Monday, 25 May 2015

Obama's Twitter debut marred by hate posts

While most welcome him, a small number lash out with racial slurs
The Straits Times, 23 May 2015

WASHINGTON - When US President Barack Obama sent his inaugural Twitter post from the Oval Office on Monday, the White House heralded the event with fanfare, posting a photograph of him perched on his desk tapping out his message on an iPhone.

The @POTUS account - named for the in-house acronym derived from "President of the United States" - would "serve as a new way for President Obama to engage directly with the American people, with tweets coming exclusively from him", a White House aide wrote that day.

It took only a few minutes for President Barack Obama’s account to attract racist, hate-filled posts and replies. Posts...
Posted by The New York Times on Thursday, May 21, 2015

But it took only a few minutes for Mr Obama's account to attract racist, hate-filled posts and replies. They addressed him with racial slurs and called him a monkey. One had an image of the President with his neck in a noose.

The posts reflected the racial hostility towards the nation's first black president that has long been expressed in stark terms on the Internet, where conspiracy theories thrive and prejudices find ready outlets.

But the racist Twitter posts are different because, now that Mr Obama has his own account, the slurs are addressed directly to him, for all to see.

Within minutes of Mr Obama's first, cheerful post - "Hello, Twitter! It's Barack. Really!" it began - Twitter users lashed out in sometimes profanity-laced replies that included exhortations for the President to kill himself and worse.

One person posted a doctored image of Mr Obama's famous campaign poster, instead showing the President with his head in a noose, his eyes closed and his neck appearing broken as if he had been lynched. Instead of the word "HOPE'' in capital letters as it appeared on the campaign poster, the doctored image had the word "ROPE". The accompanying message said "#arrestobama #treason we need 'ROPE FOR CHANGE'." It was addressed to @POTUS by a user calling himself @jeffgully49, who has posted other images of Mr Obama in a noose, and whose Twitter profile picture shows Mr Obama behind bars. "We still hang for treason, don't we?" his post said.

The writer, Mr Jeff Gullickson of Minneapolis, subsequently posted on Thursday that his reply to Mr Obama had earned him a visit from the Secret Service at his Minnesota home. Reached for comment, Mr Gullickson responded by asking in an e-mail how much The New York Times would pay him for an interview.

White House officials and a Twitter spokesman said they could not determine the percentage of postings to Mr Obama that were racist. But they appeared to be a small number in what was an otherwise social-media-fuelled show of love for Mr Obama, who was drawing followers at a breakneck pace - nearly 2.3 million by Thursday afternoon - and hundreds of worshipful messages that welcomed him to Twitter and praised him on everything from his appearance to his policies. "I love you, @POTUS," one person, @camerondallas, who has nearly five million followers, wrote in a posting marked as a favourite more than 15,000 times.

But there was one measure of a specific slur. According to analytics compiled by Topsy, a research company that collects and analyses what is shared on Twitter, the number of postings that included Mr Obama's name and one particular racial epithet jumped substantially on Monday, the day of the President's first posting, to 150.

One Twitter user who did not use that specific racial slur responded to the President with just two words: "Black monkey", a comparison that was not uncommon. "Get back in your cage monkey," another person wrote.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the language directed at Mr Obama was unfortunately "all too common on the Internet", and that officials would probably not spend much time trying to block abusive commenters from the President's account.

"What we believe is that the President's new Twitter handle is one that can be used to important effect and to communicate with the American people and to engage the American people," Mr Earnest said. "We're pleased with the early response to it."


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