The reaction to news of the death of Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, in a helicopter crash* was a terrible shock the millions. To Washington Post national politics reporter, Felicia Sonmez, it was a mandate.
Without the capacity to read minds, it can’t be said with any certainty why Sonmez felt compelled to post an almost three-year-old story of an alleged rape that collapsed when the accuser refused to testify. Did she do it for clicks? Did she do it to virtue signal? Did she do it because no matter how beloved Kobe Bryant might be, no matter how indiscreet it was on the morning of his tragic death, there was nothing that could ever happen, death included, that mattered more than a rape allegation? Rape uber alles?
Sonmez was, as the twitteratti call it, ratioed. Her twit received ten thousand, perhaps more, replies ranging from highly critical to extremely offensive. I called her twit “fucking disgusting.” While the ration was decidedly against Sonmez, that doesn’t mean she didn’t have her supporters as well, and they too were passionate in their support of Sonmez’s twit, arguing that no matter or when, rape uber alles.
A curious shift in the universe then happened, where Sonmez morphed into the victim.
Sonmez did not post a story about the helicopter crash, but the response she posted after receiving a swarm of social media criticism suggested she knew about it.
“To the 10,000 people (literally) who have commented and emailed me with abuse and death threats, please take a moment and read the story — which was written (more than three) years ago, and not by me,” Sonmez wrote in a follow-up tweet published late Sunday morning.
Whether there were death threats isn’t clear, as that characterization no longer relates to threats of action but rather any suggestion that harm is deserved. Sonmez did, however, post a screenshot of her email showing the vile names she was called.
Matthew Keys, who posted the screencaps of Sonmez’s twit with his post about the consequences, was then the target of twits about how Sonmez was right to react to Kobe’s death by reminding everyone about the rape accusations, because rape uber alles.
Sunday evening, two people within the Washington Post newsroom confirmed to The Desk Sonmez had been suspended from her duties as the news organization launched an investigation into whether Sonmez had violated the outlet’s social media policy.
Sonmez wasn’t suspended for her initial twit, or her self-pity based on her claim of victimhood for the reaction to her twit, but apparently because she posted the full name of the person who sent the vile email. That violated WaPo policy.
But a person familiar with the suspension said it was not Sonmez’s tweet linking to the Daily Beast article that triggered the suspension, nor was it two follow-up tweets where she said the thousands who criticized her in the hours since was an “eye opening experience.” It was the third tweet that showed her email inbox that landed her in hot water with the company, in part because it contained the purported full names of those who sent her an email, according to a Washington Post employee who spoke with The Desk on condition of anonymity.
“Her managers don’t care about the Daily Beast tweet,” the Post employee said. “But there’s a concern that the screen shot (of her email inbox) might create some legal issues and could violate Twitter’s terms (of service).”
In the course of a day, starting with the death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others, Felicia Sonmez went from person who had to besmirch the dead by dredging up the rape accusation to victim of the mob. There is no question Sonmez’s compulsion to attack Kobe upon his death lest anyone not remember to hate him for the rape accusation evoked strong responses and vile responses, albeit from random people rather than, say, national reporters. But did that turn Sonmez into the new victim of the mob?
Did you pile on this tweet about Kobe? Congrats! You’re part of an outrage mob trying to silence someone for wrongthink.
It’s not that the criticism’s wrong—I also think the tweet’s in bad taste—it’s that many who joined in catastrophize online mobbing. Maybe that’s more nuanced.
Nick Grossman has a point. On the one hand, the fair and proper reaction to bad speech is good speech. On the other hand, criticism, en masse, turns into a mob. There are some harder questions in there, such as what it means to “pile on,” whether people join in the criticism as an individual expressing their disapproval or join in a mob for the sake of “piling on.” How one distinguishes between the two isn’t at all clear.
Or more to the point, how does one differentiate criticism of the substance of expression from “an outrage mob trying to silence someone for wrongthink”? If there is no way to do so, no line to be drawn, then we’re caught in a dilemma: bad speech can’t be criticized without the criticism becoming bad speech in itself, turning the initial wrongdoer into the victim of the mob, and turning the people who properly criticize into evil outrage mobsters of wrongthink.
There might be some distinguishing features between an outrage mob and founded criticism. Not doxxing Sonmez, her home address and telephone number, the identities of her family, so as to facilitate real world harm to her. Not demanding her firing. Not threatening her with actual harm.
That 10,000 other people think the same thing you do and express it doesn’t mean your thought and expression wasn’t merely one individual’s view. That some foul angry person sent a vile email, and possibly others threatened harm, isn’t your fault.
There’s one further distinction here that might warrant attention. The entirety of Sonmez’s “wrongthink” played out on the twitters, so that we were all fact witnesses to what happened, eliminating the second-hand question of condemning based on belief rather than fact. Ironically, the same can’t be said of Sonmez or her supporters, whose compulsion is to attack Kobe Bryant upon his death for a crime of which he was never convicted.
But then, the crime was rape, and while we can argue about the propriety of the reaction to Sonmez’s twits, there remains a significant group of woke folks for whom nothing, not even tragic death, matters more than accusations of rape. After all, rape uber alles.
*Others died in the crash, including “John Altobelli, head baseball coach at Orange Coast College, along with his wife, Keri, and daughter Alyssa,” who were noted at IHE. As for the final four, their names are lost to fame, at least for now, but they are just as worthy of remembrance.