Chicken Or Egg

This morning the news is all about the Cleveland “Facebook killer,” who filmed himself killing an elderly man who apparently was chosen randomly, bragged that he had killed a number of other people, and then broadcast the video footage on Facebook.  Police are currently looking for the killer.

screen_shot_2010_06_26_at_7-30-25_pmIt’s just the latest disturbing link between social media and people who commit bad acts.  How often recently have we read about people engaging in live social media broadcasts of beatings, or rapes, or suicides?  For many of us, Facebook and other social media outlets are all about keeping track of other people’s birthdays, kids, puppies, and meals, but for some sick segment of society, social media apparently is seen as a simple, immediately available opportunity to achieve notoriety and display their violent criminal activity to the world.

It raises the chicken or egg question:  what comes first, the impulse to engage in the bad acts, or the desire to be broadcast doing it?  If it weren’t possible to easily upload a video or stream a live broadcast on social media, would the crimes still have been committed, or is the ability to display video evidence of the bad acts to a presumed audience and obtain a few minutes of depraved fame the ultimate triggering factor?

There have always been predators in our midst; violent criminal acts have been part of human history since the dawn of time.  Still, for some people there seems to be some basic and grotesque connection between social media and wrongdoing, and we are left to wonder:  would the poor man murdered by the Cleveland killer still be alive if the social media outlets weren’t available to be misused?

Going Out Your Own Way

There’s a reason — aside from getting helpful birthday reminders — to endure the political stuff and the paid ads and still participate on Facebook:  sometimes you’ll see a story that you missed the first time around.

I saw this article about Norma Jean Bauerschmidt on my Facebook news feed today, thanks to a posting by Dr. Golden Bear.  It’s old news, dating from last year, but the underlying message is timeless and bears repeating.

hotairballoonFor those who missed the story, Miss Norma was 90 years old when she received the news that she had uterine cancer.  Her only treatment option, which wasn’t likely to produce much in the way of positive long-term results, was surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.  Miss Norma decided to chuck the treatment and live her remaining days traveling the United States.  She ended up on the road with her son, daughter-in-law, and their dog Ringo for about a year, visiting multiple states and national parks, taking her first hot air balloon ride (where the photo accompanying this post was taken), and trying her first taste of oysters, before the disease forced her into hospice and eventually led to her death.  Thousands of people followed her exploits on a Facebook page called “Driving Miss Norma.”  She died on September 30, 2016, and you can see her obituary here.

It’s a great story, and it made me wish that I had the opportunity to meet Norma Jean Bauerschmidt.  When people are faced with such end-of-life decisions, there is no right or wrong answer — you just have to be true to yourself.  Miss Norma chose the path that was right for her, and thousands of people were made a little bit better thanks to her decision.

One part of the story linked above particularly touched me.  During her year of travels, Miss Norma was often asked which spot was her favorite.  She always responded:  “Right here!”  It’s a good reminder about the importance of living in the present.

The Fed On Facebook

Recently the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System — let’s call them the Fed — decided it would be a good idea to have a Facebook page.  You know . . . Facebook, that aging social media site where people post selfies and pictures of babies and weddings and political memes that don’t change anyone’s mind.  Yes, that Facebook.

So why did the Fed decide it needed a Facebook page?  It’s not entirely clear.  After all, the Fed has functioned for decades without having much of a public face.  It’s the grey, boring group behind currency and interest rate decisions, all of which are made by unelected people who are completely unknown to 99.99% of us.  So why Facebook?  Who knows?  Maybe the Fed, like other aging Facebookers, just wanted to get a little attention.

fed20reactions203You can see the Fed’s Facebook page here.  It’s a pretty hilarious page, actually, because the Fed decided to allow people to comment, and every post by the Fed features venomous comments from people who think the Fed has ruined American money, manipulated our currency, and should be audited to determine its fundamental solvency.  The Fed isn’t responding to the comments, so a bland post about one of the Fed’s “key functions” provokes an avalanche of over-the-top haymakers from the Fed haters.  It’s probably the most tonally disproportionate Facebook page in history, and even the American Banker, which is normally pretty sympathetic to the Fed, has declared the Fed’s Facebook page a full-fledged disaster.

It’s hard to imagine that a federal entity would think it’s wise to have a Facebook page, and it make you wonder how much it costs the Fed (that is, we taxpayers) to pay the schlub who writes the puff pieces that then get ripped to shreds by internet trolls who are happy to have a new target for their venom.  I can’t believe anybody at the Fed, or any other federal agency, honestly believes that people are going to learn about the agency and what they do by going to Facebook, as opposed to the agency’s own website or, God forbid, an actual book.  How many people go to Facebook expecting to get the unvarnished truth?   Does anyone?

Maybe there’s a positive in this catastrophic combination of faceless but powerful government entity and social media:  maybe the Fed will decide not to proceed with its impending dips into Tumblr, Ello, Hyper, Shots, and Bebo.

Birthday Wishes

  
Today is my birthday.

It’s great to live in modern times because, among other things, it’s easier to wish people happy birthday, and in more communication methods and forms, than ever before.  I’ve received grossly inappropriate, unforgivably ageist cards from family and friends, Facebook congratulations from pals old and new and a post from UJ with a picture of us as toddlers, text message birthday greetings, and nice emails from clients and colleagues.  It’s been great to be the target of so many good wishes.

I’ve even received happy birthday emails from my optometrist, my periodontist, and the America Red Cross.  I suppose there’s a kind of message there, too.

Empty Symbolism

I came home tonight to news of another horrific terrorist attack today, this time at the airport and train terminal in Brussels.  As with other terrorist attacks, the responsibility for this atrocity was claimed by ISIS.  And as I watched the news to catch up on what had happened, I saw stories about how other countries in Europe were “showing solidarity” with Belgium, because the Eiffel Tower and the Trevi Fountain and, probably, other European landmarks were illuminated with the colors of the Belgium flag.

56f1cf08c361881c2c8b45e3Am I the only person who has had it with this kind of empty symbolism?  I guess we’re all supposed to be deeply moved by the projection of the Belgian flag.  Hey, while we’re at it, let’s have a Facebook app that allows us to change our profile pictures to use the Belgian colors!  And maybe we can come up with a few good Twitter hashtags, too, like when the primary response to the African terrorists who were kidnapping young girls and selling them into slavery was a “freeourgirls” hashtag?  Boy, a really good hashtag will teach those ISIS guys not to mess with us!

I understand the desire to show solidarity with innocent people who have been attacked.  But at some point projected flag colors and hashtags and statements of Facebook support are pointless.  ISIS doesn’t give a flying fig what the trending hashtags are or whether the Trevi Fountain is bathed in the Belgian colors.

Are we going to try to defeat these guys, or are we just hoping we can out-symbolize them?

Lab Rats

Forbes has reported that Facebook “conducted secret tests to determine the magnitude of its Android users’ Facebook addiction.”  In the tests, which apparently occurred several years ago, users of the Facebook app for Android were subject to intentional crashes of the app. without being informed of the tests.

Why would Facebook want to provoke crashes that would frustrate users who were trying to wish a Facebook friend happy birthday or post their latest selfie?  Purportedly, to test the “resilience” of Facebook users.  If your app suddenly crashed, would you just say the hell with Facebook, or would you try to access Facebook through an internet browser instead, or through a different app?

paralyzed-ratsWhen you think about it, intentional crashes aren’t really testing “resilience” — they’re testing obsession and addiction.  After a crash, a rational person would avoid Facebook, for a while at least, reasoning that time was needed for anonymous techno-geeks at some far off location to address the cause of the crash and fix it.  Only somebody desperate for an immediate Facebook fix would spend time searching to get to Facebook via alternative means, because nothing time sensitive ever really happens on Facebook.  You can always send your friend an email expressing birthday wishes, or save that choice Throwback Thursday photo until next week.

But the point, of course, isn’t whether it’s resilience or obsession that is being tested — it’s the fact that Facebook is intentionally frustrating its users at all.  It sounds like the kind of experiment some evil scientist with a futuristic base on a remote island might use on hapless prisoners.  After all, why would you knowingly thwart the efforts of somebody who is trying to access your website?  Facebook no doubt would shrug and say the tests provided needed information — but really, it did the tests because it could . . . and it was confident that Facebook fans would keep coming back.

We shouldn’t be surprised by this:  Facebook has done similar kinds of tests before, and other companies do, too.  On the internet, we’re all lab rats.  Our movements are tracked constantly, but instead of scientists in white coats checking when we take a sip from the water dropper or stop running on the wheel or are responding to the electrodes placed on our hind quarters, data is compiled about which websites we visit, how long we stay there, what we click on, and whether we’re showing an interest in one product or another so that we can be bombarded with pop-up ads for that product forever.

Time for another spin on the wheel!

The Rapper Defense

Should the standards of what constitutes an actionable threat of physical violence be changed in the era of the internet and social media?  Next week the Supreme Court will consider that question, which probes the tender intersection of the First Amendment, criminal law, and society’s interest in protecting people from impending harm.

For years the prevailing standard has been that “true threats” to harm another person are not protected free speech and can be punished under the criminal law.  The issue raised by the Supreme Court case is whether prosecutors should be required to prove that the speaker had a “subjective intent” to threaten, as opposed to showing that an objective person would consider the statements to be threatening.  A requirement of subjective intent obviously would be harder to prove.

In the Supreme Court case, the defendant created Facebook posts about his estranged wife, writing about “a thousand ways to kill you” and asking whether the protection from abuse order she received was “thick enough to stop a bullet.”  His lawyers contend that the statements are simply “therapeutic efforts to address traumatic events” and references to the violent, misogynistic imagery of the defendant’s favorite rappers.  The defendant also argues that other actions like the placement of an emoticon — a face with its tongue sticking out, purportedly to indicate “jest” — must be considered in assessing whether the speaker truly intends menacing behavior or is just blowing off steam.

I’m a big supporter of free speech, and exercises in line-drawing are always difficult, but I don’t see any need to revisit long-time legal standards just because the internet has been developed.  Domestic abuse is a huge problem, and we need to protect the abused.  If prosecutors are required to prove “subjective intent,” and the placement of emoticons or the couching of unambiguous threats of violence in the context of rap lyrics become viable defenses, the ability to protect the abused will be diminished.  I don’t know of any real “therapy” that encourages disturbed people to make specific threats of violence, and I don’t buy the argument that standards of lawful behavior should be reduced simply because some anonymous people treat the internet as a kind of free-for-all zone.

Standards exist for a reason, and we shouldn’t be in a hurry to lower them.  It’s not unfair to hold people whose behavior already has given rise to legitimate concern — like the defendant in the Supreme Court case who was the subject of a protection from abuse order — accountable for specific violent statements, on social media or otherwise.