It’s been a rough week for our country. Old wounds from 9/11 reopened with the news of the bombings at the Boston Marathon. That old fear, anger and despondency reignited with each new report, each fresh meme and each new photograph.
For some clinging to the coverage for answers, sharing memes — from the wisdom of how to cope, courtesy of Mr. Rogers to the devastatingly ironic photo of young Martin Richard holding a handmade sign that said, “No More Hurting People . . .Peace” and their own posts of support, compassion or solidarity for the people of Boston, the internet and social media became the place to share our confusion, discuss our feelings and quiet our fears — while at the same time feeding them.
This is nothing new. It happens each time there is a natural disaster, an act of terrorism, a mass shooting. For that matter this same process happens with each infuriating politician or celebrity’s ill-advised comment, each time there is a vote, a protest or when Kim Kardashian announces she’s preggers with Kanye’s baby.
The internet and more specifically, social media, has become the town square — the place where we come to gather information from our friends about what’s happening in our worlds, to share our thoughts and feelings as we try to make sense of it all, to rail and rant, to cry and comfort one another, it is the place in which to organize and to get the latest gossip.
It is human nature unfettered and on full display.
But human nature is not always a pleasant thing to watch — especially in real-time and uncensored. The immediacy of the medium, coupled with its anonymity, leads to a level of disinhibition that can be both refreshing (uniting us all in the humanity of our fears, trials and pains) and repellant.
We’ve all come face to face in comment threads on blogs and videos with the infuriating nature of trolls, witnessed hate mongering and ignorance on the not-so-back-alleys of blogs and Twitter and/or gotten into heated debates on Facebook. Mostly, we put up with all of this in the name of freedom, connection and infotainment and because just like in life, the good stuff available here on the interwebs can be really good and totally worth the occasional tangle with a Neanderthal.
But it becomes all the more difficult when that Neanderthal is your friend or family member.
Anytime something big and tragic like this happens (a bombing, a shooting, a natural disaster) there is a very human need to distance ourselves somehow from the event. We want to somehow make it about “them,” (whomever they may be) and not about us.
The folks who reached out, to comfort one another or to share something that might lighten the mood — they made a conscious decision to use the medium to make it about all of us and to try to use and strengthen our connections for understanding and to hold each other up.
But there are always those who go first to anger, in order to avoid confronting their fear, the people who believe that vigilante justice is something they’d like to serve up (at least on the web, if not only in their minds) and that anger coupled with that disinhibition can be the equivalent of drunk dialing your ex — never a good idea.
For me, I’ve been very disheartened by the gruesome photos published throughout the whole Boston bombing coverage, not only by the media but by people I know on their Facebook pages. There were two instances, because of FB’s news feed, where I was not allowed the ability to choose whether or not I wanted to view these pictures. The first, of a man in the midst of receiving care at the scene of the bombing, being wheeled away, both of his legs blown off. The second, a reposting of a photo of what someone online is claiming is the mangled nude carcass of one of the suspected Boston bombers.
No doubt that some of these people were so devastated or angry about the bombing that they wanted to share with their friends the level of unspeakable atrocity that occurred (the first picture) or delight in the death of someone they saw as “evil” (as is the case with the second pic.) But what both of these people failed to ask themselves before they posted it to their feed was:
What about those of us who don’t wanna see that shit?
We can’t unsee it. Even most news organizations who published these photos (which, btw, I feel is totally unnecessary), did so with an accompanying warning that these photos were graphic in nature, so that those who do not wish to be inundated by these violent images, could escape them.
But just because we are friends and because your posts show in my feed – there these images were — no warning — no forethought — just carnage. While I don’t understand why any of us should need to see these gut-wrenching graphic photos, if you choose to that’s your business. But please try to remember that although it is your page, you are the curator of your feed for your friends, family members and connections.
Think before you post.
It makes me wonder, are we, as a society, so desensitized to acts of violence that we need these super-graphic images just to make us feel the weight of these horrific acts?
Or could it be that after witnessing the brutality of that first set of images from the bombing site, that some of us, that are less inclined towards to self-reflection, needed to see the second set to feel safe in our homes and lives again? That somehow it completes the American superhero narrative in our heads and makes us feel less vulnerable at night.
For me, it’s disheartening. I see an unending loop of desensitization, fear, pain and hate. It’s another, more insidious way that acts of violence like this continue to victimize even those who think they can muscle their way beyond their vulnerability, fighting fire with fire.
My sensibilities aside, when I saw these images, mostly I thought of the connections — the family, friends, peers and coworkers of these people whose most tragic moments were not only captured but will now be displayed, over and over again for all to see. Imagine it was you or your loved one. These people will never be able to forget but now, because it has been captured for perfect recall with just a few keystrokes, it will never quiet down enough to allow them the peace that faded memory brings.
Even in the case of the suspected bomber, we forget — he belonged to people. People who had nothing to do with the bombing, people who are already reeling from that connection, from the horror that someone they knew or shared blood with, could commit such a devastatingly violent act, that will inevitably stain them by association.
Yes, the internet and social media are the town square of our times — and we do our hanging here too.