The political reaction was immediate, as leaders who had previously characterized the Euroskeptics as a fringe movement scrambled to respond to the wave. In Great Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron — whose Conservative Party was thumped and finished third in British balloting, behind the Euroskeptic UK Independence Party — acknowledged that people were “deeply disillusioned” with the EU. In France, where President Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party finished third behind the Euroskeptic National Front, Hollande went on TV to call for the EU to scale back its role. Noting that the EU had become “remote and incomprehensible,” Hollande said he will speak to other European leaders about focusing on the economy and added that the EU needs to be “effective where it is needed and to withdraw from where it is not necessary.”
The politics of multi-party European countries seem very murky here in the two-party U.S. It’s not clear whether the recent vote is the product of simmering nationalism — a very loaded word in Europe, where it provoked two devastating World Wars — or anger over austere financial policies and moribund economies, or concern about immigration, or a simple desire for self-determination rather than ceding control over policies to unelected bureaucrats in Brussels who are seemingly answerable to no one. Or perhaps it is a combination of all of those factors, as well as others.
The EU started as an economic entity that sought to combine the economies of European countries into a cohesive unit, with a single currency, that could compete on the world stage with the United States and Japan; eventually it became more of political and regulatory entity that plays an increasingly significant role in everyday life. A sizable number of Europeans now seem to be questioning whether they want what the EU has become. And Europe’s political leaders are wondering: what is the alternative?
The President, Cameron, and Thorning-Schmidt joked and took a picture of themselves with a cell phone — called a “selfie” — while Michelle Obama sat to the side. Countless bits of space on the internet have now been filled with debate about whether taking a “selfie” and sharing a joke during a memorial service is appropriate behavior, interpreting Michelle Obama’s demeanor as depicted in the photos, and trying to read whether she is irked that her husband is chatting and chuckling with the Danish leader.
This incident, in a nutshell, is one of the things about the internet that I find maddening. So many things go “viral” that viral status seems to be the norm these days, and people fixate on trivial things at the expense of understanding the significant matters. It’s a shame that anyone running a Google search on the Mandela memorial service will have to wade through commentary about the silly “selfie” incident rather than stories emphasizing the extraordinary fact that leaders from across the world — including the current American president and three former Presidents — traveled to South Africa to pay tribute to a former prisoner who is now regarded as a great historical figure.
So I’m not going to criticize President Obama for posing for a “selfie” and I’m not going to speculate about whether and how his wife Michelle reacted to his behavior. That’s their business, not mine. The significant thing is that he and former Presidents Bush, Clinton, and Carter saw fit to attend and honor the memory and life of Nelson Mandela, and I’m glad they did.
If you establish a social media site, and allow the world at large to join and post, you’re running a risk. Some people will post pictures of kittens, old family photos, or corny but uplifting messages. Others, however, may want to post other things — things that are disturbing. So you establish a content policy — but where do you draw the line? That’s an issue that Facebook is wrestling with these days.
Facebook has an extensive set of “community standards” that address topics like “nudity and pornography,” “violence and threats,” and “hate speech.” One topic is “graphic content.” As Facebook puts it, people use the site to share their experiences and thoughts about issues, some of which “involve graphic content that is of public interest or concern, such as human rights abuses or acts of terrorism.” Facebook distinguishes between sharing such content for purposes of condemnation and sharing “to celebrate or glorify violence.” Facebook asks users to share content “in a responsible manner” and warn the audience about any graphic video. If Facebookers report that certain content violates the community standards, Facebook decides whether to remove it.
It’s the right decision, of course — but it shouldn’t have been a hard decision to make in the first place. There is a big difference between disturbing images of starving children that sharpen an appeal for contributions to a hunger relief charity and a video of a planned execution by beheading. Line-drawing can be tough, but I would certainly draw the line so that videos showing real people actually being killed, tortured, or horribly injured are excluded, whether their accompanying text purportedly “condemns” such action or not.