March 28, 2012 at 1:05 PM ET
SpikeLee wasn't the first to retweet the erroneous address on Twitter blindlyaccepted by many as that of George Zimmerman, the man who fatally shot 17-year-oldTrayvon Martin last month. But the filmmaker's message -- sent last week tohis 240,000 Twitter followers -- was the most viral.
Elaine McClain, 70, the owner of the misidentified house inSanford, Florida, and her husband David McClain, 72, tell news outlets they're now"living in fear." The address spread on Twitter, accompanied bythreats of violence, and the couple are now staying at a hotel "to avoid thespotlight and possible danger," reports the Orlando Sentinel.
Oh, and Mrs.McClain? She reportedly has a heart condition. Awesome.
So how did this happen? AsThe Smoking Gun breaks it down, Marcus Davonne Higgins, the 33-year-old Los Angeles manbehind the bad address, confused McClain's son, George W. Zimmerman, who oncelived at the address, with George Michael Zimmerman, the man who killedMartin. Higgins then blasted the address to the Twitter accounts of Will Smith,50 Cent, LeBron James, as well as to Lee. But Lee is the only one who retweetedit.
The great big "WRONG!" here isn't the bad address,or whether Lee should research the info before he retweets. And as regrettableas it is, Lee can't be held accountable for giving conservative pundit MichelleMalkin more fuel for Trayvon Martin race baiting on her Twitter "news"site Twitchy. It's this: Celebrities have no business using their position of power and popularityon Twitter to incite a mob.
We decry it when members of 4chan's /b/board broadcast the phone number, address and other identifying info about young girls suddenly popular on the Internet. Here in the West, we're horrified by stories of China's Internet mob, "mobilized to root out, expose and shame people they perceive to be exhibiting corrupt or immoral behavior," sometimes resulting in real-world violence. It's equally not OK for U.S. celebrities to do the same.
We saw this to a lesser degree last week when Alec Baldwin mustered a Twitter armyagainst someone he claimed was harassing his girlfriend on the Internet. When acelebrity directs his fanatic legion against a person outside a position ofpower, that's straight-up bullying.
Posting on Twitter, Baldwin gave out the handle of the alleged harasser,@scarfacemadam, whom he said "has entered the twitter-verse ONLY to harassmy girlfriend" in a way "that is borderline threatening." Heasked users to "go to her address and read just a few of her posts, andgive her your notice of her behavior."
While many of the Twitter attacks against @scarfacemadam didn't compare to thejillions of ugly death threats tweeted by Justin Bieber fans on any given day, theyweren't pretty. As we noted then, if the troll harassing his GF really is as bad as he claimed, then it's way to fuel a psycho stalker, Alec Baldwin! Conversely, if the troll was just your run-of-the-mill Internet jerk (with or without diagnosable mental issues), then Baldwin just sent thousands of people in that troll's direction.
As it turned out, the kerfuffle faded fast soon after the @scarfacemadam account wentdormant. It could've been worse. It wasn't.
In Lee's case however, helping chum Twitter could've resulted in violence-- against an innocent elderly couple or a man yet to face the justice system -–as well as a jail sentence for any Lee fans who took his retweet to heart.
Update at 8:30 a.m. ET Thursday: In a tweet late Wednesday, Lee apologized to the McClain family.