Home > history, Reflections, Safety, Social media > Social media: not “the problem”

Social media: not “the problem”

Late last week, I wrote about a tweet that left me shaking. The tweet linked to a post decrying how social media had killed five cops–specifically, how two days of social media furor had incited the violence of many.

While the post was in the larger context of my own PTSD, I wanted to return to this narrower point today for two reasons:

  1. To highlight the fact that the lone actor in last week’s Dallas shooting had been planning a major attack before last week’s two high profile  shootings by police, a fact lost in the din of shouting.
  2. To revisit my 2014 post, “Social media’s power to transform policing.” In this post, I wrote:

I’ve spent countless hours reading and comparing official accounts of police-involved killings with all accounts available since McCulloch’s strange press conference. McCulloch’s words no longer befuddle, but reflect what I perceive as evidence of growing pains within United States police departments.

Prior to social media enabling citizens to aggregate and share more comprehensive data than news outlets alone ever could, the police accounting of an officer-involved shooting was apt to be the only widely available accounting. This worked well for police while it lasted, but didn’t promote advancement of justice in all cases.

I am even more thankful for social media’s transformative power today than I was a year and a half ago.

I do not celebrate any loss of life. I truly, deeply want all people everywhere to be safe and content as they move through their daily lives. I would love these states to be achieved without strife or struggle, but understand from history that “safe and content” are almost inevitably earned through struggle, not waiting for others to cede power they might not even recognize as power.

As in 2014, I continue to believe the solution is in coming together to build genuine partnership:

It’s through fostering this accountability based partnership–not decrying social media or antagonizing officials elected to represent the public–that I believe police departments will thrive and flourish with full public support.

I stand not against, but for:

For accountability.

For partnership.

For listening.

For love.

For life.

Please note that comments are moderated.
If you’d like your comment to be published,
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  1. July 12, 2016 at 7:30 am

    As Ronald Reagan put it ‘I know in my heart that man is good, that what is right will always eventually triumph, and there is purpose and worth to each and every life.’
    That quote has been floating around in my head for two weeks. There is no grey in the value of human life.

    • July 12, 2016 at 12:34 pm

      Agreed. I used to seek–and find–exceptions, but more and more … I discovered that my own perception that some could be excluded reflected more on me than them. It can still be a struggle to not exempt, but it’s a struggle worth having.

  2. July 12, 2016 at 12:17 pm

    You nailed it. Social media doesn’t cause the problems, it makes everything more visible, and as such, fosters accountability. Shine a light, see the truth. If you don’t like what you see, then make things better for all, build something new– or shut up.

    • July 12, 2016 at 12:36 pm

      I just read a couple days ago where someone called sunlight the best disinfectant. Much as I’m concerned with other aspects of social media, those concerns are easily balanced by the brilliant light it can shine on areas that need light and extra care.

  3. July 13, 2016 at 9:33 am

    That’s the part that many people don’t get. Bad people are going to do bad things. And sadly, they use tragedies to mask their anger. It’s so frustrating and sad because now not only are there 5 families who will never get their fathers/sons/brothers/friends back… but now the injustice which motivated people to protest in Dallas has been overshadowed by 1 sick mans reverse racism. And it’s not fair to anyone. Social media isn’t perfect… it’s got it’s own drama and issues… but at least it gives us the opportunity to communicate with one another and feel eachothers pain and struggles. I read your husbands latest post for example and I can’t imagine how it must feel to have so many run ins with cops JUST for the color of your skin that you actually tell a police officer that if he wants you to stop he’ll have to shoot you. I’ve learned from a young age that you respect cops and you’re polite and you never give them any reason to use violence, but it’s been through social media and your husband that I’ve learned that it’s a lot easier to have that attitude when you’re 28 and have only been pulled over 3 times in your life (all for things you very well deserved). It helps me to understand and it helps me to be a better person. So I agree with you… social media does much good.

    • July 13, 2016 at 5:50 pm

      I am so glad you’re contemplating these things, and that you’ve commented here. Please bear that in mind while reading what might feel very uncomfortable in some places!

      I mulled over how best to respond; there’s so much to unpack and time so limited, I think it’s best for me to focus on a couple of small pieces.

      When my husband and I first talked about racism, he explained “systemic racism,” or capital-R racism. I nodded along and tried to keep up, but I had no idea what he meant. I started figuring it out only two years ago, when I began to see deeply troubling patterns in the countless articles I read. Seeing how viscerally and angrily people reacted to the statement “black lives matter” underscored for me the massive scale of hardships faced by black people. If we can’t even get people to say that their needless deaths at government officials’ hands should be prosecuted, ever, what other, smaller indignities must they suffer day after day after day after day? As I wrote in my 4 Deadly P’s post, “I saw that police officers are seldom charged and virtually never indicted for even the most indefensible killings, and finally understood both how vastly I misunderstood the world today and how destructive is unrecognized implicit bias in myriad lower stake circumstances.”

      I debated whether or not to post your comment because of some of my concerns. I ultimately decided to post it because you’re investigating and you’re exploring, and man, do I salute that! This was the bit that most troubled me:

      I’ve learned from a young age that you respect cops and you’re polite and you never give them any reason to use violence, but it’s been through social media and your husband that I’ve learned that it’s a lot easier to have that attitude when you’re 28 and have only been pulled over 3 times in your life

      There’s a talk almost every black man in the United States has had with those who raise and/or love him. It’s referred to as “the talk.” It emphasizes, among other things, the importance of being polite and respectful with officials. Its purpose? “Don’t give them an excuse to kill you.” If you as a white woman had some variation of the talk with someone (as I once did), it was inevitably to show respect, not to save your life because your life did not depend on your complete submission and respect. Your life was already most sacred in the eyes of the law.

      So you can bet my husband had that talk. You can bet that each of the countless times he was pulled over for questionable offenses, he was respectful and polite. This is exactly why I wrote “Died with his hands in the air. My husband is one of the most gentle, kindest people I know. If he snapped once out of all his countless exchanges, it wasn’t because he wasn’t taught to respect authorities. Far, far from it. It was because–how the hell on Yale’s campus did he, the one black member of the group, get singled out as a potential threat? Just where and when is he supposed to be considered “safe”? Chris Rock half-jokingly advised to always go out with a white friend, but even that is not a failsafe solution. And that, that is a heavy weight to bear without ever once snapping at the blatant, potentially fatal indignity of it.

      Philando was pulled over more than 52 times since 2002. FIFTY! When he went through the exact same script that had miraculously kept him safe the other 51 encounters, he had no reason to believe his respectful-dutiful part in the script would play out differently this final time. He had no way of knowing that he was pulled over because he had a “broad nose,” just like someone else in the community who’d just committed a crime. So when it comes down to it, he had no way of knowing he was going to lose his life because he had the “broad nose” often associated with black people.

      And to be clear, though I am horrified by what I am about to say, I watched videos. I watched more than a dozen black men killed while complying with officers of the law. I should never have done it. I should have believed without seeing. But I couldn’t believe, didn’t want to believe the scope of it, that so much human bias could go unchecked by so, so many … most of an entire government, to recurrent fatal end.

      So, so many traffic encounters ended in death that shouldn’t have begun as stops in the first place. Dozens of times over since I have begun tracking this phenomenon, I have witnessed black people end up dead during routine traffic stops. There is nothing remotely reasonable, right or just about this, no matter a person’s tone. No one should have the right to kill over a “tone,” and certainly not to have it assumed that the other–who cannot now speak for him or herself–must have spoken disrespectfully (or worse) to have been killed by an officer of the law. I know far better now.

      U.S. policemen need to be trained to recognize their implicit biases, to have de-escalation and alternate resolution emphasized, and not be revenue generators. As long as implicit bias continues unchecked, their role as generating revenue is a distraction to them … and lethal for far too many to justify its continuation.

      I highly recommend checking out this post, and if you don’t, marinating on this particular powerful, tragic statement:

      It is worth noting, that on average across counties in the United States, an individual is as likely to be {black, unarmed, and shot by police} as {white, armed, and shot by police}, with a median relative risk estimate of 1.04

      What’s the difference in these two cases? It’s this:
      Blackness is perceived as a lethal weapon.

      That is not something that can be fixed by respectful words.

      Again, I thank you for contemplating this, for considering, for listening. This is where change begins.

    • July 13, 2016 at 6:52 pm

      Oh, man. This is what I was trying to say.

      • July 14, 2016 at 2:39 pm

        Thank you for posting my comment! I think it maybe came across to you differently than I thought it had. What I meant to say was that many of us (namely white people) have been raised to believe that if a cop shoots you, you did something to deserve it. You weren’t polite, you didn’t listen, you did something to threaten them. And as someone who is white and has only been pulled over 3 times in their life (I’m 28 so I’m sort of an adult, lol), it’s easy to not understand why “they” can’t just do what the cop wants them to do. But it’s been through social media (I used your husbands recent post as an example) that I’ve seen more and more of a world that I was previously ignorant too. I now know why. Because black men really are singled out. I’ve never felt that. Most of us have never felt that. I don’t know what it’s like to be a black man walking across a Yale campus with white friends and having the cop address ME like I’m up to something shady. I don’t know what it’s like to be pulled over 50+ times because of my skintone. I don’t know what it’s like to be respectful and attentive and law-abiding and to be shot by the very man who is supposed to protect me. But it’s because of Philando and because of social media and because of that shithole cop that my delusions of a USA where racism is hardly an issue are continuously shattering. I’m not going to sit here and say that every case is black and white (no pun intended) because there have been situations (Trayvon for example) where both parties were 100% wrong and put themselves in a very bad and very dangerous situation (aka. if a cop tells you to get your ass in your car and NOT stalk someone, you GET YOUR ASS IN THE CAR AND DON’T STALK THEM… but it’s also common sense that you DON’T jump someone cause YOU NEVER KNOW who has a gun and will use that gun to defend their life EVEN IF THEY SHOULDN’T BE FOLLOWING YOU). BUT, Philando NEVER, never, never, NEVER should have been shot if we lived in the America I thought we lived in. I understand that sometimes there is a fear that develops within white cops who have a lot of interaction with black men who are NOT respectful and who DON’T listen or follow instructions (because at the end of the day, a cops job is terrifying and your life is on the line EVERYDAY), but there is a fine line between caution and blatant racism. And I agree with you 100% that more needs to be done with our police officers to ensure that they are not being RACIST (weather they realize they are or not). I mean for Gods sake, the man did everything I would have done if I were pulled over (as someone who also concealed carries) and he did everything we are TOLD to do as people who concealed carry. There is NO excuse for this officer and I just can’t wrap my head around the death of this poor man and the fact that this police officer is not being charged with murder. The point I was trying to make though in my initial comment is that there is a fine line between being angry (the word “angry” being the understatement of the year) because a POS cop killed a black man who should NEVER have been shot… vs. taking advantage of that situation to kill white cops. As sad as Philando’s death is, because of it thousands and thousands of white men and women are sitting around with their jaws on the floor FINALLY understanding what “#blacklivesmatter” truly means. Or at least they would have if the actions of the Dallas shooter wasn’t overshadowing that unnecessary death. The Dallas shooter STOLE this from every black man and woman in the United States. He STOLE this from Philando and his family. He STOLE this from the white men and women so certain of the fairness of our justice system. It’s just shity. I don’t even know what else to say. I hope that makes more sense than my first comment. And thank you for the links! I will most definitely look at both of them!

        • July 14, 2016 at 4:41 pm

          It’ll take me a few days ro reply more fully–but sorry for now, and thank you for returning with more food for thought! (Not to mention a reminder of my own miscategorizations …)

  4. July 15, 2016 at 4:24 am

    While you are so very right, so are the comments, I think sometimes social media has enabled us to become more venomous. Does that make sense?

    With each side of the argument only telling their side and then each side only hearing the side they want to hear / see and repeat. Then repeating it until it becomes their truth. I see it time and again. Yes, there are a few who search through the volumes of available information, the terrible and tragic. There are a few who will sit for hours and weep through the terrible videos and still pictures, who will try to understand the reality without interpretation. But they are few.

    I know in my heart, social media makes us better in the end. I know it builds the connections we need to ultimately make us better, stronger and tear down the walls. I know this. But there are days I think we are in this terrible place right now where the bandage has been torn off and we are facing ourselves, as a people and nation. The results? Well it isn’t pretty, is it?

    • July 17, 2016 at 1:16 pm

      I absolutely agree that social media has enabled us to become more venomous. I deleted my Facebook account when I saw how even my most loving of friends–and I!–could become members of virtual mobs. For the longest time, that was all I saw: the cost.

      Now I’m starting to see some of the benefit. My hope is that some of the venom we’re seeing now reflects growing pains, or part of learning to be in a world where we have so much more insight into what others are seeing, thinking, and feeling. Right now it feels threatening, but in many Millenials especially I see the prospect of that connectedness facilitating genuine interconnectedness.

      I do think it makes us better in the end … but right now it is often very, very painful to look in the mirror of social media and see who we are. I hope in it we learn to also see the more loving, empathetic who we have the potential to become.

      I love you.

      • July 21, 2016 at 8:10 am

        As I love you.

        I think we get both sides of the coin right now, growing pains? Yes, absolutely. I have learned to keep most of my thoughts to myself within the social media realm. Each time I venture beyond the snark it has the potential to be hurtful. I try hard to avoid controversy these days.

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