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Media influences foreign policy

Margot Morris | Tuesday, October 23, 2012

I became enraged in 2010 when Floridian pastor Terry Jones threatened to burn the Qur’an and put Americans abroad at risk of violent retaliation. My brother, in Pakistan working with a humanitarian aid project, was moved to a secure location. Even after the President addressed the issue and Defense Secretary Robert Gates made a personal phone call to the pastor, America was uncertain if the man and his 60-person congregation would follow through with their hate crime. The Qur’an later underwent a ‘trial’ in 2011 and was burned as ‘punishment’ by Pastor Jones. This act of hate inspired violent riots and attacks throughout Afghanistan.
A hate crime in the U.S. is defined as “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.” Granted, everyone is entitled to hate. America does not label “hatred” as a crime.
However, it becomes a crime when citizens are hurt in response to that hate. We are used to the idea that hate crimes are direct actions against a particular group. Burning a church or shooting someone of a particular ethnicity is easily classifiable as a hate crime. What responsibility do we have when the hate act causes indirect acts of violence?
When social media gets involved the lines become blurred. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in regards to Internet freedom, “viral videos and blog posts are becoming the samizdat [underground press] of our day”.
The mock movie trailer “Innocence of Muslims” went viral and influenced riots and the deaths of non-Muslims and Muslims alike across the globe. Should the video have been censored because past situations have led to similar results of violent retaliation? Is so, how can a state determine if a video, comic, etc. will become “viral” and go global? “Innocence of Muslims” is not the first hateful and inflammatory depiction of Islam to hit the web.
Therein lies our challenge; understanding how social media has begun to influence and incite acts of hatred on a global scale. We must decide how we are going to take responsibility for ensuring respect and safety on equal levels and preventing further deaths. The influence that social media has on public safety and foreign policy cannot be ignored.
Margot Morris
off campus
Oct. 22