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Posted by on Jan 7, 2010 in Uncategorized | 33 comments

Inciting Hate Crimes — from newspaper comments to Facebook

I suspect most local cyclists have read the most recent road wars article in the Sentinel. As is typical, the comments are full of hate and threats of violence from the typical lowlifes who frequent newspaper comment sections. I don’t recommend you read them. I do, however, fear that some lowlifes are emboldened by what appears to be solidarity and support for their hate. The last time our local media fanned the flames of road rage, I felt the effects immediately the following weekend. Friends reported a notable increase in hostility on their rides as well.

hatephotoBeyond our local venue, the haters have set up a group on Facebook, called “There’s a perfectly good path right next to the road you stupid cyclist!” Their profile photo shows a passenger dooring a cyclist and knocking him off his bike. Other photos include one of the horrific crash in which a drunk driver slammed into a sanctioned race, killed a rider and injured others. Below the photo it says “My Way – Get the F___ out of it.”

This is clearly a hate group and it’s managed to attract 32,000 fans from the shallow end of the gene pool. The content purposely incites hatred and violence against cyclists. As someone who has ridden in an area with predatory sociopaths who think it’s OK to assault cyclists, I don’t believe this can be written off as harmless venting any more than if it was directed at ethnic minorities or gays. The last thing these scumbags need is a sense of solidarity to egg them on and make them feel righteous in control of a 4000lb missile (which happens to offer anonymity and easy escape).

Facebook has a policy against offensive and hateful content. That is why every profile, photo, page, post and comment has a “report” button associated with it. The FAQ on the safety policy says:

What do I do if I find an explicit, hateful or otherwise objectionable group on Facebook?
You can anonymously report offensive group pictures and content by clicking on the “Report Group” link located under the group’s picture. You will be asked to specify the offensive content. Facebook will review your complaint and will act to ensure all users comply with our Terms of Use so that Facebook remains a trusted environment where people can interact safely.

What do I do if someone has posted an objectionable photo on Facebook?
You can anonymously report photos that violate our Terms of Use (e.g., pornography or copyrighted images) by clicking on the “Report This Photo” link below the picture. Facebook reviews these complaints and takes down photos as necessary. It is not a violation of our Terms of Use to post a photo that is unflattering, so please don’t report a photo just because you don’t like the way you look in it.

This group and many associated photos have been reported repeatedly over the last 2 months. Yet Facebook has failed to respond or uphold its policy of removing hate groups. Therefore, a group has been formed for cyclists to unite in demanding that Facebook uphold it’s policy and remove both the group and its creator. If you are a Facebook member, I urge you to join HELP REMOVE this HATE GROUP against cyclists!.

(UPDATE: the group name has been changed)

33 Comments

  1. Joined, and shared with my local groups. Thanks for alerting us!

  2. Thanks for this, Keri. I read some of the comments on that article and boy are they frightening. I normally know better, but I couldn’t help myself. I find it unbelievable that people feel completely okay making bold threats against the lives of other humans – in print! Judging by the ratio of threatening comments vs. people I encounter on a daily basis, at least some of these people have to be posing as normal human beings on a daily basis!

    Scary stuff.

  3. mike thomas wrote a response to the comments generated by that article in the Sentinel. i linked it in my name. it’s not really relevant to commuters, but i can understand the sentiment.

    i have noticed an increase in disrespect while biking to and from work the past few days; many more close passes and honking. i’ve learned to completely ignore the honks, but i usually catch the close passers at the next red light and inform them of the minimum 3 feet passing clearance required by law. most try to argue, but i try to keep my temper in check and tell them that it’s the law, and it’s up to them to obey it. these conversations always stay civil, but i really feel that nothing i say gets taken seriously due to a lack of enforcement of said laws.

    • Bencott, Thanks for the link. I kinda like the Avatar reference. The history of that area is a tragic story of sprawl. When I started riding out there, the vistas looked out on rolling citrus groves, now it’s rolling rooftops.

      I have to part company with Mr Thomas when he complains that groups can’t stop at stop signs. I know the stop signs have infested the roads just like the cycle-haters, but claiming that following the rules interferes with your recreation is lame and selfish. If you can’t follow the rules that keep the system safe and sane in a built-up environment, take it to Sumter County.

      The war isn’t helping anyone. Least of all those of us who spend most of our time alone on the road.

  4. I became aware of the anti-cyclist FB site a few weeks ago and immediately reported the site AND the FB users who wrote the most hateful comments. I was a woman on a mission, I tell you! It took me several hours to work through the comment list, but it was time well spent.

  5. The Facebook page may be satire, or an experiment to elicit angry responses. Facebook friend Darrell Noakes wrote:

    “The profile photo is obviously staged, using a fit cyclist who is doing a very skillful trackstand. The page lacks the usual invective you’d expect from its creator, suggesting that it was put up to see how people would react, rather than to elicit a particular reaction or support. All this tells me that the page is not what it seems. While others are reacting angrily, I’m fascinated to see where this goes.”

    • I don’t think that matters. I’m sure all 32,000 fans are not satire. And neither are the sentiments in the sentinel comments. Those people and those sentiments exist.

      I’ve seen the profile photo before. It was swiped from somewhere on the internet. Just as the crash photo was. That alone does not suggest the whole profile is staged.

  6. I think it is irresponsible for any “publisher” whether that be a newspaper or a website to allow threats, or thinly veiled threats, to remain after their attention has been drawn to the offensive remark.

    The last time I recall reading threats like this in print was when we still had The Orlando Evening Star and the discussion was about school integration. By the time the Orange County schools were integrated the Sentinel and the Star had been combined and the Sentinel editors knew better.

  7. I reported it. How many total readers, just of this blog does that make?

    • The “remove” group had 41 members yesterday and I think about 500 around the time I wrote this today.

      The hate group gained about 300 members since yesterday and, from the look of the comments, they’ve been swarmed by cyclists. Cyclists also have filled the photo album. Before today the wall comments were hateful toward cyclists and the photos were a mix of various distasteful stuff.

      It’s definitely interesting.

  8. “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”
    – Arthur Schopenhauer

  9. Hmmm, and I wonder how many cyclist-haters will join the “Stop this hate group” group?

    Words don’t change things. Action and image do.

    From Jim Channon’s “Evolutionary Tactics:” (written in the late ’70s)

    “Recently a conflict involving Samoza’s regime in Nicaruagua was dramatically changed by an internationally broadcasted killing. A newsman under live camera coverage bellied up to a member of Samoza’s army and was shot to death in an apparently non-sensical way. The world watched. Samoza’s government fell the next day.”
    “…[H]umans all seem to manifest primary gut level reactions to unethical action….the winning force [is] the one which executes the more ethical action in the face of accompanying cameras.”

  10. The stop-hate group has gone totally viral. Last night: 4800 members. Earlier this morning: 6800 members. Right now, 7149, with new members joining every minute!

  11. What concerns me is this hatred and suggested violence is growing in concert with the greater use of digital devices by drivers. Caught up with one young driver at a red light who buzzed me a block earlier this summer. His response while starring at his electronic toy was “I was just reading my gps to find my way”.

    These devices are being used to discover new and less traveled routes through side streets and neighborhoods. The first wave of infotainment systems (as described by tech & auto makers) will hit the market this year and will be standard equipment on many new “green” cars.

    We do not have sufficient or properly informed law enforcement to deal with these growing problems. Red light cameras has been the first step but are only used at high trafficked intersections and not the irresponsible driving between them.

    • John,

      That’s a really good point about drivers using GPS to find shortcuts! I hadn’t even thought about that. Most people who only drive cars don’t have the geographic knowledge to take advantage of the quiet routes we use. The GPS gives them access to them to avoid traffic jams.

  12. Today Mighk and I had a mostly wonderful ride with Lindy Shepard from the Orlando Weekly. But there were 2 incidents that made me wonder if they were not somehow related to the Sentinel article. 1) on Robinson a motorist in the left lane who was unaffected wailed on the horn angrily as he passed us. I use Robinson all the time and have only been honked at a handful of times. 2) on Summerlin as we approached the traffic light at Robinson a jerk in a black pick-up truck passed and purposely cut back into the lane in front of Mighk, only to slam on his brakes at the red light. Since we were turning left, we passed him (Mighk and I both gave him a dirty look). As we were waiting to turn left, he honked has he drove by. Had he waited to pass, he would have been in exactly the same spot. That kind of behavior is sociopathic, but the newspaper comments and other venues for selfish venting make these assholes think their beliefs are normative and their behavior acceptable.

  13. I got squeezed at Conway Gardens/Grant by “Princess”. She passed me then immediately pulled in front and turned right.

    Was able to catch up to her in her driveway and asked if that action was necessary. Her reply was “you were in the middle of the road” and “I thought bicycles were supposed to be on the sidewalk.”

    Would have been nice to have an informational card of sort on me. I didn’t want here to get away and was winded in our conversation. Left her with my comment “a few seconds won’t kill you, but it may just kill us!”

    • All this happened this morning around 10:30am.

    • So she endangered you because she thought bicycles are supposed to be on the sidewalk. Nice.

      Maybe you should print out a supply of the 10 Things…

  14. How insane have we allowed drivers to become? In AZ a driver was captured on camera driving his VW while standing through his sunroof at speeds of just under 80 mph. The vehicle triggered DPS photo enforcement cameras 14 times in October and November. Investigators have tied the driver to eight of those violations.
    http://www.azcentral.com/community/chandler/articles/2010/01/08/20100108abrk-sunroofspeeding0108.html

    Streetsblog: Traffic cameras in AZ have led to more than 700,000 tickets issued to drivers going 11 miles per hour or more over the speed limit from 9/08 to 9/09, many drivers are refusing to pay their fines — and officials appear to be siding with the law breakers.
    http://www.streetsblog.org/2010/01/07/trend-watch-governments-ceding-control-of-roads-to-outlaw-drivers/

  15. Keri wrote:
    “…there were 2 incidents that made me wonder if they were not somehow related to the Sentinel article.”

    Kevin’s question:
    After incident #2, why didn’t you call the police? Mighk and yourself are both witnesses, so you have the evidence necessary for a conviction. Don’t know about Florida, but in Ontario law pulling unsafely in front of someone is “Failure to Yield Right of Way” and doing it to cyclists or other vulnerable road users is “Careless Driving.” That’s good for six months in jail.

    It is my opinion that a few months in jail will calm down most road ragers. Our local police force shares that opinion.

    • Because the laws in orlando/florida/usa are not so supportive. There would have been no recourse, so it wasn’t worth our time. If he had hit Mighk or Mighk had needed to swerve to avoid being hit, that would have warranted a phone call to OPD. But it was in that range of obnoxious dickishness above the threshold of pissing us off and below the threshold of warranting a call to the police.

  16. So, my two questions are: 1) why do people get so hateful about sharing the road with cars, and 2) what can I do to help change the attitudes? As Keri said, the attitudes are real. I’ve heard them from real people in real life and it’s really disheartening.

    • Eliot,

      That’s a good question! I think it’s a multi-faceted process.

      Starting with my own behavior: I drive assertively; obey the rules and show courtesy and friendliness to others (courteous drivers are the majority experience, so I try to take that attitude out there with me, and I try not to let the few dickheads rob me of it).

      It seems pollyanna to suggest individual behavior makes a difference, but imagine if even 30-40% of existing cyclists were driving their vehicles in an assertive, legal and courteous manner (vs the 1% doing so now). That might begin to effect the perception of what’s normative for cyclists. Just getting that many cyclists to come from the shadows would change the perception — people don’t even know how many of us there are because most are riding invisibly.

      Another thing I do as an individual is engage friends, family, associates who are non-cyclists. The conversations always start the same way — some variation of, “What about all the cars/bad drivers out there?” — it’s a perfect opportunity to share the best-practices that keep my rides safe and conflict-free at the same time as offering good framing about how safe cycling actually is. (An FDOT study found that the danger myth is one of the big justifications for harassment — if you’re an idiot with a death-wish, you don’t deserve courtesy.)

      On a cultural level, the Florida Bicycle Association is working several different angles:

      Increasing the number of cyclists as described above, through a sustainable, ongoing education program that is accessible, fun and something people actually want to take (that’s coming soon in Orlando).

      A civility initiative that will take the social marketing approach to educate the public about cycling safety. We will attempt to reframe the understanding of the roadway as a public utility for all people no matter what power source their vehicle uses.

      A Law Enforcement Toolkit (article on this coming soon) that is designed to reframe law enforcement’s understanding of the public utility and their role in promoting safety and civility.

      :-)

  17. Eliot, do you mean that people are so hateful about sharing the road with bikes (drivers are hateful) or that people are hateful about sharing the road with cars (cyclists are hateful)? If the latter, as you wrote, one can get particularly upset when one is nearly struck by an inconsiderate or distracted driver, which usually causes a physiological reaction. I’d be willing to bet that my blood pressure and heart rate increases substantially when I am involved in a near-collision.

    If you mean the former, the level of reaction is somewhat lower, I believe, and probably has little (or less) physiological response in the motorist.

    I don’t know how we as cyclists can change attitudes while riding, although I’ve found controlling the lane has improved my interactions with other road users. Communication is important, I believe, and I communicate that I am a skilled road user, while other people on bikes tend to communicate the opposite.

    It’s difficult to communicate directly with a motorist encased in steel and glass, of course.

    • fred – I mean drivers are often hateful.

      Keri – thank you for the thoughtful followup. Since becoming a VC myself, I have definitely become a more courteous and patient driver. I try to smile and wave often when I’m driving or cycling. I’m excited about your initiatives and would be interested to see how far a “Friendly Roads” program in Dallas would go.

      • I think your “transformation” to a more considerate driver is probably a common situation for integrated cyclists. I’ve found that I try much harder to be aware of the other road users, and since I’ve been relegated to the sidewalk when using my electric self-balancing unicycle, I make it a point to stop at the bar at traffic lights.

        Even though all other people on bikes in my area are gutter-bunnies, I give them at least three feet when passing, but that’s not much of a problem, since they are either in a parking area or riding the paint stripe!

        I think it would improve the use of the roads if all motor vehicle operators were required to take a well-produced cycling skills course, perhaps one such as Keri’s! I felt the same way after taking the Motorcycle Safety Foundation course, and still do.

  18. Fred wrote:
    “… one can get particularly upset when one is nearly struck by an inconsiderate or distracted driver…”

    Kevin’s comment:
    Interesting way of phrasing things. I (and our local police force) would instead have used words like “The victim of a crime of violence committed by a dangerous, violent criminal.”

    I am becoming increasingly convinced that law enforcement is one key reason why Ontario’s roads are the safest in North America and Florida’s roads are among the most dangerous.

    Although certainly no expert on Florida law, I suspect that there are laws similar to the Canadian Criminal Code offences of “Criminal Negligence” and “Dangerous Driving” (good for 5 years in jail), or the Ontario Highway Traffic Act offence of “Careless Driving” (good for six months in jail). I would be willing to wager that the problem in Florida is getting the local police to enforce the laws that are on the books.

    One thing I am certain about. If the perpetrators of the crimes that I am reading about on this blog found themselves spending a long time in jail, I am certain that they would change their behaviour.

    Take a look at:

    http://www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/safety/orsar/orsar06/chp7_1_06.shtml

    • Nope. We have reckless driving and careless driving. Reckless is a criminal violation that takes a ton of evidence and paperwork to prosecute. Careless is nothing more than a stinking traffic ticket.

      As has been mentioned a number of times on this blog, we REALLY need something between careless and reckless that carries a higher penalty and is easy to prosecute.

      Without changing our culture, which is blinded by its addiction to speed and convenience, we’re unlikely to be successful in improving traffic justice.

  19. I just looked it up. You are right. This is really shocking. Even the penalty for “Reckless Driving” is absurdly low. The definition of the crime seems to be roughly equivalent to the Canadian Criminal Code’s “Dangerous Driving.”

    But, Dangerous Driving in Canada is good for up to 5 years in jail. Florida’s Reckless Driving is only good for 90 days for a first offence and six months for a second offence.

    The definitions for Careless Driving in Florida and Ontario seem to be roughly the same. However, in Ontario, the punishment is a jail term of up to six months (on the first offence), and a driver’s license suspension of two years.

    My source is as follows:

    http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statuTes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=Ch0316/Sec192.HTM

    By the way, I do not see any reference to drivers license suspensions. Isn’t that something that Florida law does?

  20. I don’t doubt what Kevin says about Ontario’s laws, but it makes me wonder why I’m hearing so many reports about uncivil motorist activities towards Canadian cyclists. Is it really as bad as they make out? And if so, it seems to support what I’ve believed for some time; that laws are fairly limited in their ability to change social norms. A law based on existing social norms is more likely to work than a law which attempts to change the social norm.

    • Things certainly are not perfect here in Ontario. In particular, the Toronto Cyclists Union is trying to get the Toronto Police to do a better job of enforcing the laws against parking cars in the bike lanes.

      At present, the police usually fail to promptly tow away and impound these cars. Usually, all they do is give a ticket. We want to change this so that drivers who park their cars in the bike lane can rely upon their cars being promptly towed away and impounded.

      The worst is courier companies. They just treat the tickets as the cost of doing business. This illegal business practice allows them to wrongfully steal business from bike couriers. I want their courier vans to be towed away and impounded so that their customers would get their deliveries only when the vans are released. A process that happens at warp speed “bureaucracy.” I predict the loud screaming of the customers whose deliveries didn’t happen would change their illegal business model right away.

      Bike theft is also an issue. Although the Toronto Police has a Bicycle Theft Unit which was successful at putting in jail notorious bike theft kingpin Igor Kenk, bike theft is still a serious issue. They got Ali Baba, but his 40 thieves are still on the loose.

      We want undercover Toronto Police officers to infiltrate bike theft operations so that they can arrest the thieves AND the receivers of stolen goods. Take out the entire organized crime structure.

      For example, Mr. Kenk was not arrested due to an undercover officer infiltrating his criminal gang. He was arrested due to a fluke of luck: Whilst instructing one of his minions in the fine art of bike theft, said minion stole a bike next to one of the Police’s “bait bikes” that was under surveillance by the Bicycle Theft Unit. The minion promptly turned Queen’s Evidence and that’s how we got Kenk. That’s also why we didn’t get all the thieves in his crime network.

      We’ve also got issues regarding:

      *Prompt clearing of snow and ice from bicycle routes.
      *Provision of adequate secure bike parking at train and subway stations.
      *The ban on bikes on the subway and regional rail trains during peak hours (when did you think commuters want to go multi-modal?)
      *Stop signs that should be yield signs, particularly at the bottom of hills.
      *Toronto Police that position themselves at these stop signs during their “bike blitzs” and hand out hundreds of tickets that have absolutely nothing to do with improving safety. They even have a name for them: Fishing holes.
      *Grossly inadequate bike racks (only two bikes, absurd!) on Toronto busses.

      OK, there is my list of grievances. I can complain with the best of them!

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