A year ago, 22-year-old Kwame Dancy was shot and killed. The headline: "Twitter Argument Leads to Alleged Murder." The story even quotes his poor mother as saying, "... that's crazy. I don't know what's going on with that Twitter thing."
What's going on with that Twitter thing is this: The news media always need a bogeyman.
When I was a teenager, it was metal music or gangster rap -- after the Columbine shootings, the first theory was that the shooters had been brainwashed by Marilyn Manson. Then there was a brief period a few years ago when it was Grand Theft Auto, complete with implied causation headlines like, "Teen Shoots Three After Playing Violent Video Game."
Today, the bogeyman is the Internet. If there's a story involving crime or violence against a child that has even the most remote connection to some kind of networked technology, the technology itself becomes the center of the story. The stories follow the same template as when they were blaming music or games, and they're equally rock-fuck stupid.
5The Internet Makes People Fly Into Irrational Violence!
Here's a typical headline: "Halloween Argument Leads Teens to Online Harassment." The content of that report is exactly this and no more: 14-year-old boy pushes a teenage girl, then talks shit on MySpace. And that event got a headline.
Yet not one word spared for the men who died aboard the K-152 Nerpa?
The report comes from York, Maine, which has a population of a little over 12,000 people. That's a small town, but that excuses nothing. I come from a town one-third that size, and even the dipshit hicks around here wouldn't run a story about a scuffle between 14-year-olds, even if the only other headline was, "Nothing New Happened Today; Please Enjoy Dilbert." No, this is a headline for one reason and one reason only: "online harassment." Without those two words, the event wouldn't even rate middle school lunchroom small talk.
It's all over the place. Austin TV station KXAN felt that the public needed to know about how six teens sent text messages that the sheriff described as "obscene, vulgar, threatening to some degree" to another teen. Hey! That's cyberbullying, kind of! It's not a bullshit dispute among teenagers, it's a scary new national trend that we all must stop and address!
SEND IN THE FUCKING SWAT TEAM.
In reality, the whole incident was a group of football players talking shit to a rival player before their next game. That was it. And that made headlines in Austin, a city of three-quarters of a million people.
In real life, if some high school dudes yell, "I'm gonna tear you limb from fucking limb" across a football field, the ref probably wouldn't throw a flag. Hell, the ref probably wouldn't hear it over all the grown-ups in the stands yelling equally violent threats at the opposing players. That kind of thing is said verbally, from one high school male to another, while in striking distance, on a weekly basis. But take those exact same words and transmit them electronically via a new technology, and it's a goddamned crisis.
We could also write that one off as a slow news day, but two months later, they ran a fucking follow-up report. Why? Because "cyberbullying" is everywhere! "Hide your children, lest the demonic spirit of cyberbullying ingest their innocent, untarnished souls! What is it about these new devil devices that makes our teenage boys act ... exactly the way they did before?"
You can see what's happening here -- "cyberbullying" has become what the news media love most: a buzzword that scares old people into tuning in.
It's easy to forget that there is a whole world of middle-aged and elderly people out there who have at best a basic understanding of what the Internet even is. If you're selling news, you'll find out pretty fast that there is much more profit in keeping people scared of whatever they're already scared of. It works very well, whether it's communists or gang members or heavy metal devil-worship music.
If this is the best the devil has, I think we're pretty safe.
Oh, and if you really want to get a newsroom buzzing, try combining two bogeymen: video games and the Internet ...