A candidate for City Council in District 6 is taking her campaign off of Twitter after months of online abuse at the hands of largely anonymous accounts.
“We’ve been trolled relentlessly with slurs, sexual assault & death threats, and anonymous cowards spreading misinformation,” Sara Lind wrote in one final post on April 14.
Lind, an attorney and member of Community Board 7, told the West Side Spirit that she and members of her campaign have been targets of harassment since last July, when she spoke out in support of utilizing the empty Lucerne Hotel as emergency housing for homeless individuals during the pandemic. The issue has been a divisive one for Upper West Side residents. Opponents of the policy have coalesced via a Facebook group called Upper West Side Together (formerly Upper West Siders for Safer Streets) and have formed a group called West Side Community Organization (WestCo), which hired a lawyer to sue the city as a way to evict the homeless residents from of the Lucerne.
It’s been very clear, she said, that the Lucerne controversy is what’s sparked the animosity towards her campaign.
“I took a stand and said that I thought that [moving the homeless into the Lucerne] was an appropriate thing to do at the time, given the nature of a global pandemic and the fact that people living in congregate settings were dying at much higher rates and that we have these empty hotels,” said Lind. “And so some people got very upset about it, and they started having these anonymous online accounts, and it’s really been relentless.”
According to Lind, people have posted to the UWS Together Facebook group saying they wanted the candidate dead. She also claims that her home address has been mentioned on the site.
Her campaign manager, Quinn Mootz, has also been targeted, Lind said. Mootz received text messages to her personal cell phone from unknown numbers that were of a violent nature. One message wished for Mootz to be sexually assaulted and receive no help from the police.
The harassment, Lind said, came to a boiling point on April 13. Mootz engaged in a heated back-and-forth with anonymous Twitter accounts in which she used explicit language. Mootz subsequently deactivated her account, and the tweets were deleted along with it, but screenshots of the exchange have been shared on social media. The next day Lind announced her campaign would be leaving the platform.
“She just lost it, I think, because it’s like, you take it and take it and take it and you have to rise above, and you have to be the bigger person, and sometimes you just can’t anymore,” Lind said of Mootz’s tweets. She added that she later addressed the tweets with Mootz. “She understands that it was not her finest moment – but these people have said much worse things to us.”
Lind did not report any of the harassment she received from other users to Twitter, she said.
“In retrospect, I’m not sure why [I didn’t],” she said. “I think it’s a stoicness, you just think, ‘OK, I have to rise above. I just have to ignore them,’ and then eventually, I decided it wasn’t worth it.”
Candidates have relied more on engaging voters with social media this year perhaps more than ever considering the limitations of in-person politicking during the pandemic, which Lind thinks may have contributed to why online harassment has been so pervasive this election cycle in particular. In general, though, Lind said Twitter is not a place to have nuanced conversations. She’s looking at her break from the platform – which she said she would return to with an official account if she’s elected – as a positive step for her campaign.
“You can get so wrapped up in it and feel like everything that’s happening [on Twitter] is so important. Meanwhile, there’s 200,000 residents on the Upper West Side, many of whom are not on Twitter,” said Lind. “The weather is getting nicer, people are getting vaccinated, and we are on the street every day going to talk to voters. That’s my priority now.”
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“You can get so wrapped up in it and feel like everything that’s happening [on Twitter] is so important. Meanwhile, there’s 200,000 residents on the Upper West Side, many of whom are not on Twitter.” City Council candidate Sara Lind