Twitter, kangaroo courts and Woody Allen

This is what a kangaroo court is:

An unfair, biased, or hasty judicial proceeding that ends in a harsh punishment; an unauthorized trial conducted by individuals who have taken the law into their own hands, such as those put on by vigilantes or prison inmates; a proceeding and its leaders who are considered sham, corrupt, and without regard for the law.

Suzanne Moore has a piece in the Guardian today in which she refers to Twitter as a ‘kangaroo court’ because many people have tweeted that they believe Dylan Farrow’s accusation that Woody Allen sexually abused her at the age of seven. (That last link contains a description of child abuse.) Her argument – although it’s somewhat incoherent, I thought – is the familiar one that ‘online mobs’ have no right to condemn Allen without knowing for certain that he is in fact a child abuser. Even though, as she herself points out, it is statistically very likely that the accusation is true; and in fact she believes Dylan Farrow herself. (It’s hard to be sure what the stats for false rape allegations are, but even the highest reliable estimates would suggest that nine out of ten accusations are genuine. See here for a discussion.)

Moore’s point, then, is not that Farrow is likely to be lying – she’s very unlikely to be lying – but that Twitter has tried and convicted Allen and that only the judicial process is allowed to do that. Has it, though?

Going back to that definition of ‘kangaroo court’, the key aspect is that kangaroo courts, when they occur, actually do try and convict people. They are impromptu, outside the legal process, probably prejudiced, and have doubtless resulted in many innocent people being imprisoned or killed as a result. But that’s isn’t what Twitter is. Twitter is not a court in any sense, kangaroo or otherwise. The people who tweeted #IBelieveDylanFarrow are not condemning Woody Allen to jail or the electric chair. At the most, they – we – are expressing our horror at the actions we believe he performed, and maybe when his next film comes out we won’t pay to go and see it. Maybe we won’t want to watch any Allen movies again, because it’s going to be difficult to enjoy them now.

But that’s our decision to make. Woody Allen isn’t entitled to our money or our good opinion, and we can withdraw both if we choose. It’s not wrong of us to make a judgment based on the knowledge we have and then act on it in that way. If someone blew up Allen’s apartment or sent him broken glass in the mail or otherwise tried to inflict direct damage on him as a result of all this, Suzanne Moore might have a point about kangaroo courts. As it is, the only thing damaged is Allen’s reputation, and reputations get damaged all the time. It will recover or it won’t.

I can guarantee this: the amount of vitriol being heaped upon Allen on Twitter pales in comparison to the degree of misogynistic abuse Dylan Farrow will be receiving from mostly-men all around the world, who will automatically assume she’s lying because they think women lie about rape in order to get attention. These people don’t care about or don’t believe the statistics: they know what they think, and they think women can’t be trusted. And they have a lot more power, collectively, than the mostly-women who are tweeting their support for Dylan Farrow. Some of them are judges and lawyers and policemen and media owners.

So perhaps Suzanne Moore has aimed at the wrong target here. Dylan Farrow’s bravery will probably cost her dearly, and Woody Allen will probably continue to make films. If the only thing I can do about that is to stop watching them, in the full knowledge that it will make no difference to anyone but me, then so be it. I’m allowed to make that choice.





4 thoughts on “Twitter, kangaroo courts and Woody Allen

  1. The Goldfish

    I think you make the important distinction here that’s so often lost when it comes to folks saying “I believe her.” about powerful men who are accused of sexual abuse or domestic violence. Even at the top of Dylan Farrow’s account, there was the disclaimer that Allen deserved the presumption of innocence.

    But it doesn’t work like that at all. If suspected abusers must be presumed to be innocent by everyone, nobody would come to trial – why subject an innocent man to the trial if nobody believes he has done anything wrong? The presumption of innocence simply means that a person must not be *punished* unless and until their guilt is proven.

    If a friend comes to one of us and reports a sexual assault (or a mugging, burglary, credit card fraud, etc.), it would be ludicrous to assume that she is lying until we’ve seen proof that she’s not – or even to stay on the fence. We presume she’s telling the truth and we support her in her pursuit of justice (if that’s what she wants).

    When we read accounts from strangers, we don’t need to remain tirelessly impartial when there’s very strong evidence that a crime has been committed.

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