A new rule is replacing the rule of law in America today. This new rule utilizes modern technology and social media. However, it channels old habits and sinister forces of mob rule that have always led to disorder.
The new rule might be called the rule of YouTube. It consists of the immediate judgment of law enforcement officers based on raw viral videos of crimes and arrests circulating on YouTube and other social media platforms. These releases often focus on a horrific portion of a sequence of events. They do not always present the context of what took place.
It is enough for the final result to be horrific to set in motion a self-perpetuating cycle of violence and terror. Incidents unleash riots and looting, which are, in turn, portrayed by more videos as expressions of the anger of the virtual mob. In this way, chaos comes to rule.
The Distortions of the Rule of YouTube
The original scenes can indeed be horrific, condemnable, and even criminal. However, the rule of YouTube consists of fanning the public’s emotions, often coordinated with a ready-made narrative. It can take an exceptional incident and make it seem ”systemic.” It awaits no judgment and insists upon immediate action.
This rule has little connection with the reality on the ground because it relies upon the virtual distortions of the medium. No video can record all the aspects of a scene. On the other hand, the world of video throbs with sensationalism, drama, and resentment. The right angle can make the most hardened criminals look like heroes and vice versa. Videos present their case to an unofficial jury of millions who are quick to “like,” render judgment, and demand punishment.
Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of the rule of YouTube is the inserting of class struggle into the dramas it presents. Horrific scenes of violence and rioting receive favorable judgments because their perpetrators are cast as the oppressed. Thus, a single case becomes a national issue. An incident can explode into a revolution.
The Law Protects Both Individual and Community
Should the rule of YouTube prevail, it will represent the destruction of the rule of law in America.
Law exists in society as a permanent set of norms to regulate, coordinate, and order life in common. By making rules, law erects barriers against the unruly will of the individual that might disturb the peace of the community. Thus, the law protects the community from the disordered individual.
However, the law also protects the individual from the power of the community as exercised by the state. By having recourse to a set of objective and permanent standards of behavior backed by authority, the individual can demand satisfaction, protection, and rights. The individual can stand up to the community in cases where rights are abused.
However, the rule of law requires the sacrifice of some freedom and selfishness. It entails submission to a higher authority that must be obeyed for the common good. The rule of law relies upon trust in a judiciary system that can provide due process and judgment, characterized by the calm and objective analysis of the facts.
In this way, society can flourish and maintain order. The rule of law stands between the individual and community, protecting each from the excesses of the other.
Tearing Down the Rule of Law and Order
The rule of YouTube breaks all these aspects of the rule of law. It removes the rule of law from its mediating role between the individual and the community. In its place, it presents an instant and partial reality that distorts the calm analysis of the horrific facts.
The barriers that are erected to contain the unruly will of the individuals are thus questioned. Law enforcement officers no longer submit to the criteria of permanent and objective norms dictated by law. They must now consider the fickle and inflamed sentiments of the virtual mob. When a YouTube regime is in place, all actions must be adjusted to fit the appearance of things, not what happened. Such a regime is an invitation not to act in the face of disorder for fear that others might misinterpret such actions.
Indeed, cowardly public officials fear the rule of YouTube because it can instantly ruin their careers. They are quick to make concessions to the virtual video-generated mobs by defunding or restraining the police. Thus, the community loses its ability to defend itself, to be protected from the disordered acts and crimes of individuals who can turn their misdeeds into incidents.
When the rule of YouTube prevails, individuals are left powerless against the overwhelming force of the media that now replaces law. Whether protester, counter-protester, or innocent victim, the actors in this drama are fit into narratives beyond their control. The reputation of the individual can be ruined forever in an instant.
Descent Into Chaos
The rule of law must prevail lest the nation descend into chaos. That is why it is wrong to release videos that will trigger rioting and looting. That is not to say that the acts portrayed in these videos should be ignored. However, the judgment on the criminality of actions must be reserved for the law.
When judgment is left to the YouTube mob or any mob, injustice will always prevail. There will be no objective and permanent standards of justice to protect the individual and community. Society will succumb to chaos.
John Horvat II is a scholar, researcher, educator, international speaker, and author of the book "Return to Order: From a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Society--Where We've Been, How We Got Here, and Where We Need to Go." He lives in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania, where he is the vice president of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property.