Tumbling in the Sand
My husband told me about the act of terrorism in Christchurch on the way to dinner. It’s the first major tragedy of this Lenten season. And it was an interesting experience to not be on Facebook. Actually, it was great. I’m sure there were a million shares of news reports. Lots of commentary about guns, hate crimes, white supremacy, and, of course, how this was a “social media” shooting.
But I was not in the middle of it all. I was not in the echo chambers and it was kind of nice to be able to think. It’s interesting how much being in the midst of social media in the middle of a tragedy puts you in reactionary thinking. After the fact (obviously, since I heard about it after it was already over and the terrorist had been apprehended along with three other people), I read The Guardian’s live feed coverage and was glad to read it in hindsight. I can see how such a live stream is really useful if you’re in lock-down in your home, but it seems perhaps harmful to be constantly exposed to that when the threat is not your own. It’s kind of vicarious terror and I think it might just make us numb … or maybe not numb, actually traumatized. Which seems dangerous to me, because if we’re all traumatizing or numbing ourselves, how can we function well in this world? How can we make things better if we’re in a constant state of stress? Of fight, freeze or flight? How can we think?
Of course, the whole social media aspects of this shooting are disturbing. The fact the terrorist shooter live streamed it is just horrible. And, apparently he started the whole video off with a reference to a YouTube star, creating a sarcastic meme, “Remember, lads, subscribe to PewDiePie.” (this, I learned from an analysis piece in the NYT, “A Mass Murder of, and for, the Internet” by Kevin Roose)
I read in The Guardian that “In the first day after the attack, Facebook says it blocked 1.2m attempts to upload the video thanks to its system automatically recognising the footage and a further 300,000 clips were removed by moderators after going live.” This is sick. There are that many people out there who want to share that kind of violence around? An for what purpose? What good would it do to see that?
The analysis piece I mentioned above had some interesting things to say about this terrorist act in Christchurch and it’s connection to social media. Roose suggests that, “In some ways, it felt like a first — an internet-native mass shooting, conceived and produced entirely within the irony-soaked discourse of modern extremism.”
He goes on to analyze the way that social media actually encourages more and more extreme points of view, because it keeps you looking, clicking, reacting and pushes you further and further into your own personal echo chamber. And that is good for business, because you stay online longer. But, it’s not so good for society. Roose explains:
“Now, online extremism is just regular extremism on steroids. There is no offline equivalent of the experience of being algorithmically nudged toward a more strident version of your existing beliefs, or having an invisible hand steer you from gaming videos to neo-Nazism. The internet is now the place where the seeds of extremism are planted and watered, where platform incentives guide creators toward the ideological poles, and where people with hateful and violent beliefs can find and feed off one another.”“A Mass Murder of, and for, the Internet” by Kevin Roose, NYT
Watching this from outside the bubble makes me think I might not want to step back in. But more it makes me wonder — is there a way to pop the bubble? To change the way we do social media so that it’s actually social and not so anti-social? It seems like such a potentially useful tool and yet, is it really just Pandora’s box?
I will certainly be pondering these things for the rest of Lent. But, in the meantime, I will be praying for our broken world full of hate and violence and terror. May we find a way to become more kind to one another and more loving along the way. May we find ways to use tools of social networking as a way to expand our worlds rather than shrink them. May our hearts break for the pain of others. And may God have mercy.