The Social Media Hate Against Leslie Jones: Why Humans Are More Horrifying Than Ghosts

As one of the definitive elements of the 21st century, social media is at its best a democratizing form of communication but at its worst, it can be a bastion of harassment and emotional trauma. Trolling online has become a cyber-based blood sport where anonymous users can unleash vitriol that, if said to someone in person, could be easily prosecuted as assault. But that anonymity is a protective veil, and far too often victims of online harassment are not left with many options in terms of apprehending their cyber bullies and psychological abusers. Homophobia, sexism, racism, xenophobia, and prejudice of all kinds run rampant, and for many women in particular, sexual violence and nonconsensual contact has unfortunately become the norm, something explored in depth last year on “Last Week Tonight.” For women of color the potential for abuse is compounded, and a recent experience suffered by Leslie Jones is highlighting what the online reality is for far too many.

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Jones is a “Saturday Night Live” cast member whose career in comedy dates back to the late 1980s and Heads may be familiar with her from her work on BET’s late-night comedy program, “ComicView.” However, her most recent claim to fame is her starring role in the all-female reboot of “Ghostbusters” alongside Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, and Kate McKinnon. Yet despite her illustrious career and her tremendous skill as a comedienne, her Blackness and womanhood made her the victim of horrific abuse by hateful and ignorant people on Twitter, and it all came to a head earlier this week. Repeatedly referred to as a “big-lipped coon,” inundated with offensive memes, and even sent several forms of pornography, Jones made the decision to leave the social-media platform entirely early Tuesday morning (July 19). In her farewell tweet, she wrote “I leave Twitter tonight with tears and a very sad heart.All this cause I did a movie. You can hate the movie but the shit I got today…wrong.”

leslie jones

The New York Times reported on Jones’ ordeal, quoting other tweets from the actor’s account in which she wrote “Ok I have been called Apes even got a pic with semen on my face. I’m tryin to figure out what human means. I’m out.” At one point, a Twitter user sent her a vintage image of the CBS show “The Ghost Busters,” which starred a man in a gorilla suit. In the image of the cast sent to Jones, the Twitter user wrote “Your Ghostbusters isn’t the first to have an ape in it.” Sadly, there are countless examples that not only match but also exceed the level of abuse in that particular tweet, and sadly, Jones is only one of millions of women who are victimized by what is essentially a lawless Wild West.

Millions of fans and supporters came to Leslie’s defense through the use of #LoveForLeslieJ, which became a trending hashtag on Twitter. Members of the Hip-Hop community also lent support including Los Angeles, California’s Open Mike Eagle, who voiced frustration at how the atrocious behavior of trolls has seemingly become commonplace. “The [L]eslie [J]ones treatment is still bothering me a lot,” he wrote. “[S]he exposed those comments expecting support because those comments hurt. they hurt to even look at. [I]nstead of support she got a lot of bystanders telling her to shut up and take it while the racists doubled down. [A]s humans we’re supposed to see that and be ashamed. It’s amazing how patently unashamed those people were.”

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However, news coming out of the heartbreaking events today could be a sign that the tides are changing and that perhaps Twitter and other social-media platforms are catching up to reality. Today (July 20), the Times has reported that Twitter has banned Milo Yiannopoulos, just one of the many users who could be seen harassing Jones over the course of the last several days. Described as ” a technology editor at the conservative news site Breitbart known by his Twitter handle @Nero,” Yiannopoulos is quoted as having said of his suspension “[t]his is the beginning of the end for Twitter.” But as Times reporter Mike Isaac suggests, this is only one small step in what appears to be an increased effort at the hands of Twitter to address the very real complaints about online abuse by trolls. “We’ve seen an uptick in the number of accounts violating these policies and have taken enforcement actions against these accounts, ranging from warnings that also require the deletion of tweets violating our policies to permanent suspension,” a Twitter spokesperson is quoted as saying.

Jones’ experience echoes those of countless internet users, both men and women, and is a painful reminder of how much farther society has to go. The fantastical apparitions in films like “Ghostbusters” are unfortunately far less terrifying than the real-life ghouls surrounding us all the time. Have you been the victim of online harassment? Where do we as a society draw the line between access to a free and uncensored internet and a more controlled environment in which harassment is preventable?