be sacred. Maybe there should be some civility and maybe making public death threats in a public forum is inappropriate for the harm it causes the target of those threats. It is interesting that Julian Assange, who is labeled with the big T of “terrorist” by the US government never made a public threat to anyone. But his life was threatened and those who made the threats held high offices in Government. Even though this is against the law, they were not held accountable. Those who are imprisoned are those who speak about corruption in powerful institutions.
Was Sony wrong? Maybe the film was inappropriate. Maybe it was U.S. propaganda. Maybe it was a joke by ill-informed filmmakers. Maybe it was free speech. But maybe threats should not be seen as something we tolerate and respect for each other should be considered something sacred.
Note: This post was originally written in 2014. I am reposoting as it seems relevant today after witnessing the events at Standing Rock in 2016, albeit from a distance.