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Who needs a pitchfork when you have a smartphone?

Social media has equipped the mob with its most sophisticated and deadly weapon. With a click of the send button, careers can be ruined, reputations destroyed, a life's work reduced to a hateful hashtag.

Look at what happened to Rick Snyder.

The former Michigan governor was forced to withdraw from a Harvard University fellowship in the face of a social media campaign that declared him unfit to appear on any public stage.

Snyder, who had previously been deemed too hot to handle by his beloved alma mater, the University of Michigan, had been asked by Harvard to spend a year on campus talking with students about the successes and failures of government. 

Who could offer a better perspective on the highs and lows of governing?

Snyder saved Michigan from an economic free fall when he took office in 2010 with an agenda that focused on instilling fiscal discipline and enacting pro-growth policies. During his tenure, Michigan moved off the bottom shelf of most economic measures to become one of the fastest growing states in the nation.

He stabilized the economy, built a respectable rainy day fund and started paying down long-term debt. 

And then came Flint. 

Snyder didn't poison the children of Flint, as his detractors claim. He placed a financially broken city under a state emergency manager in hopes of re-creating in Flint the resounding success of a similar intervention in Detroit.

It backfired when an employee failed to add the right chemical mix to water drawn from the Flint River, leading to lead leaching into the city's drinking water and into the city's kids.

Snyder's offense was bungling the response. He acted too late and with too little urgency. He seemed not to grasp the seriousness of the situation until it was blowing up his administration.

Fault him for that. But also recognize that he learned a lesson from the experience, one that would be worth sharing with the future government leaders studying at Harvard.

He won't get that chance because an 11-year-old child, Mari Copeny, decided there will be no redemption for Snyder. Mari, known as Little Miss Flint for encouraging former President Barack Obama to visit the city, launched a Twitter protest under the hashtag NoSnyderFellowship.

“Harvard has to be smarter than this #NoSnyderFellowship #SnyderForPrison #FlintWaterCrisis," Copeny tweeted. Others joined the campaign. And Snyder was done.

This was hardly a massive backlash against Snyder. But on social media, a smattering of posts can look like a groundswell. Harvard wasn't willing to weather the storm, even one that never gained much velocity. No shock. Previously the school, to calm a student protest, relieved an African American lawyer of his position as faculty dean for providing #metoo poster boy Harvey Weinstein with his constitutionally guaranteed legal representation. #HarvardHasNoSpine.

In withdrawing his name, Snyder commented, "It would have been exciting to share my experiences, both positive and negative; our current political environment and its lack of civility makes this too disruptive. I wish them the best."

And so the mob's thirst for blood is quenched, for now. 

But with each victory of demagoguery over reason, it will become bolder, and less tolerant, and more difficult to sate. 

nfinley@detroitnews.com 

Catch “The Nolan Finley Show” weekdays 7-9 a.m. on 910 AM Superstation.

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