5 Terrifying Online Trends (Invented By the News Media)
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.
The 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 ...
Online Gaming Makes Players Attack Each Other in Real Life!
Headline: "PS3 Online Dispute Leads to Real Life Beating."
Well, hell, isn't that a legitimate example of what they should be reporting? The beating happened because the victim was in a dispute over an online game. There, the new technology and/or medium of communication legitimately did lead to a crime that otherwise would not have happened. A PS3 invited a beating into some poor soul's life. Right?
Look at it there. Plotting its next move.
Oh, hey, did I mention that these guys already knew each other? And that this wasn't a case of an unsuspecting kid wandering into some violent dark Internet alley? In fact, these dudes lived six fucking miles apart.
And they didn't like each other. Their dispute could have happened at a municipal basketball court, or in line at Burger King, or at the library, or over the phone. And if it had, it wouldn't be in the goddamned newspaper because nobody cares when routine fistfights occur in their city.
Both of these men could die and it wouldn't make Page 4 in any major metropolitan area.
But "PS3 Online Dispute Leads to Real Life Beating"? That's an ominous sign of the times! It's as if people who don't use the Internet or play online games think all of it is like the dark cave in Yoda's swamp: full of dark magic that muddles men's minds.
And if the only stories these elderly people hear about the Internet are bullshit reports like this, it will always be thought of as some sort of chaotic anarchy filled with rapists and demons, each just waiting patiently for the exact moment to leap out and stab their kids if disturbed. Don't let your kids play PS3 online, folks. They'll get into a dispute that will lead to a beating.
The Telegraph: "War Games Fanatic Matthew Pyke Killed by Gamer from Germany." If you Google his name, you'll find dozens upon dozens of news websites proclaiming that this was a gamer feud gone wrong. A violent game, to boot! He was a "war games" fanatic! Something must be done!
Oh, hey, look at this. It turned out that the killer was obsessed with Pyke's girlfriend. But because the three met on Pyke's gaming forum, every goddamn headline about the case was, "GAMING GAMER KILLS GAMER FROM GAMING GAMELAND GAME GAME!"
THERE'S MURDER IN HIS EYES!
The Internet is Full of Murderers Who Will Murder You
This brings us to, "Twitter Argument Leads to Alleged Murder."
The whole story there is that two guys got into an argument on Twitter, and one of them shot and killed the other. They even told that to this victim's poor mother, prompting the response of, "That's not a reason to shoot somebody, that's crazy. I don't know what's going on with that Twitter thing."
To be honest, neither do we.
You know what? She's right. It's not a reason to shoot somebody, and that's not why it happened.
These two guys, who used to be friends, had fought over a girl half a year before the shooting. Their relationship had been rocky ever since. The things that were said on Twitter were continuations of an ongoing beef, so when the papers said, "The argument spilled over from Twitterdom onto the streets of Harlem," they we're just plain wrong. It was an argument that started on the streets of Harlem and spilled over into Twitter.
But of course the papers felt that "Man Shot in Harlem" wasn't a title anyone would click on -- the majority of us outside of New York assume that happens all the time. But "Twitter Argument Leads to Alleged Murder"? That's fucking buzzword gold. So what happened was that other sites saw the headline reported in the NY Daily News, skimmed the article and regurgitated the story, leaving out the parts that didn't support their case of "Twitter kills people." From there, it propagated around the Internet, always with the hot "Twitter" buzzword:
Advertisers will pay good money to have their banner ads on that page, because it now has worldwide traffic, not just "people who know the guy who got shot" traffic.
There are real lives of real people here who have been gravely affected by this man's horrifying death. Some of them will never recover from that loss, spending the rest of their lives wondering why it happened. You've got the mother of the shooter asking what could have possibly turned her son into such a monster, and in her grief, newspapers are pointing the finger at a fucking social network website. Not his own morals, or decision-making, or poor impulse control. Twitter is not simply a means by which people communicate, the same as they would at a bar or by postcards. No, it's new and scary and must have some alien ability to influence men's minds to make them do what they otherwise would not. Right?
Do I even need to point out that if I call your house and tell you you're a worthless cocksucker and threaten your life, that I'm the asshole here? Not my fucking phone?
"Could you point to the one that turned you into a psychopath?"
I apologize in advance, because it actually gets a lot more infuriating from here ...
The Internet Will Make Mothers Neglect Their Children Until They Are Dead
This story broke just days before this article was written. Headline: "Baby Drowns While Mom Playing Game on Facebook."
That's right -- Facebook and its bullshit Flash games are so addictive that you will be brainwashed into letting your children die. Read the link: The mother clearly neglected her baby while she played on Facebook. She probably left the kid drifting in standing water for hours, or days, while she stared transfixed at her devil-game.
The flickering images stole her sanity.
Actually, the CNN version of the story has a few more details. The baby was left alone for three minutes. The mother had started a routine of leaving the baby alone to bathe because she (stupidly) thought it would teach him to be more independent. Bad parent? Yup. Negligent? Looks like it, and she's being charged as such.
Hypnotized by a new mind-controlling technology into forgetting that she loves her child? Fuuuuuuck no.
Read between the lines in every single "parent abandons child for (insert social networking or gaming activity here)" story and you'll find the same thing. There's a famous one from South Korea where a couple "Let Their Baby Starve to Death While Nurturing a Virtual Child."
But hey, South Korea does other stuff, too.
Yep, no other factors at play here! Oh, wait, both parents had just lost their jobs. Both were suffering from depression. The baby was born prematurely. They had disconnected from everything. If it hadn't been the game, it would have been drugs, or a cult, or take your pick.
Don't get me wrong; as a father, I want to ear-fuck both of them with a cordless drill. But my point is that the game did not kill their child. They never sat down and made a conscious decision that this virtual baby was more important than their own. The news media said all that for them.
It's enough to make you long for the good old days, when headlines were easier to ignore in favor of cartoons.
The Internet Will Drive Your Children to Suicide
Jesus. Here we go.
Headline: "Phoebe Prince, South Hadley High School's 'New Girl,' Driven to Suicide by Teenage Cyber Bullies."
She was driven to suicide by people who knew her in real life, you sensationalist motherfuckers.
Read the story. The vast majority of the abuse happened in school and when she was walking home. See, that's the kind of abuse that can terrorize a person. Real-life abuse, from real people who can physically intimidate you and do tangible harm, people who can affect your everyday life and ruin your reputation in school, or drive away friends.
This generation needs a Carrie.
Maybe, out there somewhere, is a kid who in fact committed suicide based purely on "cyberbullying" -- that is, people he or she knew only online, where the abuse was limited to the sort of thing can you can do over the Internet (threatening comments and emails, etc.). I can't find such an example, and I'm betting that for every kid who suffered an emotional breakdown over "cyberbullying," you'll find several hundred who can trace their problems to things that happened right here in the boring old real world.
And no, they can't justify publicizing a family's personal tragedy based on the idea that it "raises awareness" of cyberbullying, same as they can't justify splashing a dead baby across headlines based on raising awareness of gaming addiction.
They had a chance to raise awareness -- of depression, and the grotesque lack of mental health services available to most people. They could have gone after the real causes, but those boring old subjects don't put asses in the seats.
Nothing brings people together like being terrified of the future.
Nope, we need a bogeyman. Maybe it's not even the media's fault -- maybe it's the audience's fault for falling for it. So how about this:
Some day we'll all be old, and scared. And our kids and grandkids will be messing with some kind of neural interface that we find upsetting and weird and alien. When stories hit the headlines claiming that this newfangled tech is making our kids fight and steal and kill themselves -- you know, do all of the things kids have been doing since the beginning of time -- let's try not fucking falling for it.
Discover some other innovations that were real bogeymen our new book.
And check out more from Cheese in The 4 Most Important Things to Know as a Gamer Parent and 5 Internet Life Lessons Parents Need to Start Teaching Kids.