The most miserable example of how social media can unravel a life surfaced this weekend in Washington DC. Three diverse groups gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial with differing objectives. The result was a digital Rorschach test in the form of several videos related to the same subject. Everyone saw the videos through a different lens.
The first group was part of an African American religious organization known as the Black Hebrew Israelite’s. This is a group of Black Americans who believe that they are descendants of the ancient Israelite’s.
The second, a group of high school boys from Covington Catholic, a Kentucky school just across the river from Cincinnati, Ohio. They had just attended the annual Right to Life walk and were waiting for their bus.
The third, a group of American Indians celebrating their heritage and finishing their Indigenous Peoples March on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
What ensued was a horrific cascade of verbal attacks and doxing of children and adults. These three divergent cultures — each armed with smartphones with cameras and microphones, captured the activity so they might feed their individual followers.
Allow me to digress for a moment.
Many years ago, if you wanted news you turned to one of three broadcast news outlets: ABC, NBC or CBS. If one of these networks didn’t report on a story, essentially the story never happened. Twentieth Century Fox didn’t launch the FOX Broadcast Network until 1985.
If you lived in one of the top 50 media markets, you likely had at least one major newspaper or more. Regardless, your news choices were still limited by number of networks or papers that provided morning and evening news. If something happened at 2:00pm, you didn’t know about it until the 6:00pm network news.
Then in 1980, with the introduction of a 24 hour news network called CNN, competition for eyeballs started to increase. Suddenly, stories that never had made it on broadcast networks such as “95-year-old grandma wins surfing competition” were being seen by cable subscribers.
Other competitors such as USA Today launched in September 1982. Fox Cable News launched 3 years later. These networks and newspapers competed with additional news outlets such as MSNBC, BuzzFeed, Drudge Report and thousands of podcasts. News, or what was sold as news, was literally available 24 hours per day – often reported in the flavor most desired by their viewers or readers.
All these organizations – which are for profits businesses – are competing for the same ad dollars. So, to generate more money, they must find more eyeballs. Often these reporters can’t wait to run a story for the evening news. Today, news is delivered in real-time. They no longer report for the general population — they report what their beasts desire. If they don’t give their audience what they want, they’ll go elsewhere. In doing so, these national networks report from a political bent. In short, they report to feed their beasts.
Let’s face it — Fox News and most radio talk shows report for conservatives. CNN, MSNBC and USA Today lean left – each feed their own constituents – which are in fact their bread and butter. Stories are often formed before they are researched. They need to provide red meat to the beast. This week was no different.
Conversely, young women wearing “p@##y” hats last year during the women’s march were red meat for Fox News.
What has driven issues to their height today is the cesspool known as social media. No doubt social media is a wonderful place to see how Aunt Gladys is doing in New Jersey – but a despicable tool for those who want to denigrate anyone with an opinion other than their own.
With that in mind, last weekend’s story was fodder for a digital disaster that would gain global coverage beyond anything I had ever witnessed concerning teenagers. Moreover, in doing so, it pointed to the power of words and images, digitally captured, edited and distributed across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snap Chat and of course the aforementioned media outlets who eagerly snatched the videos from social media and reported on the events as factual news.
Today, everyone with a smartphone is an amateur photo journalist capturing and editing that which best represents their own perspectives. This weekend’s “event” resulted in a 90-minute clash of cultures carefully edited down to a 90 second portrait of something far bigger and complicated than most would admit.
For nearly 10 years I have spoken about the good the bad and the ugly of social media. Even in my wildest dreams, I never would have imagined how the dark underbelly of hatred — on all sides of the aisle — would unfold on a global scale in the name of money and politics.
However, what most disgusted me were the actions of adults, celebrities and “real journalists” suggesting that harm and even death should befall the students from Covington Catholic. The doxing of children and their families by some powerful adults is repulsive and despicable. Lives are at risk – and the names, photos and videos tagged with these student’s names will live in perpetuity.
The school was closed today – and likely will remain closed for at least another day. Threats of a school shooting, bombings and individual killings are being taken seriously.
The young man who is seen in the video as Mr. Phillips plays his drum mere inches from his face, has had his name and image literally broadcast throughout the world. He has become the Richard Jewell of our era.
Jewell was a security guard that found a knapsack that he felt might contain a bomb during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. He alerted the Georgia Bureau of Investigation who then began clearing the area. The knapsack exploded minutes later, killing two people and injuring 111 others. Jewell’s attentiveness spared hundreds of lives but could have been the worst disaster in Olympic history.
Sadly, Jewell became the main suspect when the headlines of the Atlanta Journal Constitution read: FBI suspects ‘hero’ guard may have planted bomb.
Much like we see all too often today, the newspaper had found Jewell hands-down guilty before the facts were available. Fortunately, Eric Rudolph was later found to be the perpetrator. However, not before Richard Jewell’s life was all but ruined.
Google Richard Jewell and you’ll find nearly 11 million links to his story. Google the young man’s name from Covington Catholic and you’ll find nearly 6 million links in just 4 days. (I will not use the young man’s name out of respect for his family and his age.)
The fact that legitimate news outlets ran with this weekend’s story before investigating is a testament to the state of journalism on both the left and the right. Since everyone has a camera and a social media account — news seems to happen in real time without regard for news ethics, contemplation or accuracy.
I’m in high schools every day. I’ve seen kids at their best and at their worst. That said, I jumped to conclusions against the boys when the story first hit. The alleged “crime” by the students seemed very possible to me. Not because they were a Catholic school of primarily white young men. No, it was because they are KIDS! Kids sometimes do stupid things.
However, when I saw all the phones recording the incident in the initial short video — I did a search on YouTube to see if others had posted from different angles. There were several longer versions showing what happened before the confrontation with Mr. Phillips.
Why didn’t some cub reporter take the time to search? Why didn’t a news director or editor insist on different angles? There are at least a dozen on YouTube alone.
Why? If you must ask, the answer is generally money. Time is money. Get the story out before the competition. Feed the beast! Serve your political master.
Social media’s success is becoming its demise.
Everyone’s a reporter. Everyone is a photo journalist. Everyone is an editor.
Everyone has a social media account.
Anyone who thinks these high school kids are all angels knows nothing about teens. I’m sure there may have been a few expletives volleyed in the direction of the Black Hebrew group. In the eyes of Mr. Phillips, some of them might have been disrespectful. But does anyone really think this situation and global outrage is warranted?
Be honest with yourself. How would you fare in a world where everything you do is captured? I know I would have failed that test when I was 16 years old.
We live in a world where everything is being captured. From RING Doorbells, to smartphones to cameras blanketing entire cities. Most everything you or your child does might be recorded, edited and distributed across social media and news networks that need to feed the beast.
After seeing how this situation went viral, I immediately thought of what will inevitably happen in the near future. A technology called DEEP FAKES, allows users to take real life human activities, i.e., stealing from a store, breaking and entering, or pornography, and replace the face in the original footage with that of another person. The results are often undetectable.
Prepare for DEEP FAKES to be a challenge for all of us in the near future. If you think this weekend’s activities set the world aflame. You ain’t seen nothing yet.
I couldn’t help but consider the irony of the last few words carved into Lincoln’s memorial:
“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan – to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”
We’ve got a long way to go.