When real news occurs technology and 24-hour access is a blessing. By patching together information from responsible radio sources, social chatter, and television visuals, we are able to piece together a reliable narrative. Our data gathering is confirmed and/or tweaked by the next morning’s newspaper. But when there is no more news, when we know what there is to know, the coverage still continues. The cameras and the microphone-wielding reporters scramble to create news after the fact.
Mobs of coffee swilling, logo wearing news personnel pass the time texting and chatting, waiting for a passerby to descend upon. They are rewarded for their perseverance by the person who desires to be photographed/interviewed. We could spend hours working out why anyone would want to place flowers on the ground while a swarm of dozens of camera people hover over one’s head. Perhaps it’s a similar motivation to wanting to go on record with “I didn’t really know him, he seemed different.” It’s odd but it is human nature to want to be part of something bigger.
But do we gain anything from the vulgar intrusion into people’s lives and the manufacturing of ‘news?’ The real events are usually horrific enough. No one need look for more horror. Every ‘expert’ frantically grabbed for a soundbite can pontificate from the news desk. If there is still news to come out of local offices, a reporter can be there and file the report the information. On-site cameras are not needed to report medical examiner reports or investigative results. Beside the stomach-turning element to covering mourning and grief is the danger of anesthetizing the public. While we don’t want to live in a state of perpetual sorrow, we most certainly don’t want to find ourselves numb and/or nonchalant about such horrific events. What is almost unthinkable is how the non-stop coverage can actually lead to more tragedy.
We can’t begin to ever really know what goes on in someone else’s mind. But we can look for clues and make educated guesses and predictions. A person ill at ease in the world, unable to connect with other people can retreat into a very dark world. If someone feels that they will never be able to be an active participant in life can look for ways to make their mark in death. No, it is not a simple equation and it by no means suggests that all socially awkward people retreat into darkness. But people who feel part of the world and valued by others wouldn’t look for ways to enact revenge on their path to death.
While there is no way to overstate that the time is now to rid our nation of guns and take mental illness seriously, it is also time to stop the media circus. Right now there is some compromised person watching this coverage and thinking of a way to become even more famous. The fact that I’m saying it doesn’t make it true, the fact that you feel it too, does.
The White Hood Of The Web
There have always been people crouching behind barriers and throwing stones. In an actual battle, this strategy is in fact prudent. But when the stones are being thrown at unwilling participants it is abusive, and when the abuser is shielding him/herself it is bullying. (Bullying is by definition an abuser preying on a weaker person. Hiding offers protection, exposure leaves one weaker.)
Since the dawn of time, or since there were enough people on the planet to adequately ostracize some of them; people have bullied other people. Often groups decide that someone, or groups of someones are a threat to the status quo. The group itself gives rise to an enthusiasm and sense of protection for the abusers. Persecution of women in Salem, backlashes to integration and voting rights, gay bashing; we have a rich national history of bullying, And it’s getting worse.
We are in a time of economic uncertainty, political polarization, political correctness pressure and the internet. People have not become more or less decent, they just may feel more threatened. Nothing gets the bully’s goat like threat. But what brings the simmering increase of abuse to the boiling point is the rise of technology. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and countless website comment sections, have allowed for a new form of white hood. There is a vile cocktail of exhibitionism and hatred that litters the comment sections of legitimate news outlets. For some reason web editors and/or executives are allowing their brand to be a platform for hate groups. These posters use tragically uncreative screen names to hide behind, while rabidly posting. The unsuspecting reader is affronted with spewing from people calling themselves by war criminal’s names.
I am willing to concede, that just like wildly offensive television programming, the viewer can avoid the offensive material pretty easily. But I am concerned about the news outlets sense of responsibility and integrity. Offensive and abusive comments on Facebook and Twitter can easily be blocked and ignored as well. Even bloggers can block nasty commenters with ugly agendas. But where does this leave us?
The fact that we can protect ourselves from these high tech hooded thugs, doesn’t address the real issue. Why are we allowing people to hide in plain sight. Newspapers have long made it de rigueur to only publish letters from individuals with confirmed identities. Make no mistake, I am not advocating restraints on free speech. Far from it. But surely we have the technology to expose these people? The rest of us non-software engineers, should ignore the comments (versus engaging) and not patronize sites whose management allows for this behavior. People are entitled to be as dark and hateful as they desire, but civilized societies should not allow for them to do so in disguise.
Posted by Anonymous on November 16, 2011 in Cultural Critique, Media/Marketing
Tags: blogs, Brenda Tobias, bullying, commenters, cowards, Facebook, gay bashing, hate groups, integration, internet, Newspapers, Salem witch trials, Twitter, voting rights