Finger Pointing Won’t Stop Gun Pointing

A country’s leader is brutally stabbed to death in the most public of places…a theater…making the event immediately known and shared.

Another country’s president is assassinated, also at a theater, as the murderer shouts, for all to hear, “Sic semper tyrannis!” (“Thus always to tyrants!”)

And a vigilante kills a prisoner as television cameras broadcast what might have been a first of its kind.

The first event is the death of Julius Caesar in the theater of Pompey.

The second, despite the Latin, of course was the assassination of Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC, also planned for maximum exposure.

And it was Jack Ruby who shot and killed Lee Harvey Oswald, the suspected assassin of President John F. Kennedy, in what has to have been one of the first of its kind — a close-up live broadcast of a murder…. I remember watching it….

What unites these events is the publicity they garnered precisely because they occurred at public venues, during public times, with the clear intent of driving maximum WOM…that is, sharing of said event.

Yet no one blamed the Roman theater, Ford’s or the networks that had set up broadcast cameras in Dallas.

Now fast-forward to today:

“Thai man hangs baby and then commits suicide on Facebook live” (Fox News)

“Violent Facebook Live suicide is latest in disturbing trend” (New York Post)

Horrific events, mind-boggling, in fact…profoundly sad as well, and yet Facebook has been blamed, as self-righteous media outlets, which themselves tell and retell these stories, point their fingers at digital social media.

Last week Wired published a piece titled, “Facebook Streams Murder, And Now Must Face Itself.”

Facebook is not the first media company to struggle with the prospect of unwittingly broadcasting violence shortly after being uploaded. When news anchor Christine Chubbuck killed herself on live TV in 1974, the station was unable to stop the event from airing, but never showed the footage again. The number of viewers who actually saw the event was minimal.

And yet The New York Times writes: “Can Facebook Fix Its Own Worst Bug?

Zuckerberg introduced an expanded version of Facebook’s live streaming service, which had been promised to revolutionize how we communicate. In the year since, Live had generated iconic scenes of protest, but it was also used to broadcast a terrorist attack in Munich and at least one suicide. Hours before Zuckerberg’s appearance at the conference, police announced that a Cleveland man who had killed a stranger and posted a video on Facebook had shot himself after a manhunt.

Do we really think the problem is Facebook’s “bug”?

Isn’t really the issue as defined by ABC

Another factor that can motivate perpetrators of public acts of lethal violence is a desire to gain notoriety through media coverage of their deeds. For individuals whose lives have generally been characterised by obscurity and lack of success, the prospect of “everyone knowing their name” may be highly appealing.

And yet, there is a Catch-22 inherent in this problem – damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

According to The Guardian,

Despite insisting it is not a media company and is not in the business of making editorial judgments, Facebook, it seems, is all too happy to censor content when that content violates its own policies or at the request of police. This has led to a number of high-profile blunders in 2016, including the removal in September of the iconic Vietnam war photograph “napalm girl” from a Norwegian journalist’s post and the deletion of a breast cancer awareness video in October….

The lack of transparency over this process led to a coalition of more than 70 human and civil rights groups demanding that Facebook be more transparent about its takedown processes…

Like Fake News – what’s fake to me might be real to you – violence seems to have a similar ethos – my violence is good to show, yet yours is bad….

And of course, to blame them for suicide borders on nonsensical:

“As a community, we cannot prevent every suicide, but we must do more to reach out to people who are struggling,” Sandberg added. “As a society, we should strengthen the safety net for those who are most at risk: investing more in mental health care and support. As individuals, we can be alert for the signs in ourselves and in others and act immediately. Together, we can be there for people in distress.”

Let’s be clear…all digital social media companies have an obligation to do their best to protect us – as does all media for that matter, but we are also accountable as members of society, as Wired wrote: “Technology companies like Facebook and Google should do more. But so should you and I.”

Had Facebook been around, no doubt Brutus would have had someone hold up a camera for a Live broadcast and I’d bet that John Wilkes Booth would have posted his rantings…but that’s an issue of technology adding power to the way we communicate and share, not causing the terrible acts:

Technology is not simply some neutral thing. It neither just reflects who we are, nor entirely changes us. Instead, it creates a new set of circumstances that we have to newly deal with. In the case of Facebook Live, those seeking attention will be drawn to it, and given the vast number of people using Facebook – now creeping close to two-billion users, a full quarter of the world’s population – there will, of course, be extreme events. The Globe and Mail

And proof of our lack of accountability as members of the community is the “rubbernecking” syndrome. Rather than report or help, we seem to love the problems of others and watch unmoved…beyond a seeming need to share. The New York Post reports,

Almost as worryingly, these horrifying recordings are being viewed by hundreds of thousands of people, sometimes live, from the comfort of their computers or phones.

“There’s an element of the Peeping Tom syndrome,” [Professor Don Thompson, a forensic psychologist at Deacon University], says. “Wanting to look at something salacious but without getting involved or assisting [the victim].”

Bottom line.

We are swirling around the issue, blaming digital social channels for causing bad behavior and ignoring the millennia. And, just as bad, the “media” is happy to report on it all, further amplifying the problem and deflecting from themselves.

Listen to Facebook…AI isn’t going to solve this – why Facebook just announced they are hiring another 3,000 people to help them.

We need to take a hard look at ourselves, bite the bullet…as Ben Franklin once said…Listen:

“Don’t throw stones at your neighbors if your own windows are glass.”

Lots of glass windows out there and lots of stones being thrown…wear your shoes….

What do you think?

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