Saturday, July 21, 2012

Tragedy and the ongoing internet circus

The Onion has a really good piece regarding Friday morning's shootings in Aurora: Sadly, Nation Knows Exactly How Colorado Shooting's Aftermath Will Play Out. Excerpt:
While admitting they "absolutely hate" the fact they have this knowledge, the nation's 300 million citizens told reporters they can pinpoint down to the hour when the first candlelight vigil will be held, roughly how many people will attend, how many times the county sheriff will address the media in the coming weeks, and when the town-wide memorial service will be held. 
Additionally, sources nationwide took no pleasure in confirming that some sort of video recording, written material, or disturbing photographs made by the shooter will be surfacing in about an hour or two. 
"I hate to say it, but we as Americans are basically experts at this kind of thing by now,” said 45-year-old market analyst Jared Gerson, adding that the number of media images of Aurora, CO citizens crying and looking shocked is “pretty much right in line with where it usually is at this point." "The calls not to politicize the tragedy should be starting in an hour, but by 1:30 p.m. tomorrow the issue will have been politicized. Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if the shooter’s high school classmate is interviewed within 45 minutes." 
"It's like clockwork," said Gerson, who sighed, shook his head, and walked away.
News coverage is easy to predict, but also kind of comforting in that regard and not really a bad thing-- people want to know the details when something like this happens, as many as they can get, and the networks oblige as best as they can. What accompanies that, however, immediately after or even before the details are gleaned, is the discussion. People have to talk about why this happened, and to whom, and what do we do now. And with access to Twitter and Facebook, they'll do so practically instantaneously. Again, not such a bad's just that lack of actual, verifiable information won't stop anybody from speculating. Those who know the least are prone to speak first.

And you don't really need that many details to, for example, make a tragedy all about yourself and/or your cause. The Raw Story's list of the top five most painfully self-serving reactions to the Aurora shooting includes tweets about how if James Holmes had been a Muslim he would have already been branded a terrorist, Michael Bloomberg demanding statements from both Obama and Romney about "what they're going to do about it," the Brady Campaign asking for immediate action by Congress (and for donations), and of course the stupidest member of Congress Rep. Louie Gohmert (R, TX) blaming the shootings on "ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs." This came, naturally, in the immediate aftermath of the attack without knowing anything at all about the shooter's actual motives.

Rick Warren appears to be blaming the shootings on evolution, or at least evolution taught in schools:
...but it's hard to tell since his Twitter feed is normally a stream of Bible verses and general platitudes. Like a certain NRA feed and online fashion store, it's entirely possible he was ignorant of what was going on and didn't realize the very unfortunate connection. You see the problem of Twitter in this regard-- because there is so much immediate access to every major event that happens, everyone (who tweets, that is) is expected to know about those major events all of the time, and recognize that what they tweet will be understood in that context. If you happen to be a rather solipsistic, novice, or generally oblivious tweeter who doesn't recognize this, it's at your peril-- especially if you happen to be a famous and/or controversial tweeter as well.

The internet gives us an augmented ability to absorb and dispense the normal mix of concern, shock, commiseration, self-absorption, macabre detail immersion, political advocacy, and pontificating that follow a tragic event. We would have these things anyway, but an immersion in social media causes them to speed up to an extent that maybe causes people to go from alarm to desensitization a great deal quicker than they otherwise would, causing that sense of deja vu to kick in the next time a similar event happens. I've seen a lot of comparisons to the Gabrielle Giffords shooting last year, which was quite a bit different in circumstance though it included two basic critical components: 1) a shooting (obviously), and 2) an instant internet explosion of discussion, with a lot of people saying basically the same things that they said last year. I even saw someone remark on Twitter "Not to worry, friends...sooner or later Sarah Palin will say something on Facebook that makes it all worse."

On the Extralife forum, I started a thread for discussion of the Aurora shootings since I knew people would want to talk about it. The first post cynically states:
This thread is for people to:
- declare that we need stricter gun control laws
- declare that others will use this as an excuse to enact stricter gun control laws
- declare that this is one guy, and it was entirely his own fault, influenced by no one in particular
- declare that this guy is the pawn of _______ political faction, which coincidentally the speaker happens to oppose
- blame it on "ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs"
- remark on the fact that this was committed by a young white guy, and therefore young white guys can be terrorists too
- declare that the young white guy must himself be a Christian, and therefore this is Christian terrorism
- remark on the fact that the guy was pursuing a PhD in neuroscience, so....I don't know how to end this sentence
- blame it on Batman-- wait, nobody going to do, at least
- express concern about Brian Ibbott and his family (they're fine; they were across town at the time)
- speculate on exactly how the shooter's home is "booby trapped," and for what purpose
- talk about what a generally horrible event this is, and what a completely unexpected context, and how the people in that theater must have felt and are feeling
Not to say that doing any of those things is necessarily wrong. Just that at this point, they are to be expected.

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