Modern lynch mobs

We keep hearing that “social media was enraged” or “social media went crazy”. Social media gets people fired, casts them off TV shows, has big corporations scrambling. There are no extinguishers at hand when the mob is on fire.

Many cases have seemed justified. The parties being “lynched” did it to themselves. They were asking for it.

Where have I heard that before? Oh yes, it’s the go-to defence of rapists.

I am not going all Sean Spicer here. His misguided comparison of the Holocaust and the acts of the Syrians is still fresh in my mind. So let me be clear: I am not comparing people on social media to rapists.

But I am suggesting that social media “in rage” can resemble old-time lynch mobs too closely for comfort. The lynch mobs of the past were also out to get justice for something. Something that might have resulted in a death sentence, if taken to a court of law. Then again, it might not have.

The lynch mobs just couldn’t wait to make sure. They would rather hang the perceived culprit immediately with no regard for the law, and – in many cases – without all the pertinent facts: such as the fact that they had the wrong suspect, or the wrong understanding of what happened, or both.

Lynching can take many forms. You can take someone’s life, their livelihood, or their reputation. You can hang them physically or mentally. On social media the judgements are final. There is no appeal process.

If you read my About page, you know that I am not into right and wrong. My right may be someone elses wrong. I may not always have enough information. There are so many gray areas.

But I am into law and some order.

I am also very fond of the concept “innocent until proven guilty”. Albeit not fond enough,  to happily allow someone to kill me for no reason at all and claim that it was self-defence because he (or she) felt threatened.  Nope – the whole Stand Your Ground defence never made sense to me.

Even less so now, when Florida is proposing to shift the burden of proof away from the defendant. That’s what I would call “shooting friendly” legislation. You just say that you felt threatened and stood your ground. Then you let the prosecution worry about proving differently beyond reasonable doubt.

But I am digressing from social media. Then again, maybe not. Social media is all about standing your ground. It seems to be enough for many that there is a perceived wrongdoing. Social media fosters the need for instancy. It leaves little time for fact checking. What really happened becomes immaterial. The important thing is to react immediately to what you think happened, or might happen.

It will only get worse. Facebook is working on a brain-computer interface for typing. The goal is to enable people to type 100 words per minute just by thinking. At that speed, there is little time for control of emotions, even less for fact checking.

To give credit where credit is due, Facebook is also working on skin-hearing. A technology that could open a whole new world for the hearing-impaired.

However, if you combine brain-typing with the stand your ground attitude, you are looking at disaster. The lynch mob can fire away freely in machine gun mode: 100 words per minute. Never mind if innocents are caught in the fray, or the punishment meted out far exceeds the deed.

By the way, when did it become okay to mete out punishments left and right arbitrarily?

I just read an excellent article about how the church, party leaders, and even a former minister of justice resorted to unbridled pressuring and vilifying of Finnish government officials, whose ungrateful job it was to uphold the laws and regulations applicable to refugees’  right to asylum. Laws and regulations that were adopted by a clear majority of the Finnish people.

Mistakes may well have been made in the Finnish asylum process. If so, it’s important to call attention to them. When it is done in a sensation-seeking manner – egging people against each other without checking facts, or bothering about realism – it becomes more about pious ego-tripping, and less about better solutions.

It’s all too easy to preach and force-feed everyone your version of “the right thing to do”, when you expect someone else to enact – and pay for – your demands. When you have no solutions yourself, just demands.

The social media is full of demands. All too many know what everyone else should be thinking and doing. The holier than holy have their own crusading lynch mobs.

Sometimes you have to demand the impossible to achieve good things. But if everyone is out there demanding the impossible, who has the guts and tenacity to work towards the possible anymore? To face the inevitable crusading mobs. Because the possible is usually gray; not a popular colour these days. It’s all about black and white.

Social media has its undeniable uses. When United Airlines was caught on camera, while taking torture on wings to a whole new level, I couldn’t have been happier. In United’s case, social media acted upon undeniable evidence, and protested in the way consumers should.

Jeff Varner was kicked off the reality series Survivor after he outed his co-contestant as transgender. Kicking him off the show was fully warranted. He knew that he was making a private matter public against his co-contestants express wishes.

However, as Varner tells it, he also lost his job due to all the social media outrage and negative publicity that followed. The lynch mob didn’t care, it had moved on.

The Finnish equivalent of Dancing With The Stars hastened to kick a celebrity dancer off the program because of social media outrage regarding a trial he was involved in. Appearances mattered more than facts. By the time the artist finally had his say regarding the trial, in which he had been heard as a witness not a defendant, the damage had already been done. Job opportunities had been unduly lost. The mob didn’t care, it had moved on.

Social media is a borderless world. A world where lynch mobs can roam freely. Schools may teach digital citizenship, but in many cases the law is unclear and the rules and regulations are few. Proper enforcement is all but non-existent.

Facebook never managed to control the fake news sites. Twitter was directly cited as the reason for the Pizzagate shooting.

Then Steve Stephens  took it to another level. He videoed himself killing Robert Godwin Sr, and uploaded the video on Facebook. It took Facebook two hours to disable his account. By then, the lynch mob was already in place. Stephens said that his ex-girlfriend was to blame – so they blamed her.

You may think I am on a granny rant here; that I just don’t understand all the good that can be achieved through social media.

I actually do, but I have been around long enough to recognise when something is spiralling totally out of control. Facebook, with its almost 2 billion monthly active users, is doing just that.

Social media is the Wild West all over – with no sheriffs. Do you really want Facebook on your skin and in your brain too?

Then again, are you truly free to choose? Or are you caught in the web already?

One thought on “Modern lynch mobs

  1. Anonymous

    The world hangs by a thin thread, and that thread is the psyche of man … What if something goes wrong with the psyche? … (Carl Jung – A Matter of Heart)

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