Whenever there's a horrifying tragedy, technology plays a vital role in coordinating emergency efforts, rallying survivors, collecting donations, and memorializing the deceased. But it can also be exploited in innumerable ghastly and selfish ways. Guess which angle we're going to discuss today.
While crowdfunding websites like GoFundMe can provide necessary services (like helping people secure healthcare, which is not considered a necessary service, for some reason), they're also a hotbed for scammers. In recent years, such unsavory individuals have found a new grift: exploiting shootings for fun and profit.
After the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, which left 58 people dead, crowdfunding campaigns purporting to be for family members of the injured and deceased cropped up everywhere. This also happened after Parkland (2018, 17 dead) and Sutherland Springs (2017, 26 dead). In the aftermath of the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando (2016, 49 dead), a fraudulent campaign asked concerned citizens to dig deep and donate any Bitcoins they had laying around the house.
Outside of the U.S., scammers used the massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand (2019, 51 dead) as a basis for phishing emails that asked people to follow a link to donate to an "official" campaign. Instead it would take them to a website that would steal their bank login details.
But the prize for the worst scam goes to the people who targeted the families of the 22 people killed in El Paso in 2019. They contacted the bereaved while pretending to be from a nearby funeral home, and asked them for money for their "services." (The prize, by the way, is a trip to Hell.)
On January 21, 2019, a light aircraft traveling from Nantes, France to Cardiff, Wales crashed into the sea, killing the pilot and its sole passenger: world-famous soccer player Emiliano Sala. The tragedy horrified sports fans around the world, and while tributes were being paid, a crowdfunding campaign intended to help find Sala's body -- as well as the wreckage of the plane -- raised nearly 300,000 pounds in only a few days.
Meanwhile, gamers enjoying the then-latest edition of FIFA were using the tragedy to make huge piles of in-game loot by selling Sala loot on the game's marketplace for ten times its normal price. (Something similar happened following the deaths of Davide Astori and Junior Malanda, as well as the plane crash that killed damn near an entire Brazilian soccer team.)
After an outpouring of anger, FIFA developer EA (*insert scare chord*) responded by removing Sala from the game and locking his marketplace value to its normal, pre-death level. Meaning that anyone who already owned Sala couldn't sell him for an extortionate amount ... well after everyone stopped caring.
Over the last decade, Facebook has been used to promote all manner of heinous shit, up to and including election interference, white supremacy, anti-vaccination conspiracy theories, dangerous pseudoscience, homophobia and transphobia, and genocide. Considering this swamp of sadness, it seems inconsequential to call founder Mark Zuckerberg out for using a disaster zone to hawk his latest gizmo, but fuck it, we're going to do that anyway. If nothing else, it'll give future generations something to read while watching his trial for crimes against humanity.
In October 2017, Zuckerberg and Rachel Franklin, Facebook's Social Virtual Reality Chief (whatever that means), held a live demonstration of their company's latest VR venture, "Spaces," which uses an Oculus Rift to transport people wherever they want. So where did Zuckerberg and Franklin choose to go using this magical, cutting-edge technology? A hurricane-stricken Puerto Rico.
After turning himself into a cartoon character that somehow looked more lifelike than his everyday appearance, Zuckerberg and Franklin explored the flooded streets of Puerto Rico using a special 360 video created by NPR.
In fairness, they didn't choose that location to be mawkish. Zuckerberg used the opportunity to talk about the work that Facebook did supporting Puerto Rico -- which included donating $1.5 million to relief organizations, as well as assisting the American Red Cross with data gathering. Where it got a little weird, however, was when Zuckerberg started treating the experience like he was at Nerd Disneyland, describing it as "magical" before embarking on a round of virtual high-fives with Franklin.
Users watching the stream took note of this weirdness, and commenters accused Zuckerberg of ignoring the suffering with which he'd literally surrounded himself.
In December 2018, Netflix released Bird Box, a spine-tingling psychological horror movie about a world overrun by monsters that drive anyone who sees them mad -- a plot which really resonates with us, for some reason. In the film, a news report ominously describes a spate of mass suicides over a montage of images of disasters, including a gigantic fire.
That isn't fake. It's footage of a very real train crash which killed 47 people and devastated the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic in 2013. Spoilers: Canada hated this. Netflix apologized and expressed regret for "any pain" they might've caused, but refused to remove the imagery. They asserted that the use of stock footage is a widespread industry trick, and that if they removed it, then goddamn, they might have to do the decent thing the next time it happened too.
And of course there would be a next time. Netflix also made use of the Lac-Megantic disaster in their show Travelers. Before this, they used footage of a 2010 train crash which killed 19 people in Belgium to pad out Death Note. This wound up pissing off people over there, including a survivor who happened to watch the movie unawares. Is a live-action anime adaptation really worth agitating people's PTSD?
Netflix eventually caved and ordered the offending scenes to be excised. But how many times should you have to bang your shin on the hilariously low bar that is "not traumatizing train crash survivors" before learning how to hop?
After becoming rich and famous for making fun of the arrogant small-minded psychopaths of the business world, Dilbert creator Scott Adams figured he might as well join them. With his legacy in tatters and his relevance dwindling, Adams is under a lot of pressure to make his latest venture, "WhenHub," work. Basically, it's a way for experts to sell their expertise to the public/media, with Adams taking a 10% cut of the money they make.
We don't know how WhenHub is doing financially or anything, but we don't think things are going too well, considering how the only time Adams is able to generate any press for the app is when there's a horrific disaster going on somewhere. In June 2019, after a helicopter crashed into a skyscraper in NYC, killing the pilot, Adams offered $500 (minus his cut) to any witnesses willing to use his app to talk to the media.
After the Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting in July 2019, in which four people were murdered, Adams urged witnesses to come forward and "set [your] price" and use his app to talk to the media, in return for his standard cut, which he'd upped to 20%. To make matters worse, anyone who used the app might not even be paid in money, but instead in Adams' sketchy cryptocurrency. Fortunately, no one took him up on his offer ... except for one person, who set up a space on WhenHub advertising expertise in subjects such as "journalism basics" and "Scott Adams being vile."
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