In December 2013, American singer-songwriter Conor Oberst was accused of rape. The accusation was anonymous, or more accurately pseudonymous, and was made only in cyberspace. Rather than ignore it or issue a bland denial, Oberst consulted his lawyer, and his accuser retracted. This month, Canadian singer-songwriter Justin Bieber was on the receiving end of a similar allegation, and announced his intention to go one better. In addition to displaying receipts that put him elsewhere at the time of this phantom rape, he said he intends to take legal action – ie to contact the police rather than simply sue for defamation.
When a celebrity is accused so, the reaction of many pundits is why would a woman lie? In Bieber’s case, the question that should be asked is why hasn’t he been accused until now? Bieber is 26 years old and has been in the limelight since he was 13. For girls of a certain age he ticks all the right boxes; he also married in 2018, so here we have a plethora of reasons: fantasising fans, disgruntled fans – “Oh Justin, why did you choose her instead of me?” etc. That’s before we mention trolls; we don’t even know if his accuser is actually a woman or a real person.
Allegations of rape and lesser sexual improprieties made through social media are on the rise; Bieber is far from the only such case in the news at the moment. While this one is likely to be water off a duck’s back, others have resulted in men being fired or having their contracts terminated just because they were accused. Occasionally there can be far more serious consequences. Last year, feminist agitator Zoë Quinn accused Canadian game developer and musician Alec Holowka of a bizarre sexual assault. Holowka’s team severed connection with him, and shortly he committed suicide. Quinn cannot have been totally unaware of Holowka’s state of mind; his mental fragility was no big secret.
As the man said, Twitter is not 9-1-1. Allegations of serious crimes should be made in the first instance to the police or to the relevant legal authority. That includes rape. Anyone may contact the police and file a crime report against anyone else. In the case of an emergency call, the police/ambulance/fire service are required to attend, even if they have good reason to believe the report to be a hoax. Such false reports of crimes can attract heavy criminal penalties. False reports of crimes made on social media attract no such penalties.
As a general rule of thumb, any allegation of rape made only through social media should be regarded as false. Only in exceptional circumstances should an allegation of rape made anywhere without a contemporaneous police report be given any credence whatsoever.
As the social media giants seem to have no problem shadow banning especially conservative pundits, there is no reason they should not take down false reports of sexual crimes promptly, and not only when the person accused is a celebrity.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.