A virtual witch-hunt

Just when you think that social networking cannot sink any lower, here is an ongoing bombing investigation to drain a little more out of the pool. The Internet… Sometimes I really hate this beloved place of ours.

Everybody loves a good mystery, probably because we all like to play the detective. There is something about flexing our mental muscles, analyzing clues and evidence and ideas, and piecing together information. I suppose there is also the element in there about wanting to be the ‘genius’ that solved the puzzle. Human beings are a curious species, and what should incite our curiosity more than a good mystery? Unfortunately, we are not all detectives, which is why most of us only play them. Most of us should just stick to clicking like and reblog buttons, and watching the fictional ones on fictional television shows and movies.

Here it is from BBC:

“For the past 48 hours, internet users have been working with each other to piece together clues about the culprits of the Boston bombings. The result? They got it wrong – and left innocent people fearing for their safety. Many are now asking: should “crowd-sourced investigations” be stopped?”

It is not the first time that officials have asked the public for help. Most times, most people do not take it to mean conducting their own flawed investigations. But in this case it seems to have gone disastrously wrong. “No, these sleuths were working in public – discussing their theories and “leads” within massive communities such as Reddit, 4Chan, Facebook and Twitter.” Here is a tip for you: if you have a lead, you do not share it with other idiots on the internet; you know: those people who sit comfortably behind computer screens and fear little to no repercussions for what they do or say? You hand it over to the police, or someone who has the capacity to state whether or not it is a plausible lead and the capacity to investigate it.

But here is the other thing: at a certain point in time, the police no longer needed any fucking leads. Unless the officials had made a mistake about the two suspects, and were following faulty information, there was no point. Do you know how you can tell they no longer needed it? Because they were fucking chasing the suspects and engaged in a deadly shootout with them.

So after that, it really becomes a virtual (in all senses of the word) witch-hunt to identify the suspects. In the anarchic online world, that pretty much means that anyone with half a brain (or even less than that), the capacity to grossly blow things out of proportion, and fingers, thinks that entitles them to be police, judge, and jury. Unfortunately, innocent people get named and, because this is the internet, where people believe everything they fucking read, it gets confirmed by another.

Here is a particularly wonderful quote from the BBC article: “Innocent people will always be singled out,” from Joseph Stuhr. I do not mean to single out Mr. Stuhr or his actions, or assume that his actions are attributable to others as a whole, but this line really irks me. That he is a Reddit user should say it all. I assume that most Internet crusaders are not also detectives, or have investigative training, nor are they members of some law enforcement agency. I also assume that they not an investigative reporters. And, no, posting ‘leads’ and ‘evidence’ on Reddit does not count. These are only assumptions, of course; I do not make conclusions based on little data.

First of all, Mr. Stuhr, I will assume that you speak while nestled in an armchair in front of a computer screen, with little to no accountability for your actions. Such is an easy place from which to make sophomoric statements. Second, that is some deft logic there, I must admit. I suppose that because innocent people are always singled out then we might as well get a bunch of crusading internet users to do the job, huh? Hell, why stop there? I mean, what is to stop you from simply accusing and pointing fingers at just about everybody who seems to fit the descriptions of the suspects. Oh, my mistake, it seems you already did. Innocent people may always be singled out, but it does not mean they have to be. Not to mention such logic can be justification for pretty much anything, so long as it was going to happen, anyway.

Third, these people no longer remain innocent to some.

“Several users, Twitter users, and other sources had heard him identified as the suspect and believed it to be confirmed.

“We were mistaken.”

You think? For a moment there, this young man remained innocent no longer. And all because of ‘mistaken’ identity. This is the sort of behaviour that leads to lynch mobs, mass hysteria, witch-hunts, and, in some cases, mistakes which are irreversible. And to even think that you could be accused of such a heinous crime is wounding enough. That sort of stigma never washes off, no matter that you did not do it. That someone could even accuse you of it is terrible enough. Why? Was it because he looked the part? Was it his skin color, ethnicity? I wonder if the people involved in this mass e-hysteria even give a damn about him anymore, now that he is not one of their ‘suspects’.

“Under the headline “bag men”, Mr Barhoun and a friend were said to be wanted for questioning – but the tabloid added: “There is no direct evidence linking them to the crime.”

The pair were not involved in the bombing – and Mr Barhoun told ABC News he now fears for his life.

With each suspect, a rush to find their real identities – and in some cases, social media profiles and groups were peppered with threatening messages.”

Ah, yes, threatening messages and fear for their lives, I suppose none of those things matter to these internet crusaders in the end. Hey, after they are sure they are no longer suspects, they are forgotten. Which leads me to point four: people have done more harm than good. Good intentions are one thing; poor actions are another. Can people really not wait for something to be confirmed? We are all waiting for information, but not all of us are acting with callous. In this case, nothing truly terrifying was done (though even that is arguable; I cannot say for sure because I was not one of those wrongfully accused). But who knows in another…

From Mr. Stuhr:

“When I make a mistake I can fix it quickly and many users point it out. I feel it lets the readers get involved, and its better to be honest and say ‘yeah, I messed up. I was wrong. But I fixed it!’.”

Admirable. Again, how easy it is to say so from the comfort of a chair. But not all mistakes are fixable. And admittance of a mistake is nice, but with no accountability it means I can do anything, so long as I apologize and admit it was a mistake, afterwards. Good intentions may be good, but not all actions are so.

And again, a paragraph or two earlier in the article:

At his desk in Virginia, 22-year-old Mr Stuhr has been using a combination of television feeds, local radio and police scanners to report updates. He has been praised by Reddit users for being quicker than mainstream outlets to share information.

In doing so, he said he believed mainstream media could learn a lot about reporting honestly in breaking news situations.

This would be laughable were it not so tragic how much dishonest ‘reporting’ was going on.

The Internet can be a great place sometimes. But some other times it is just a despicable display of misjudgment and human prejudice. Its anarchic nature, where people’s true sides are revealed, is the same reason that it is paradoxically both great and deplorable. The stupidity and lack of judgment here does not surprise me. And while I am sure that some people were looking to help, and held good intentions, that matters not. Intentions are always useful in understanding one’s actions, but it is always the action itself that ultimately matters, because it is action that carries force, results, and reactions. It is ultimately how we judge people. We give weight to actions, not intentions, for actions are definable and, themselves, weighty,  while intentions are muddled and speculative. If one wanted to make sure to the world of good intentions, one would have just kept his or her big fat mouth shut instead of making themselves the fool.

In other news: CISPA passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.

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