October 29, 2014

Jian Ghomeshi and the ways of judgment

I have no desire to comment on the shitstorm that erupted over the weekend involving Jian Ghomeshi and the CBC, except to join my voice to the chorus of support for the victims of sexual assault and reiterate that this is not and never has been an even playing field, that crimes like this mostly go unreported, and that the immediate dismissal of the women involved reflects a broader structure of misogyny. As a friend pointed out in a post today at GUTS, it's not enough to simply stand by and wait for the facts to emerge. We need to make space for voices that are, under the current conditions, too afraid to speak.

Over the past few days, I've been interested in the way I've seen people react on Facebook and Twitter, and I've tried to be relatively cautious in my own interactions. The sheer amount of people who initially jumped to Jian Ghomeshi's defense was striking. His manipulative, PR-fashioned Facebook post was itself an interesting tactic, but I was more impressed with how quickly it circulated. For all of us who rushed to judgment of Ghomeshi's actions there were many more who rushed to judgment of his alleged victims. Now, as some of his victims are beginning to speak out, we're seeing momentum swing the other way. It would be petty to start calling out those who came to Ghomeshi's defense and are now recanting. That said, I hope the conversation shifts, that there is more awareness of how difficult it can be for victims to come forward, and why a broader understanding of consent is so important. Although it's been a slow, secretive issue for some, I'm struck by how fast the news of Ghomeshi's shameful activities has spread, how quickly we could take sides, and how quickly we all wanted to. 

It's an impulse I experience frequently on different forms of social media. I see something and my immediate response is to endorse it, ignore it, or condemn it. We "like," we "share," we "retweet." We trust others who are doing the same. But how often do we think through what we're doing and how it might affect others? Much of our social media activities are there to be seen. We share, but we do it mostly for ourselves. Exposure, visibility, followers -- these are the conditions of social life online. Our reach can be broad, but the form of this spectacle occurs with the speed of lightning. We are part of a public forum but it's first and foremost a system of representation.

Using social media is a performative activity. You're always seen by someone, even if that audience chooses to ignore you. At the same time, the rapid, live nature of recent events suggest that these platforms don't really condition the same kind of thoughtfulness or caution one might adopt if they were speaking to crowd. In many ways, it's an obvious point, but it's been on my mind as this scandal has grown. Are we prepared to have our judgements judged, especially by those who, unlike Ghomeshi, don't have the privilege of 100,000 likes on Facebook or 300,000 Twitter followers to raise the profile of their statements? Are we prepared to have our words judged by victims, those whose voices have been taken away?  How are we benefiting from sharing and tweeting about a case of sexual assault, where a simple statement or retweet can trigger a survivor's trauma? 

Not surprisingly, Ghomeshi's Facebook post went as far as it could go in the opposite direction: not a snap judgment but a postured, "personal" defense, a blanket claim of full consent made on behalf of all parties involved. 

No comments:

Post a Comment