A Few Questions Regarding George Tierney, Jr. Of Greenville, South Carolina

Irksome, Politics & Current Events

George Tierney, Jr. of Greenville, South Carolina, who finds himself abruptly infamous for sending crass tweets to Sandra Fluke and then making legal threats to people who wrote about him, raises a series of questions in my addled mind.

Before we get to the questions, let's have a bit of background. Ostensibly, George Tierney, Jr. of Greenville, South Carolina is a man who, using the twitter handle @geotie2323, wrote crass and contemptible tweets to Sandra Fluke when he disagreed with a political point she was making. When his comments were featured on the blog Tbogg, he reacted with silly legal threats:

Whoever runs this site needs to take my damn comments off of it. I did not give you permission, nor did you ask me for it. It shows up on google and I will see a lawyer if this doesnt disappear. Ask me before posting bullshit about me. You fuckers had no right.

Sincerely,

George Tierney Jr

. . .

You dont get to make the rules. I am the george tierney that made the comments to sandra fluke, not to you..take it off google. If it goes to a lawyer, it will be settled in court, with me getting paid.

Sincerely,

George Tierney Jr

(Incidentally, the "take it off google" immediately made me remember the magnificent ""Remove me from your Rooster!", a collection of anti-gay tirades to a writer.)

This series of events went viral, and George Tierney, Jr. is now internet-infamous, with long-term consequences for himself and for anyone unfortunate enough to share his name.

Now, the questions.

First, a question that annoying people would call epistemological: how do we know what people on the internet are, or are not? Is it possible to know whether George Tierney, Jr. is (a) a genuine asshole, as he seems upon the face of it, (b) a troll, either named George Tierney, Jr. or posing as him for some nefarious purpose, or (c) genuinely mentally ill, like other people who have become abruptly internet famous for ranting? (This interview inclines me strongly towards either the "very skillful troll" or "regrettably mentally ill" interpretations, though admittedly in the modern political climate is is difficult to distinguish either from common rhetoric.)

Second, do we care? How many people who write about the Freak of the Week actually care whether he or she is genuine/trolling/crazy? How many people, by contrast, simply care that the Freak of the Week serves their narrative about how terrible the Other Side is, whether the Other Side is conservatives, liberals, or (in my case) censors?

Third, taking George Tierney, Jr. at face value for the sake of argument, my question, offered in the context of American thought about freedom of expression, is this: what the fucking fuck? Seriously? From whence comes this all-to-common sentiment that you can act any damnfool way you like in public, but people can't comment on it? Where do nominal adults get the idea that it's somehow actionable to be quoted? Is this a signifier of culture shock — a sign that we haven't worked out, in our own minds, whether the internet is public or private? Is it the incoherent grumble of a populace instructed that self-esteem is paramount, and raised to feel entitled to respect whether or not their conduct is respectable? Or is it simply a sign of atrocious civic education?

Fourth, again taking George Tierney, Jr. at face value: does he genuinely not understand the degree to which he will get curb-stomped in court if he tries to sue someone for making fun of him for saying "when are you going to shut your god damn dick sucker" to someone? Really? I'd take that case for free, get anti-SLAPP fees or sanctions, and wind up taking his debtor exam and taking him through a painstaking catalog of the value of his lawn jockey collection and mullet glamor-shots. (For the record, I wrote to Mr. Tierney asking him to comment on the legal theory on which he might pursue Tbogg and others, and did not receive a response.)

Fifth: wouldn't it be nice if we could lay down our arms for a sort of Christmas Day truce between the trenches, and join together in calling out, ridiculing, and opposing the censorious assholes and psychopaths of the world? I don't think that the vast majority of conservatives — even those who despise what Sanda Fluke stands for — approve of either George Tierney, Jr.'s language or his censorious threats. Yet most of the criticism I see is from the left — I suspect that people on the right feel that calling out the likes of Tierney would mean supporting Fluke, or supporting Tbogg, or something. Yet it doesn't mean that, by any reasonable measure. On a different scale, I'd like to see leftists condemn scary censorious psychopath Brett Kimberlin, and recognize that they can do so without endorsing the politics of those whom Kimberlin pursues. Political differences are meaningful, and should not be disregarded, but recognition of mutual humanity is often productive, and there are few more common human experiences than encountering crazy douchebags on the internet. In addition, we all have a stake in calling out, and opposing, censorship.

Last 5 posts by Ken White

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Paul Baxter  •  May 23, 2012 @8:55 am

    I like this entire post, but I want to focus in on this bit

    "I don't think that the vast majority of conservatives — even those who despise what Sanda Fluke stands for — approve of either George Tierney, Jr.'s language or his censorious threats. Yet most of the criticism I see is from the left…"

    This is a broad issue for anyone who self-identifies with any sort of group. President Reagan, back in 1966, said "Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican." This is nonsense. People who are members of groups which pretend to any modicum of public respect have to take steps to guard the image of their group, whether it be a racial minority, or a political group or religious or business or anything else.

    I suppose the problem in this case is that political affiliation, particularly when it is just to "the right" or "the left" is just too amorphous to allow for any sort of careful image control. Still, you would think that it would be wise, in this case, for people on the right to be the first and the loudest in condemning that sort of behavior.

  2. Damon  •  May 23, 2012 @9:32 am

    I think he's trolling. Whether or not he ended up regretting that his comments got more widely published, I still think he was trolling. Maybe now he's regretting that. Meh. I read his comments. How long does it take for society to realize that the interwebs are forever? Dumbass. I guess it just reinforces my low opinion of most of humanity.

  3. perlhaqr  •  May 23, 2012 @9:51 am

    So, sort of a side issue. If you were hiring someone, at what point do you google their name? And if it's before the interview process, if one has the misfortune of also being named George Tierney, would it be appropriate to put on one's resume, "By the way, I'm not *that* George Tierney".

  4. Jim Hall  •  May 23, 2012 @10:11 am

    I'm probably more Libertarian than Conservative, although to the extent I comment here politically, I expect I come off as Conservative.

    If a comment on your blog helps, I am more than happy to condemn jackasses of all political persuasions. Actually a jackass in support of something I believe in, just makes the entire argument look bad.

  5. Jess  •  May 23, 2012 @10:31 am

    “I suppose the problem in this case is that political affiliation, particularly when it is just to "the right" or "the left" is just too amorphous to allow for any sort of careful image control”

    Nah that’s not it – political crap aside this really isn’t about them or us. It’s not about whether I agree or disagree with Fluke or Tierney. It’s about if someone posts something in a public forum like Twitter, they have no expectation of privacy on the matter. The real issue is that people like Tierney believe they are so special that they can determine whether or not people like me can exercise our constitutional rights in calling attention to their public comments and voicing opinions about same. They’re not and they can’t.

    Damon – agreed – far too many people don’t understand that content is indexed and can be found on Google long after the original content has been taken down. In some cases you can actually restore it (ie. Wayback). I actually tracked down and helped get some asshole thrown in jail for scamming some people I know out of a several thousand dollars. All because the idiot had a prior post with his phone # that I found via Google and we were able to track him down.

    Ken – well done. Looks like you have another censorious asshat to add to the vote for 2012 asshat of the year.

  6. Rich  •  May 23, 2012 @10:47 am

    While I do not know Mr. Tierney personally, I have no doubt that many people in my fair state of South Carolina hold similar, if not identical, beliefs regarding our President and government. I have listened to very successful businessmen condemn President Obama for causing the Japanese earthquake for a variety of different purposes, not the least of which was to reduce the global population through radiation poisoning.

    I wish I could say that I believe he was trolling, but sadly, my experience tells me otherwise.

  7. Squillo  •  May 23, 2012 @10:58 am

    I probably read several demands per week that a blogger or commenter remove some asshat's words from their post, usually threatening a copyright infringement or defamation suit.

    As I plan to remind my now-too-young-to-use-the-Internet-alone kids, it really doesn't matter what that little button next to the text input box says. It means: "Send this out far and wide to be read, quoted and commented upon by anyone, no matter how vile or wrong you believe them to be. By pressing this here button, I relinquish any moral right to be upset that they have done so, while preserving my right to be upset by the actual commentary."

  8. Matthew Cline  •  May 23, 2012 @2:59 pm

    Is this a signifier of culture shock — a sign that we haven't worked out, in our own minds, whether the internet is public or private?

    It seems to me that a large number of people have worked it out in their minds, and come to the conclusion that the internet is public and simultaneously private.

  9. Cathy  •  May 23, 2012 @4:19 pm

    Re: point three, blame the RIAA. And the MPAA. Seriously. The result of the copyright wars, and their incessant rhetoric that's what's theirs is theirs, don't even think about enjoying it without their permission (they even have programs teaching this nonsense in schools!) is a culture where people think they own and have complete dominion over absolutely every bit of drivel that ever spouts from their brains.

    And the sad thing is, the law has been stretched and contorted to the point that it pretty much backs this up. If Tierney wants these comments down he may just need to send DMCA takedown notices to anyone still hosting them. It then comes down to the fortitude of those hosts to resist these spurious assaults on fair use. While such a stand on principal may eventually be vindicated, it might not come before they've been hauled into court.

  10. TPRJones  •  May 24, 2012 @1:24 pm

    I really do think we can thank the MPAA and RIAA for this common misconception that quoting someone without permission is illegal. Because you are copying their words, and "copying is theft!" as they have been assured by all the lawyers on the TV box.

  11. Bakerina  •  Jun 9, 2012 @11:23 am

    Ken, I'm way behind on your posts, and am just catching up now. As a result, I'm commenting on a (relatively) old post. But I want to say it here, since you made the case here: I'm not the leftiest person in the universe, but I'm close. Liberal, progressive, left-wing, damnable Kenyan Muslim Socialist supporter; call it what you will. And I will say here, publicly, that Brett Kimberlin is a scary censorious psychopath. I'd add "farce" and "tool" if I didn't think they'd blunt the edge of "scary censorious psychopath." He does not do me or the causes I support any favors, and I'm not going to pretend he does just because he's fighting with — and acting out against — bloggers whose messages I really, really hate. At best, he was a curiosity during the 1992 Presidential election, and he lost what little credibility he might have had when Mark Singer, who profiled him for the New Yorker in 1992 and started working on a book with him, said, essentially, "nope, he's lying his ass off" and walked away. Any good he *might* have done by raising concerns about direct-recording voting machines has pretty much been shot to hell by his scary-ass harassment tactics, both in and out of the courts. To quote Shel Silverstein, some kind of help is the kind of help we all can do without.

    I also hate him for co-opting "Velvet Revolution." Yeah, I know that nobody owns that phrase, and it's a generic term for peaceful overthrow of government, but for me it will always evoke Czechoslovakia in 1989. If Kimberlin or his minions ever try to trademark it, that will be the day that I officially don't want to live on this planet anymore.