On Monday morning the issue of masks to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus was making the rounds on social media – but it was far from a debate. As with so many issues that have divided the country, the issue of masks certainly lacks anything resembling middle ground.
It began after Fox News’ Tucker Carlson on Monday suggested it was “unacceptable,” “dangerous” and even potentially “illegal” for children to be forced to wear face coverings outside. Carlson further said that viewers should report such sightings to the police or child protective services, even as it is still recommended that masks be worn at all times by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For the record, the CDC encourages children two years and older to wear a mask when in public or when they are around other people they don’t live with. Health experts have also said that the vast majority of children are safe when the masks are worn properly. However, Carlson made numerous dubious claims – including that wearing of masks can lead to low oxygen levels.
Carlson also suggested that those who wear masks outside were “aggressors” and that it was “our job to brush them back and restore the society we were born in.”
The reaction on social media was swift – with many calling out the Fox News host.
The sentiment was shared by conservative pundit Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) took issue with Carlson, writing, “The masks stuff is performative idiocy and demagoguery. But the key sentence in Carlson’s rant was this: ‘It’s our job to restore the society we were born in.’ The destructive power of reactionary nostalgia jet-fueled by grievances real or imagined shouldn’t be underestimated.”
NBC legal analyst Katie S. Phang (@KatiePhang) pulled no punches, writing, “Tucker Carlson has lost his mind.”
There were several who called out the Fox News host, with a similar refrain.
Attorney and author Seth Abramson (@SethAbramson) wrote, “Tucker Carlson says you shouldn’t be allowed to wear a mask on a crowded city street even as he brazenly wears his hood on set”Trending On Social Media
By Tuesday morning, Tucker Carlson was trending on social media alongside “masks” and “child protective services.” There were more than 12,000 tweets for the latter, with most calling out Carlson and few agreeing that such a move was necessary.
“How is my wearing a mask violating Carlson and his viewers rights? He’s calling for them to approach ppl, students in school, parents to call Child protective services? Is there no end to this pos, sitting in front of a camera, creating problems that don’t exist?,” wrote @whatifisaiNew York Times columnist and author Michelle Goldberg (@michelleinbklyn) also added, “I wonder if people understand what can happen to you after even a frivolous CPS complaint.”
Calls To De-mask
There were some on social media on Tuesday who took aim not at Carlson, but at the continued requirements to wear a mask outside.
Among those taking to social media was the account for @Moms4Liberty, which posted, “Moms are watching our children struggle with masks every day. We are being told masking is required, necessary and not hurting our kids. Parents, we are being lied to. How do we know? Evidence.”
Author Candace Owens (@RealCandaceO) was even more direct, “Don’t wear a mask.”
Mask Debate on Social Media
As with so many issues, social media is where many try to make their voice heard on the issue of masks. The question is whether it is a debate or just each side stating talking points.
“Any place is a good place to present points of view, opinions and facts,” explained Roger Entner, principal analyst at Recon Analytics.
“Everyone has an opinion, and some even have two,” Entner added. “We have a problem when all that people want is to talk but not to listen. We have a bigger problem when people say one thing and do another. You can learn a lot more by listening than by speaking.”
An Unsocial Network
The platforms are essentially a digital soap box.
“Social media is no better or worse a place to have difficult conversations than traditional media. Civil people who are interested in a sincere debate can do so anywhere,” added Bob Jarvis, lawyer and professor of Law at Nova Southeastern University. Uncivil people who are not interested in a sincere debate will cause havoc whether they are in-person or on-line. In other words, Marshall McLuhan was wrong when he said, ‘The medium is the message.'”
But is it dangerous speech?
“Carlson’s comment equating mask wearing to child abuse was outlandish and no reasonable person could take it seriously,” said Jarvis.
“Moreover, as a Fox New show host, it’s now well understood that Carlson says outrageous things nightly to get ratings,” Jarvis noted. I think these facts save Carlson from being charged with incitement – or any other criminal violation and, if charged, protect him from being convicted. To cross the line under the First Amendment, a speaker’s words have to have the likelihood of causing imminent lawless action. While it is possible that a particular person might be moved to act after hearing Carlson’s words, I think Carlson would be on safe ground arguing that he was merely expressing his opinion about, and frustration with, the Biden Administration and that his words, especially when considered in the context of his show, were nothing more than hyperbole and not an actual call to commit criminal acts.”