The upside-down OK sign (the one many guys can remember punching others/getting punched after showing/seeing it; at my high school I think we called it “the asshole” but I don’t remember for sure) was co-opted by 4Channers or some such trolls so that now people are being banned for life from Cubs games. This has got me thinking: Why do companies capitulate to these frenzies?
What’s going on with the trolls is easier to understand: they identify a symbol for whom no spokesperson can come forward and disavow anything (at the moment white nationalism is popular as a thing nobody would want to be publicly associated with, but theoretically it could be anything at a similar distance from the Overton window, so we’ll just call it X), then the trolls use internet memes and such to tie that symbol to X and laugh and eat popcorn while their society reacts by going crazy. It’s like Project Mayhem only involving cultural memes instead of private property, which in a way is even worse because it means nobody has a personal financial incentive to step forward and stop it. (Pepe the Frog, for instance, has Matt Furie and his lawyers suing people for copyright infringement because Furie created Pepe for a web comic back in 2005.)
The chain must go something like this:
Trolls make jokes involving cultural symbol and X. Joke becomes meme. Meme gets shared on social media. Journalists see meme and miss the joke, if the joke wasn’t missed already. Journalists write articles about the meme as if it isn’t a joke. People read the articles. Some people are very keen to identify and become outraged by anyone who seems to be even ignorant of, let alone OK with, symbols of injustice, inequality, hate, etc. And some people in positions of power are very intimidated by the outraged people and/or their lawyers. (Sometimes this is helped along by legit Xers earnestly adopting the symbol.)
I wish I could have been a fly on the wall when the Cubs business ops brass decided to ban that fan for making that hand gesture. What might have been the actual conversation? What factors played into their decision that we never hear about? I imagine they’ve got the legal, marketing, and accounting teams there debating the expected fallout if they do this and not that or whatever, but maybe it’s just a single executive acting on his own judgment. Who knows.
Now, a question: suppose it was discovered that this fan didn’t have a Twitter account or a smartphone, so he couldn’t instantly find out that people were reporting him to security, so he couldn’t get out of Dodge quickly before security found him and got his real identity. But then suppose he had a credible claim to be ignorant that the hand gesture had any affiliation — legitimate or otherwise — with white nationalism. For instance, he can show that he has no social media accounts, that he doesn’t visit news sites, etc. Is he at a disadvantage because he can’t stay one step ahead of the angry mob, or is he at an advantage because he has plausible deniability? Ignorance of the law is not an excuse for doing illegal things, but ignorance of cultural memes surely is an excuse for doing things that make a small portion of loud people outraged. Right?
Also: What if companies weren’t constantly checking Twitter, or taking to heart everything that’s written online by journalists?