WASHINGTON — A new blog that exposes racial slurs on social media about President Barack Obama's re-election could draw the attention of the U.S. Secret Service, even though most of its subjects — two of whom are from Maryland — appear to be of high school and college age.
The website "Hello There, Racists!" which has only existed since Nov. 11, had "outed" 77 subjects by Thursday afternoon. Its creator, who has not been identified, did not respond to an electronic request for comment.
The blog, which is hosted by the popular microblogging platform Tumblr, welcomes its visitors with a challenge:
"The (un)official motto of the GOP is 'personal responsibility' — so with publicly available information, let the words, names, and faces of these racists be documented so that they may be responsible for them," the message reads.
Although its subjects clearly oppose Obama's re-election, not all of them explicitly identify themselves as Republicans. Some also state specifically that they are not racist.
Some entries involve racial slurs or threats of secession; others advocate openly for the assassination of Obama. One user posted a picture of Obama's face on a shooting target.
"Obama's president again," one message said. "Everybody put your stocks in Home Depot. Rope will be selling like crazy." Other posts are much more offensive.
One Maryland teenager posted two tweets calling Obama a racial slur, and he shared a photo of a person wearing a novelty mask resembling the 44th president performing a crude hand gesture. After being confronted with the website, the teenager deleted the messages, claiming his Twitter profile had been hacked.
Another Marylander posted "I demand a recount" 10 minutes after NBC News called the election for Obama. When one of his Facebook friends replied, "I want an assassination," the man said, "Hahaha likewise."
Although both Marylanders are identified on the website, Capital News Service is not naming them because they could not be reached for comment, nor their identities confirmed.
When the assassination comments on the site were pointed out to the Secret Service by a reporter, spokesman Max Milien said his agency doesn't have the luxury of ignoring any threats against the president, even if the messages originate from high schoolers.
"To me, anything that is brought to our attention — whether it be from a high school kid or an adult — we have the right as an agency to conduct appropriate follow-up," Milien said. "We have the right to determine any intent of the comments."
Appropriate follow-up, according to Milien, could mean anything from an interview to a full-blown investigation. He also said the Secret Service would look into the blog.
While the people behind the racial slurs may find themselves in legal trouble, the website's creator may be treading on ethically unstable ground.
"If all this stuff is publicly available, and they're taking the information without using any illegal methods, it's fair game," said Bradley Shear, a Bethesda lawyer specializing in social media and Internet law. "Everyone has a right to state their opinion; however, people also have a right to be held accountable."
Shear said social media users need to be aware of the dangers of reckless tweeting, but suggested the lesson could serve as a teaching moment — however bruising the lesson may be.
"It's so important to be so careful with anything you post online," Shear said. "You don't know where it's going to end up or who's going to use it. You should really think long and hard and wait, maybe count to 10 — 100 if it's necessary."
The website can be found here: http://hellothereracists.tumblr.com/archive. It contains extremely offensive material.
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