‘I Was Attacked By the Serbian Internet Mob’ – The Art of Being Hated in the Modern Age

It must take a certain amount of self-loathing to draw an uninterested person into a campaign of targeted hatred.

For the better part of a year, I was at the focal point of such a campaign: one man against the entire Republic of Serbia, and possibly the entire ex-Yugoslavia region. Persona Non-Grata.

I received messages and threats from the most unsavory of characters, united in their hatred for my person, my actions, and my entire being. They called for me to be fired. Or at least spend time in a Serbian jail cell while being pummeled by the blunt end of an iron rod.

It began while on a simple trip to explore the fabled libertarian micronation Liberland in May 2014.

Our Austrian-plated car was pulled over by police and we were accused of speeding. Upon asking for proof, the innocent interaction with a Serbian police officer elevated straight to a penalty: the price being 50 Euros cash or 2200 Serbian Dinar (obviously the amount in Euros was substantially higher).

For those in the car with me, the contested traffic stop was then interpreted as an opportunity for a bribe. I recorded the interaction and posted it to YouTube to share with a few friends. Thereafter, it snowballed into an unintentional viral sensation with over 1.2 million views (now since deleted for my security). That’s over 13 percent of the population of Serbia.

Detractors said I disrespected the officer and, indeed, the very honor of Serbia.

Ordinary Serbs saw the video and cast me as the personification of “Western imperialism,” a sensitive topic for the millions of people still recovering from the intense NATO bomb campaign of the Kosovo War not more than fifteen years ago.

When YouTubers discovered I was Canadian as well as American, the confusion doubled. Then they sleuthed that I was born in Quebec, which boggled their mind and broke their bigot gauges even more. Ultimately, I was slandered as a cosmopolitan Jew. So it goes.

During that year, my name was something of a curse in Serbia. Perhaps it still is. There have been dozens of news articles detailing the experience. The Minister of the Interior called a press conference announcing a change in the citation policy for foreigners entering Serbia, as well as further instructions for police officers near the border.

And from there, the slander only grew.

Entire articles were penned against me, half a dozen YouTube videos demanding official apologies were uploaded and shared, and thousands of emails from people around the world politely articulating their hatred found their way into my inbox. The death threats came in a flurry.

It only took three days for me to be “doxxed,” the new Internet phenomenon practiced by the likes of Anonymous: publishing information to reveal your identity en route for a public lynching.

Someone mass published my personal address, the names of my family members, their places of employment, their addresses, and their phone numbers. Some even threatened to bring them harm.

Facing Hatred

Facing this experience, I was driven to investigate what it’s been like for others to face public hatred or even public retribution.

Prescient examples in the United States seem almost endless as of late. Divisive events such as the shooting of Trayvon Martin or the backlash against the family pizzeria in Indiana that said they wouldn’t cater a gay wedding certainly take the cake.

Public apologies, quite in vogue in modern society, aggrandize actions between individuals into automatic microcosms for greater societal ills.

Don’t forget the always-faithful public apology from a politician, whether it’s Anthony Weiner’s fall from grace or Bill Clinton’s non-apology apology.

British author Jon Ronson perfectly detailed this in his book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, required reading after my trials and tribulations in Ex-Yugoslavia.

After Ronson demonstrates, some individuals are vilified immediately, while others receive a pass.

Public apologies, quite in vogue in modern society, aggrandize actions between individuals into automatic microcosms for greater societal ills.

Actress Alice Eve, NBA star Kris Humphries and Nickelodeon actor Drake Bell all issued public apologies after their comments on Bruce Jenner’s gender transformation were called out as “transphobic.”

After he retweeted the address he thought belonged to George Zimmerman, but actually belonged to an elderly retired couple, director Spike Lee offered an apology and agreed to pay $10,000 for “gross negligence.”

His retweet resulted in hundreds of people visiting and threatening the elderly couple and they eventually had to move. Now they’re suing him for even more.

While this example at least shows some level of justice for those who whip up the mob, it is certainly not always the case.

The Mob

Today, celebrities are called to task for sex scandals, drug-fueled binges and the occasional off-color comments that rub people the wrong way. In the past, it’s been the tabloid press. Nowadays, it’s The Mob.

In the Internet age, The Mob is much more organized and capable than ever before. And they’re incredibly judgmental. A simple Twitter account is all that is needed to express one’s hatred or disapproval.

Demands for apologies can be posted and shared via Facebook or YouTube faster than anyone can fetch a pitchfork from the barn.

For The Mob, social media is the perfect weapon: both great and terrible in the same fell swoop. It gives you access to millions of people while it gives millions of people access to you. It allows the perfect opportunity for mobs to arise.

It’s this exact mob mentality that closed Memories Pizza in rural Indiana when the owner said she wouldn’t cater a hypothetical gay wedding. After thousands of negative reviews of Yelp and threats to their business, the owners were forced to temporarily close shop.

Perhaps that’s the most confusing part of modern hatred in the public sphere: Why are so many people motivated to find outrage in a situation which doesn’t directly affect them? What motivates the trolls?

One could say it’s a shot at dispensing justice or fighting for the little guy. Or it’s about equalizing situations when bullies are poised to win. But when the bullies become the majority, and The Mob decides who is right or moral, what will that mean for those of us on the other side?