The shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the 19 other people injured or killed on Jan 8, 2011, is being reported with many references to the role of social media, in terms of what motivated the tragedy and people's reactions to it.
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The Giffords Tragedy and Social Media
By Violet Blue | January 10, 2011, 3:07am PST
Analyze, Evaluate, Apply relevant concepts from readings
In this article, social media is depicted in a positive and negative light in regards to the recent tragedy of the Arizona grocery story shooting. Many worried, saddened people can express their emotions on various news, shared and personal blogs or other SNS. They have a forum to share their disbelief collectively and acquaintances of the victims can console each other and express their support. As in the article by Nardi, et al SNS provide venues where people can “seek other’s feedback” and “release emotional tension” (227).
However, the ominous side of social media rears its ugly head, too. Loughner, too, used SNS to “express opinions to influence others” and “release emotional tension” about his frustrations regarding government and other societal ills before the shooting (terms taken from Nardi 2004). His digital trail of unpleasant threats has created a lot of interest so much that certain people are making sure that the information remains accessible. Although Loughner’s MySpace was removed, quick thinking opportunists captured the postings in other digital formats to share later.
The continual availability of the shooter’s online contributions via screenshots demonstrates the lack of control content providers maintain over their profiles. This going-through-the-backdoor practice when the front door is closed reminded me of the Dibbell article when Mr. Bungle was removed from the virtual world LambdaMOO only later to resurface with a fresh email and user name, Dr. Jest (1998). This kind of behavior surprised me because tampering with evidence (digital content that can indicate the criminal’s state of mind and therefore be used in court against him) seems like a crime in itself. Whoever took these snapshots of the shooter’s profile to share later is pretty darn brazen, if you ask me. This kind of I-do-what-I-like attitude is prevalent in SNS because of the anonymity factor.
In the article by Dibbell, the author learned later that the user Mr. Bungle was made up of a several NYU students. Dibbell also hypothesized that only one of the original co-creators of Mr. Bungle returned as Dr. Jest. The point is that nobody really knows. When people interact on SNS there is a lack of personal accountability. Tenopir mentions this pitfall of social media, as “special interest groups, whether hate groups, political action committees, or corporations with a product to sell, can convey their message without revealing their true identity” (2007).
Other examples of egregious behavior created under the veil of anonymity are the references to Google student groups ranting and raving about university professors and the video posting by a student of a lecturer scratching his groin area (Beer, et al 2007). It appears that there is a sense of immunity when posting online. This tendency to circumvent and disregard face-to-face social norms is dangerous for two reasons. One is that there is a chance outrageous remarks can be traced back to the creator (Nardi 2004) and the other is that people can get hurt, as in reputations can be damaged and in the case of the Dibbell article, real emotions and psychological trauma can result (1998 revised).
The article furthermore goes on to describe the great interest in the gunman’s online social activity pre-January 8th. Curious members of the media and the public flock to his accounts like rubberneckers passing a traffic accident in an effort to learn more about the motivations of Loughner. MySpace postings and Youtube videos can be interpreted and explained after the fact, but the author of this article remarks that there is a “grey area” when interest morphs into fixation, i.e. someone created a Twitter account and a blog using the shooter’s Twitter account name. False identities abound in SNS despite a history of efforts to banish “fakesters” (boyd & Ellison 2007).
Do recent hits to his site show morbidity or a healthy concern on the part of viewers?
What is acceptable? Should all of his SNS be frozen or get removed? In a way, it is interesting to note who followed his profiles before the shooting. Did he have comments/followers/friends that can be questioned now? Researchers state a unique characteristic of SNS is that it “allow[s] individuals to meet strangers, but rather that they enable users to articulate and make visible their social networks” (boyd & Ellison 2007). I am sure that FBI will be interested in meeting those who subscribed to/interacted with Loughner’s profiles pre-Jan 8th. Even though these connections don’t reveal affiliation or conspiracy either. This article mentions that eerily “[Congresswoman] Giffords YouTube channel subscribes to only two people on YouTube – one is Loughner” (Blue 2011). This could be a fluke…maybe a random courtesy acceptance?
But then again, it could be the case that Loughner didn’t even have any commentators or followers on his SNS. In a study of weblogs, Herring, et al discovered that many blogs don’t have traceable comments, even though there were readers following online postings (2004). Who knows? But one thing is for sure, Loughner has plenty readers now.
Conclude by providing a brief definition of social computing, and comment on its potential power as a motivating force for positive and negative social phenomena.
Social computing is any means that users can interact and communicate with others via digital means. It can be used to share personal details, ruminations, ideas, event information, photos, news, projects, etc with friends, family, acquaintances, and general public. Privacy settings are adjustable and many formats are free to use but include commercial advertisements. Anyone who has access to the internet can participate in social computing. Social computing is not limited to online journaling; it can also include product reviews and ratings, passively following other’s weblogs, tweets, and SNS profiles, too. In other words, social computing is made up of creators, consumers, producers (in which people can take on one or all of these roles at any given time) providing, altering and extracting information online. It has the potential to be used to benefit society by promoting good will, furthering knowledge, and advancing culture or it can be used maliciously to hurt people, promote conflict, and cause discord on a massive scale instantly, too.