Over the past couple of years I’ve lambasted social media networks for their complicit role in spreading -- make that accelerating -- hate in a manner and a speed that could not happen without their real-time digital interconnectivity. Days after the Chabad of Poway synagogue shooting, I’d like to lay the blame somewhere else: with you, me, all of us.
We are all complicit if we allow this to continue. And we will only have ourselves to blame for the next racially motivated mass murders that occur because we weren’t more vigilant.
Social networks have already demonstrated their inability and unwillingness to regulate themselves. Sure, they make promises, express regrets, apply some bandaids hear and there, but they haven’t taken any substantive action to create protocols that would stop bad people from organizing bad intent that manifests into a new form of social sharing that should be criminal.
I don’t believe it is a First Amendment issue any more than shouting “fire” in a crowded movie theater. And I don’t buy that social media networks aren’t “media” companies that shouldn’t be regulated.
So if not them, or our regulators and lawmakers, it needs to be up to us to put pressure on all of those sources to make some changes for social good. I’m not a media buyer or an advertiser who wields economic might, so all I can do is write a column like this to encourage those of you who are to exercise your market power. Or like me, you can also simply write to your Congressional representatives.
If we do nothing, the next one isn’t just on the social networks, it’s on us.
And it’s getting worse.
Certain social media founders like to boast that they’re simply “bringing the world together,” but as Poway, New Zealand, Pittsburgh and other socially activated attacks demonstrate, they also are enabling worlds of insidious subcultures to come together, organize and spread with no governance.
While this isn’t new, it’s getting worse, because of the real-time power of social media to “share” it.
“Though these men are lone gunmen, they’re not alone — like the New Zealand attack, the Poway shooter’s actions were cheered on by an online audience of anonymous trolls. One of the first responses to the 8chan post suspected to be from the gunman was a user imploring, 'get a high score'," columnist Charlie Warzel wrote in Sunday’s New York Times.
For a generation raised on massive multiplayer shooter games, the combination of real-time social-sharing and toxic dehumanizing rhetoric is creating a new media form altogether.
I don’t even know what to call this new form of massive multi-spectator hate crime, but if we allow it to continue it will tear our social fabric apart in ways we may never have imagined, by turning spectators into vicarious participants of a twisted new esport where we all end up being the victim.