Social Media's Dark Side Casts Long Shadow Beyond Tucson Shopping Mall
Much has been written in an attempt to make some sense out of the shootings involving U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona and the subsequent deaths of her aid, a judge and four others. Suspected shooter Jared Lee Loughner's social media footprints are being examined for clues as to his motives. But perhaps we are following the wrong trail of evidence. Political extremists who are effective in radicalizing certain segments of society are also using social networks to rally support for their causes.
While their actions may be altruistic and not intended to distort the thinking of followers into committing heinous acts, forethought seems to be lacking. More often then not, political vitriol coming from the left and the right has had a powerful impact on people. Today, in addition to radio and TV, radical rhetoric expressed on social networks can also cause hundreds or even thousands of followers to impulsively act out based on the belief that their actions are in alignment with a greater mission, condoned by political leaders.
Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD) was reported saying that Giffords' husband, astronaut Mark Kelly lashed out about the cantankerous politics dividing the country today. He is "very angry about the level of rhetoric that he believes incites people." Giffords won reelection in November over a Tea-Party backed Republican candidate. She was chastised by her opponents for supporting the health-care bill and her district office was vandalized.
"These sorts of things, I think, invite the kind of toxic rhetoric that can lead unstable people to believe this is an acceptable response," Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told CNN's "State of the Union."
Sarah Palin's Facebook page titled "Don't Get Demoralized! Get Organizeds! Take Back the 20!" actually lists 20 House Democrats that she has targeted for Republicans to reclaim their seats in the House of Representatives. All 20 are visually shown on a map with cross-hairs bulls-eye logos. Ms. Giffords was one of the 20.
Palin's camp has insisted they had no intention of inciting violence with images of cross-hairs. "We never ever, ever intended it to be gun sights," Palin's spokeswoman Rebecca Mansour said on a radio talk show.
In retaliation, the Tucson Tea Party quickly searched its email list and membership rolls and found no record of any participation by Jared Loughner. In Palin's defense, on January 8th, the ex-Governor of Alaska posted her condolences to the family of Representative Giffords and the other victims of the tragic shootings.
However, responses to Palin's status update supported her while condemning the left for using "freedom of speech" and having a target map of their own.
The most hateful posting came from Facebook/ Twitter user Mark Kerr...
While Kerr's tweets are protected on Twitter, it's been reported that he has stated repeatedly, on his Twitter account that he was being sarcastic.
Markos Moulitsas, founder of the progressive political Web site, The Daily Kosw incensed at Giffords and 104 other House Democrats he accused of having "sold out the Constitution" by voting for and enhancing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. He subsequently posted this incendiary tweet after the shootings…
His tweet got a surprising response from out-spoken conservative Andrew Breitbart, who has actually been a featured speaker at Tea Party events.
The removed the posting from its site after the shooting. Still, Moulitsas is himself known for "hate" rhetoric that relies on violent imagery. Last year, he wrote a book on conservative activism with the title, "American Taliban: How War, Sex, Sin, and Power Bind Jihadists and the Radical Right."
Social Media'a real-time accessibility obviously is a positive thing for the flow of updated news in the world, while its happening. However, it does come with the price tag of sometimes releasing unverified or scurrilous information without forethought. Speaking what's on one's mind can also be productive - but more often then not, when we do not reflect on what we're about to say, we often regret not giving it more thought after it is said. When we lose or ignore our ability to edit what we say and write, it becomes a slippery slip often devoid of a rational perspective.
Freedom of speech allows us these rights but the laws of humanity still need to be preserved when we exercise them. When we lose that treasured component of ourselves, it is an act against civility - and when it goes unchecked - it can lead to the tragedy that happened in a shopping mall parking lot last week.
This post is not political. It is not to pass judgement on any one individual. It is not meant to incite those on the left or right to divide even further. Its intent is for all of us to take a deep breath - while realizing the power that we have at our fingertips - and to use it wisely, never allowing a tragedy like this to ever repeat itself again.