Twitter and Desperation Don’t Mix

I’m a geek, but I’ve never claimed to be a genius.  I have plenty of friends who rank up there, but I’m not one of them.  One of the smarter of the bunch (not counting my fellow geeks here at Geek Palaver, of course) is my blogging friend Sarah Lena of  the blog, The Anvil Tree.  Sarah wrote a very thoughtful and insightful post about the recent rash of shootings.  She argues that with the current economic environment, that desperation in the country is at a high point, and the shooting in Fort Hood may have been the tipping point for the man behind the shooting in Florida.

The argument is compelling.  You’ve got two men on the edge, for whatever reason.  They aren’t aware of each other, they don’t really care.  But one of them snaps.  Does the deed he’s contemplated.  And the other now has  permission to do the same.  One feed the other.

I’m not convinced it’s quite that simple, and at the same time not so complicated.  I like to bring up a couple of things whenever these tragedies come up.  The first is to go to the New York Times of 1948.  Specifically July 8th, 1948.  On the front page are two stories of interest to me.  The first is the headline that the United States Army had recovered a flying disc, but that doesn’t really add anything to this story.  The second is an article about the continuing muggings and murders by wild gangs of teenagers in central park.

You’ll not find the story about “Wilders” elsewhere in American media, but if it happened today you would.  It would make headlines on CNN, Fox, and most of the big three nightly shows.  Wild gangs running loose in Central Park!

Add to the mayhem the citizen journalist, and things get dicey.  When Captain Sullenberger expertly landed his bird struck Airbus A320 on the Hudson River, Twitter reported the ditching a full 6 minutes before any other outlet.  The crash quickly trended, and the information was not exactly reliable.  Imagine witnessing the crash… maybe not entirely, but seeing the plane going down, hearing it hit.  Pulling out twitter… announcing the crash.  What’s your first assumption?  Everyone is dead!  It’s a plane crash, by God, no one survives it.  But this time, Twitter was wrong.

In the case of the Fort Hood Shooting, Twitter was again wrong on many issues.  But this time, news outlets used Twitter as sources, and look used them as “eyewitness” accounts, further increasing the problem.  Now we can get our bad news instantaneously and potentially incorrectly on Twitter, and glorified and in full detail, 24/7 on cable.

So yes, it is possible that Fort Hood caused Florida, in the sense that it pushed the guy in Florida over the edge.  Put it is just as likely that the non-stop blood and guts in mainstream and social media put him on the edge.  It’s a horrible circle of doom.

Now I don’t have an answer.  Well, other than knowledge.  Knowing that twitter is unreliable as a primary source may keep you skeptical of what is posted.  Keeping perspective on the awful news story of the day, and remembering that for every cute white girl abducted, there is one or two cute black girls that don’t make the headlines.  For every child abducted, several million got home perfectly fine.  For every grisly murder, millions of fathers hugged their children with genuine love.  And for ever crazy that takes a gun to make a scene, thousands decided today wasn’t the day to go on a rampage.

A geek, a freak, and a force of nature, I'm everything and nothing all at once. I'm your worst nightmare and your most insignificant thought.


  1. I hear all the time from my students jsut how bad the world is getting (goin to hell in a handbasket). I’m not sure it is. In fact, I’m not sure at all. What is happening today is same shit that’s always gone on. The difference (as you suggest here) is the 24/7 news stations. When you have a 24 hour news show, you need 24 hours of news. IT is not that the world is that much shittier, it is just that we hear all about everything.

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