Social Media's Wild Guess

Twin events in the past few days have revealed the catapulted status the social media now enjoy in our society. The Boston Marathon bombings and their aftermath last week and the hacked and tweeted hoax about a White House attack this week are a sobering reminder of the power wielded by a host of cyberspace social networks. “Monday’s bombings, the first major terrorist attack on American soil in the age of smartphones, Twitter and Facebook, provided an opportunity for everyone to get involved. Within seconds of the first explosion, the Internet was alive with the collective ideas and reactions of the masses” (South Bend Tribune 4-21-13). In an instant, pictures and video clips from bystanders in Boston were circulating the Internet. Theories regarding the bombings and potential bombers began to multiply like a rogue virus. Innocent men and women were marked in photographs, in some cases identified by name and found guilty in the court of cyberspace. Some tout the investigative boost and assistance such Internet sleuthing can provide for law enforcement officials, but the fact is cyberspace got it wrong in Boston. “‘This is one of the most alarming social media events of our time,’ said Siva Vaidhyanathan, a media studies professor at the University of Virginia. ‘We’re really good at uploading images and unleashing amateurs, but we’re not good with the social norms that would protect the innocent. . . . Sitting at our computers, it’s easy to forget that there are real people represented by these images and names. . . . And that’s when we see the arrogance of the crowd take over’” (ibid). Then just yesterday the Associated Press Twitter account was hacked, and a hoax message—“Breaking: Two Explosions in the White House and Barack Obama is injured”—shot into cyberspace. In seconds traders on Wall Street got wind of the “explosions” and panicked. The Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted in a free-fall, “erasing nearly $200 billion off the broader market’s value” (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/04/23/hack-attack-on-associated-press-shows-vulnerable-media/2106985/).  At best we now live in a world jittery with uncertainty. And this hoax has “underscored a great vulnerability in our 24/7 faster-is-better news environment: stories (even fake ones) travel at light speed and can in an instant upend an increasingly anxious public’s faith in business, government and the news media” (ibid). Why should these two social media events matter to us? Because they are a stunning reminder that a faceless public can quickly jettison judicial “due process” by trying, interrogating and condemning the innocent in the court of public opinion. In a matter of hours, even minutes. And they can do so on the basis of evidence that is actually false or unsubstantiated. How rapidly, how wrongly the faceless ones can render judgment! No wonder Revelation 13 predicts that on the heels of some catastrophic event this nation and the world (and the tolerating public within them) will try, interrogate, condemn and even execute the innocent in the dragon’s furious endgame. Will the faceless public of social media be his pawn? Given the last few days, wouldn’t you be surprised if they weren’t?

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