By Kabelo Mollo
A couple of weeks ago the platform I trust and enjoy most was rocked from its axis. Two major things happened. One in a funnel, the other on a broader scale. The first was an interesting anecdote (and I hate to make it an anecdote for all its moving parts) wherein a bunch of nameless and faceless folks made allegations of abuse against a guy on an anonymous app that feeds in to Twitter. The thing about anonymous apps is that anybody can say anything about anybody. Also, one person can say the same thing over and over again and make it seem like an account from a number of people. If I allege someone has abused me on such a platform I have besmirched that person’s name for good. The burden of proof is incumbent upon the alleged attacker to prove he didn’t do what the nameless, faceless account says.
The second thing that happened is that the richest man in the world, Elon Musk bought twitter for an eye watering $44bn cash. No leveraged buy-out with hedge funds and private equity players all extracting value, nope, just a straightforward “here’s 40 billion of my hard earned dollars, I’ll take it from here Jack Dorsey “. He claims he’s bought it because he wants to make it a space for free speech. Many have opined on why they don’t feel comfortable on a single owner, let alone a billionaire owner and so I will. I hate the idea of Musk owning the platform and here’s why… You see Americans and especially “alt right” Americans seem to hold the view that freedom of speech entitles them to say anything. Even stuff that infringes on other people’s rights. They seem to think racist speech falls within the ambit of free speech. It’s really disconcerting but I see it so often that I have to believe that for many along a certain continuum that’s how they see things.
My fear is that Musk will over democratize the medium and have those extremists saying whatever mess they want in the name of “free speech”. That extreme will naturally be met by the opposite extreme and the extreme left will then push back with their own extremist views and that will just make for a thoroughly unhinged discourse. Incidentally I foresee the guy ending Donald J. Trumps ban and also unleashing all kinds of quasi revolutionary groups and sub groups. If you think I’m expecting the worst, you’re absolutely right. The medium won’t be the same, and for what it’s worth, that’ll be the worst because for all its shortcomings, it can be a really effective tool for information networking and just plain old distraction.
I want to go back to the first incident that I spoke about. At the centre of this whole fracas wherein somebody has ultimately taken their own life, is the new-fangled idea from social media that “victims” of social abuse must be believed as soon as they make the claim. The “I believe you” movement has come a long with the very necessary “me too” and less necessary “men are trash” social movements. It’s my column so I comment on what I see as worthwhile and otherwise. So the thing, about “I believe you” is that it presupposes that the person making the allegation is a victim. It also guarantees the person making the allegation a clean slate. I understand why it came about. So many victims of abuse will not be believed and so many will simply accept their fate that women primarily eventually decided that anybody who claims to be a victim of abuse/harassment/sexual predatory must be telling the truth. The idea being the sheer volume of cases undeclared and unreported makes it likely. I remember once being out with a group of five ladies. Of the five, four had been molested or sexually harassed at least once in their lives, while another had been a victim multiple times. The fifth lady was a victim of physical abuse in a previous relationship and had spent days in hospital as a result. It was genuinely shocking to hear the ladies accounts of what had befallen them. I don’t think I’ve ever been so hurt by people’s stories.
Now, knowing all that and understanding that perspective I also know of a number of guys who have been victims of abuse. Emotional, physical and in some cases sexual molestation that they are unable to talk about. Because I know the “other side” I’m less eager to believe one side of the story before I hear another. Here’s what I mean. No two relationships are the same. Some couples solve their problems in a manner I could never understand but that’s how they do it. Some couples talk to each other in the most abusive ways and they’re fine with it. Others accept infidelity and keep it moving. Some have physical fights and then go on like nothing’s happened. Problem Is, when one party then takes the opportunity to be a victim.
When activism becomes toxic. I still don’t know what the truth is in that Cape Town twitter melee. From what I can see a genuine claim about abuse in a relationship has led to a free for all by a section so hungry to “out an abuse” and believe “victims” that any sense of cerebral investigation is met with disdain and belligerence. It’s got ugly. Fast. I hope that the medium will regenerate and the discourse will get better, but I’m not holding my breath. I hope the justice system will get better at solving cases of abuse, harassment and rape, I hope Twitter activists will temper their emotions and finally, I hope this whole Cape Town twitter situation will be a lesson to us all.