MINOT, N.D. — "[T]he mob is the most ruthless of tyrants," wrote Nietzsche.
If only he'd been around to bear witness to our society under the influence of social media.
We do everything on Facebook now. Or Twitter or Snapchat or Reddit. We used to see the internet as a sort of utopia—a place where everyone, and every idea, had a home.
Increasingly, it's become a tool to be used by the masses to enforce conformity and mob justice.
This trend recently came home to North Dakota in a tragic way. A man named Kipp Gabriel, a performer in the regional music scene, was found dead, with no foul play suspected, after a group of women accused him of sexual assault in social media posts.
Those accusations were accompanied by a mob of online commenters who, based on nothing more than the accusations, presumed he was guilty.
I wrote about Mr. Gabriel in a column, lamenting the decision to put him on trial on social media as opposed to a court of law.
In a letter to the editor responding to my column, Allison Schmidt took issue with my argument, accusing me of "victim shaming and blaming."
"Gabriel allegedly used his position of power within the music community to target and assault young women," she wrote. "Additionally, 'witch hunt,' a favorite metaphor of Port's, comes from Arthur Miller's 'The Crucible,' a play everyone read in high school, which has taught us that women are hysterical in groups and make false accusations against more powerful men out of jealousy."
If Schmidt read Miller's masterwork of American drama in high school, she must not have done so carefully. The play features young women making false accusations, that's true, but they're mostly making those accusations against other women.
Which is how it was with the historical witch trials in Salem that Miller fictionalized. Almost all of the people accused in that 17th-century witch hunt — more than three-quarters of them — were women.
Miller's parable on the evils of McCarthyism warns us about the danger of putting blind faith in accusers, particularly in a political context.
Violence against women has become a political football in modern America. It perhaps started with the "war on women" campaign slogan Democrats deployed in 2012 and successive election cycles and culminated with Christine Blasey Ford making an accusation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh that was long on emotion and almost entirely devoid of verifiable fact.
"We believe women" is another political slogan that is used frequently, mostly on the left, except when the woman in question is politically inconvenient for Joe Biden, I guess.
But what is the logical conclusion of that mantra?
The stuff Arthur Miller was trying to tell us.
Schmidt argues that I'm a victim-shamer-and-blamer because I gave Gabriel the presumption of innocence, and expressed a preference for adjudicating accusations of sexual assault in the criminal justice system as opposed to social media.
(I was, and remain, agnostic as to the veracity of the accusations.)
"If you are wondering why survivors didn't go to the police, look at statistics on the number of rape cases that are actually investigated or prosecuted," she wrote. "If the survivors had outed themselves, like with Christine Blasey Ford and the recent Kavanaugh allegations, and been made to testify, they would have been raked over the coals."
The criminal justice system is flawed, no doubt, for reasons too numerous to mention here. But at least some of those flaws, as they related to accusations of sexual assault, have to do with the difficulty in balancing the pursuit of justice for accusers with the rights of the accused. Things like the presumption of innocence, due process, and the right to confront one's accusers.
If you accuse someone of a crime like rape in the criminal justice system, at some point, you're going to have to tell your story in a courtroom, and the defense will have a go at poking holes in it.
That's the process, and I can't even imagine how terrible it must be for the men and women who must go through it after being assaulted.
Yet it's still preferable to mob justice on Facebook.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com.