Was it a bad joke, a bad idea or just plain bad?
These questions are being discussed as South Dakotans and others contemplate a social media meme circulated by Rep. Lynne DiSanto that seems to endorse the actions of a man charged with murder after driving a speeding car into protestors in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The meme, a social media item circulated on the internet that DiSanto shared with Facebook friends, featured an image of stick-figured people running from and being struck by an SUV and read: “All Lives Splatter,” “Nobody cares about your protest” and “Keep your (expletive) out of the road.” DiSanto personalized the meme by adding: “I think this is a movement we can all support."
It turns out she was wrong about that.
Once the Republican lawmaker’s post went viral, she learned many people don’t support using vehicles to intimidate, injure and silence protesters exercising their First Amendment rights of “freedom of expression” and “to assemble peaceably.”
Within hours of the story breaking, the Box Elder resident and wife of Pennington County Commissioner Mark DiSanto was dismissed from working at a local real estate firm and dropped as a speaker at an upcoming Working Against Violence, Inc., or WAVI, event in Rapid City. In making its announcement on Facebook, the nonprofit said: “WAVI doesn’t condone violence of any kind.”
Some DiSanto defenders said in online posts they believe the meme was meant to be funny. Would they feel the same way if it showed terrorists driving a vehicle — their current weapon of choice in urban areas — through a crowd in a U.S. city? Would they laugh if someone, perhaps inspired by a meme, plowed into children, women and men protesting in Rapid City?
Even DiSanto didn't try to justify it by calling it a joke although her explanation was less than convincing and an apology didn't address her actions in posting the meme that led to the uproar.
"I am sorry if people took offense to it and perceived my message in any way insinuating support or condoning people being hit by cars," she told the Journal. "I perceived it differently. I perceived it as encouraging people to stay out of the street."
Then there are those like House Majority Leader Lee Qualm of Platte who want to dismiss the meme as nothing more than the equivalent of a slip of the tongue.
"I don't think it will have an impact," he said. "It seems like one of those things you do without putting much thought into it."
The problem with that assessment is that DiSanto, one of five majority whips in the state House, posted the meme on Sept. 7, giving her plenty of time to reconsider and remove the post before it made its way to a larger Facebook audience and then went national.
DiSanto deleted the item from her Facebook page on Tuesday after no doubt experiencing the wrath of social media patrons who did not see the humor or words of caution in the "All Lives Splatter" meme. Perhaps, she learned that it can be frightening to be attacked or vilified for exercising a First Amendment right.
Clearly — and like with so many other crass, vulgar and thoughtless posts on social media sites — little if any good will come from this. Posts like this only further polarize a nation that seems at war with itself with social media often being the weapon of choice.
DiSanto, however, is different than many who savage each other on the internet. She is an elected official and a leader in the state Republican Party. She represents a constituency of different races and ethnic backgrounds. As such, she should not diminish her standing or elected office by endorsing, encouraging or joking about violence against her fellow Americans.
She should apologize for her actions and make it clear that she made a mistake and will learn from it if that is indeed the case. She then needs to review what is at the top of her Facebook page — "Believe there is good in this world" — and lead with that in mind.