The following is a list of notes on the fate of Memories Pizza, an Indiana restaurant that foreswore catering at gay weddings before closing down over nonstop Internet trolling and violent threats to the owners.
- Memories Pizza, of Walkerton, Ind., has been owned by the same quote-unquote “mom&pop,” “small-town” family for the past nine years.
- Parenthetically: Walkerton is a town of 2,144 people. It has seven churches and eight restaurants. One of those restaurants is a McDonald’s.
- Crystal O’Connor, who owns Memories Pizza and clearly had no idea what a firestorm her remarks would inspire when she talked to a local TV station, said that while she’d never deny service to anyone, “if a gay couple came in and wanted us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we would have to say no … We’re a Christian establishment.”
- Parenthetically: No one, gay or straight, would want Memories Pizza to cater their wedding, anyway.
- Regardless, many people (rightly!) consider O’Connor’s position bigoted and discriminatory — the worst-case scenario under Indiana’s “religious freedom law.” Opponents of said law include: Apple CEO Tim Cook, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, the ACLU, the Human Rights Campaign.
- These individuals/organizations have deployed a pretty effective strategy against the law: Namely, if someone refuses service and you object, you just … refuse them business. As in: threaten to move your company/event out of Indiana. Or, in the event of the Memories Pizza debacle, eat at the McDonald’s and direct your remaining outrage at a worthier target, such as the state legislature.
- But instead, the Internet responded to Memories Pizza as follows:
- Wrecked the restaurant’s Yelp, Facebook and Google pages with negative reviews intended to drive their ratings down and push them of business.
- Registered a fake Web site for Memories Pizza, complete with mocking photos of Crystal O’Connor that have since been removed.
- Threatened to burn the restaurant down, prompting a police investigation. (Possible harassment and intimidation charges are pending.)
- Eventually forced the business to close entirely.
That may not even be the end.
It’s exhausting, honestly: This cycle of asymmetric outrage and retribution repeats so frequently, so blindly, on the Internet that it almost doesn’t seem worth discussing again. It’s the same strain of self-righteousness and vengefulness that tailed Leelah Alcorn’s parents as they mourned their daughter’s death. It’s the same type of Internet-enabled insanity that had Twitter critics calling for Trevor Noah’s premature resignation, or trolls demanding Justine Sacco’s head.
In fact, the abuse Memories Pizza is currently facing is arguably no different than the type of harassment women faced during Gamergate — except the trolls in this case think they stand on sturdier moral ground: O’Connor is wrong; she is a bigot; she must be punished.
But punished by whom, and on what terms, and to what degree? Vigilantes on Twitter and Reddit want to frame the downfall of Memories Pizza as some kind of win in the culture war, but the people defacing O’Connor’s Yelp page and parodying her on fake Web sites have not righted the scales of justice or struck some heroic blow for gay rights. For one thing, they’re not changing anyone’s mind. For another, all they’ve done is sat at a computer — and wrecked a stranger’s life.
In that regard, this has nothing to do with politics or religion or “moral beliefs” — unless we’re talking about the dubious, shifting morality of the Internet’s outrage police. Yeah, you’re angry: That makes sense! But join a boycott. Write a letter. Sign a petition.
For all that is good on the Internet, do not do this.