THE SHAMEFUL TROLLING OF LESLIE JONES By Andrew Marantz , AUGUST 26, 2016 Leslie Jones has been facing hecklers for most of her life.PHOTOGRAPH BY GREGG DEGUIRE / WIREIMAGE / GETTY reporting a piece about her, I watched her perform several standup sets. Her jokes were good, but her bespoke insults were better. Once, in a cab headed uptown from the Comedy Cellar to the Comic Strip, she said, “Just try and come at me while I have the mike. Watch what happens next, motherfucker.” She smiled almost wistfully at the thought. She never used the same phrase twice to describe what would happen next, but my favorite variations included “rip the spirit out of his body,” “destroy his whole existence,” and “tear his asshole out through his throat.” When the conversation turned to online harassment, though, Jones’s smile faded. “Onstage, it’s one thing,” she said—after all, comedy clubs have security guards, and face-to-face confrontations can enhance the excitement of a live show. “But the shit people say on the Internet, it’s, like, How do you not understand that you’re saying this about a human being?” Earlier this week, someone hacked Jones’s Web site, posting what seemed to be nude photos of her, an image of her passport, and a picture of Harambe the gorilla. This is the sleaziest chapter in an ongoing saga that might be called Jones v. the Worst People on the Internet. Who are these people, and what could they possibly want? The most insidious possible justification for their actions is “free speech.” Last month, the notorious troll Milo Yiannopoulos was banned from Twitter after insulting Jones. Yiannopoulos and his supporters immediately declared themselves free-speech martyrs. At Breitbart.com, the site that employs Yiannopoulos (and was run, until recently, by the C.E.O. of Donald Trump’s campaign), a commenter wrote, “It looks like social media is banishing the first amendment.” This is a bad argument. Some parts of the Bill of Rights are grammatically confusing—the Tenth Amendment is slippery, for example, and the Second contains a tricky comma—but the First Amendment is relatively straightforward: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” The tricky part is figuring out what counts as speech, and not even a free-speech zealot would claim that all speech is protected. Joking about a riot might be protected; inciting a riot might not. Yelling fire in a crowded theatre is not protected speech—unless the theatre really is on fire, in which case it is. Is sleeping speech? Is a “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” T-shirt? The Supreme Court has held that cross-burning might be protected speech, provided it expresses an ideology rather than a threat. Are Jones’s tormentors expressing a compelling ideology or are they merely using fighting words? Either way, it’s hard to imagine a court taking seriously the argument that a Twitter ban can be a First Amendment violation, for the simple reason that Twitter is not Congress and a company’s security policy is not a law. Oddly, the person who seems most inclined to drag the government into this conversation is Yiannopoulos, who in other contexts claims to be a libertarian. In March, after Twitter revoked his verification following a different incident, Yiannopoulos snuck into a White House press briefing to ask whether there was “anything the President can do” about the policies at Twitter and other companies. If you visit a so-called “alternative news site” such as BeforeItsNews.com, you might see a house ad pop up. “Defend our free press,” it reads. “Tired of the censorship from all those other news sites? Join our newsletter and get 100% uncensored news.” It should go without saying, but apparently it doesn’t: a decision not to publish a story about “The Ancient Giants Who Ruled America” is not censorship. Just as not all speech is protected speech, not all shocking gestures are shock humor. A picture of Harambe is not a punch line; it’s just a punch. A transgression of social norms might be clever or artless. It might tickle the same part of the brain stem that good comedy does. It might even elicit a laugh. That alone does not make it defensible. Recalling Jones’s remarks in that cab, I’ve been imagining Twitter as a kind of comedy club. There are hecklers in the audience. At first, it’s all in good fun—Jones turns on them one by one, and, using her superior wit, destroys their entire existence. But they don’t know when they’ve been defeated: they continue yelling racist epithets, then they take Jones’s wallet and scatter her personal possessions, and then they cover the stage with lewd imagery, ruining the show for everyone else. There’s no question that the club would be within its rights to eject the hecklers. What I find harder to predict is what would happen next, when the hecklers gathered on the sidewalk outside the club, now even angrier than before.