Archive | November, 2016

Social Media, Our New Judge and Juror

21 Nov

Born in the late 1960’s, I am thankful for a childhood free of the internet and social media. I can’t imagine the embarrassing videos that would have been taken of me doing silly or dumb things. I can’t imagine having been the target of cyber bullying, or needing to find my self worth from the number of likes on my Instagram account.

In 2007 (give or take a year) I joined Facebook, and enjoyed it as a vehicle to connect with old friends and maintain connections while working overseas. Over the next few years I began to notice how easily offended people became at remarks made on Facebook pages, and how debates would turn vicious. Then there would be the “unfriending”, the Facebook way of extricating people from your life.

As the 2012 election rolled around, debates and discussions became nasty, and along with privacy concerns and a yearning to connect in more traditional ways, I decided enough was enough. I deleted my account, and couldn’t have been happier.  I am truly thankful I did not have Facebook during this year’s election cycle!

Now that the internet and social media are part and parcel of everyday life, something which has become increasingly rampant is the use of this medium to cause harm and destroy people, or simply to share moral outrage over an event and get people on their side. A vigilante “court of the people”, I guess you could call it. People using their phones to take video at crime scenes, or even seemingly innocent events like parties, or posting statements about things seen and heard which perhaps were never seen or heard, or maybe misheard or seen incorrectly.

Many people these days only obtain their news, or what they think is news, from social media. Pew has a study which shows that 45% of US adults obtain their news from Facebook, Twitter or a combination of both. I find this to be a rather terrifying statistic, both in terms of how dumbed-down people are in understanding real issues, but also how culture and thought is being shaped by something which often has no bearing in fact or logic.

A classic example of this is the “Hands up don’t shoot!” line from Ferguson, MO. There is DOJ documentation stating that there was no evidence this was said or occurred. However, within hours of the shooting, “Hands up don’t shoot!” became a statement of fact, virally spread through social media, which was then picked up by traditional news outlets and reported in the same way. This led to days of rioting, the destruction of a neighborhood, and the ruining of a law enforcement officer. (Please note that this is not commentary on racial profiling or any other related issues, but merely to show how social media was used as a vehicle to spread false information.)

This past week here in Anchorage, someone saw a man standing on the side of the road holding a cardboard sign stating “Deport All Mexicans!”. The passerby decided to stop and talk to him, and in today’s typical fashion record the encounter on his phone. He then uploaded the video, and over the weekend it went viral. The sign holder, it turns out, is a learning disabled man, who as a result of this video began to receive threats and other disturbing messages. So because one gentleman felt moral outrage, and had a desire to share it with others and show his own moral superiority, someone’s life – a learning disabled man’s life – was potentially put in harms way. If interested you can read about it here: https://www.adn.com/alaska-news/2016/11/18/an-encounter-with-a-man-in-anchorage-holding-a-deport-all-mexicans-sign-went-viral-but-theres-more-to-the-story/

The story that motivated me to write this occurred this past week. A 1st grade Thanksgiving play was recorded by a parent at Nutter Fort Primary school in WV. A teacher was shown in a 17 second clip to be taking a microphone away from a boy at the end of the play. It turns out the boy has autism. The boy’s mother posted this publicly on her Facebook page, stating she was heartbroken at the cruel actions of the teacher, when her son, the turkey in the play, was just trying to say his line of “gobble gobble.” I first read about this on an international news site, and the story received a massive amount of comments, most of them calling for the teacher to be fired – or worse.  The reporter did zero investigation but simply posted the video and the mom’s statement, along with a few other things that – you guessed it – were all derived from social media. I felt immediately that this was being completely overblown, so I used a fake Facebook account (shh, don’t tell! it belongs to someone else!), to do some digging.

The facts that I could glean were that the child was never supposed to be in the play, because the parents had never submitted a permission slip – necessary for extracurricular activities. The child’s name was not in the very detailed program (a picture of the program was posted on Facebook), and the children who were actually in the play had been practicing for 3 weeks. There was also no turkey in the program (the child had a native american costume like half the other kids, which was scrounged at the last minute when the parents showed up expecting their son to participate), although the parents kept insisting he was a turkey. And the child had no lines, as proven by the program, which the parents actually lied about. When I watched the video, the teacher is simply trying to get the microphone away from a child who, 3 times during the play, went up to the microphone and said things, even though he was not supposed to. The child says “noooo” and then cries – for about 2 seconds. Not too dramatic.

As a result of this video and the misinformation about the situation, the teacher has received death threats, and the things said about her on social media (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter), are so disgusting and appalling that I find it impossible to reconcile those trying to protect a child from supposed bullying to be more than bullying themselves. The school went on lockdown, and the autistic boy’s parents went on Inside Edition.

Judge and juror, based on half (or less than half) truths and clips of video. Moral outrage turned to hatred.  Lives ruined, careers destroyed, public humiliation. For what? People feeling superior? People releasing their angst? People just being soulless trolls?

These are just 3 examples in what has increasingly become the norm. 45% of our adult population obtain their news from social media. People feel no restraint on what they express when hiding behind a computer. People no longer check facts, or seek further information. People have decided that mob judgement is more effective than logic and reason.

If you are a social media user, or even a commenter on public sites, think before you type. Check facts from multiple sources, not just social media sources. And put yourself in other people’s shoes. Imagine if every bad moment of your life were put on YouTube, or written about on Facebook. Shoe doesn’t look so good on the other foot, does it?

Oh Ho! I’m Alive!

18 Nov

I just commented on a blog and decided I should give an update. Although now FOR SURE nobody is reading this blog. So I’ll keep it succinct. Here it is in 3 lines:

  • Spent nearly last 2 years in Africa.
  • Getting married next month.
  • Looking for a job.

That’s it!

Ciao!