Like many people, I spent the morning of Monday, October 2nd reading news articles. The horrific events in Las Vegas were looking like the worst mass shooting in U.S history, the number of dead and injured was rising as more information was revealed, and people were hushed and stunned. Some of those tweeting out their “thoughts and prayers” saw something of a backlash as people who were hurting pointed out that what’s needed is action, not thoughts and prayers. Gun stocks rose, apparently because there’s an assumption that pro-gun people, afraid that legislation might make getting guns harder, will run out and buy more guns. There was an immediate rush to blame the right. Or the left. Or terrorists. And so on.
Then I ran across this, at the end of a story about the shooting on NPR: “This is a developing story. Some things that get reported by the media will later turn out to be wrong. We will focus on reports from police officials and other authorities, credible news outlets and reporters who are at the scene. We will update as the situation develops.”
I read the news a lot, and this is the first time I can recall seeing such a clearly-worded disclaimer on an actual story (as opposed to buried on some “terms & conditions” page nobody ever looks at). It’s possible that I’ve been guilty of skimming and just missed similar notes, but this one stopped me in my tracks.
We live in bizarre times. Actual fake news–like the kind they say was being spread like wildfire before the last presidential election–is believed, while actual news is called out as “fake”. The people who should be telling us the truth give us “alternative facts”. The life-threatening problems in post-hurricane Puerto Rico are overshadowed in the media by a POTUS who’s busy hammering on the NFL. And on and on and on.
Before noon on October 2nd, at least one blog site had named the wrong person as the gunman and went cuckoo bananapants painting him as a far-left wingnut. A CBS exec who said she didn’t have any sympathy because the victims were country music fans, and therefore likely to be pro-gun Republicans, was fired before the day was over for her comments.
And over at Wired, people are saying hold the fucking phone, guys, with this article: “Bad info follows every tragedy. Don’t fall for it.”
The internet can be a wonderful place. It can also be a loony bin for ideas, where the patients are running the asylum. We all know what happens after tragedies like this. People call for stricter gun laws. People scoff at the idea that stricter gun laws would have helped. Lobbyists lobby. People fight, argue, spew garbage, create conspiracy theories, point fingers, grandstand, and otherwise turn the whole thing into a massive shit show, while others plead for sanity, for a real conversation, for action, for change. It doesn’t take a genius to say, Holy fuck, people, this is all broken. We need to fix it.
When Thing 2 was a bit younger, there was a shooting at his high school. He texted that he was safe for the moment, sheltered in a classroom, but it was hours before they were evacuated. Or maybe it just seemed like hours. It felt like an eternity. During that time, I went on Facebook to see if any of the people I knew had kids at that school. I already knew that none of them did, but I had to check anyway. Maybe someone had moved. Maybe I was forgetting. I wanted to be doing something, and it was the first something that popped into my head. Who else do I need to worry about? Who else needs help?
Instead, what I found was this: some of the people I’d considered friends hadn’t thought to check on anyone else. They hadn’t thought to ask who might have a kid trapped inside that school. These were all people living in the same general area, so I can’t have been the only one who realized that kids we knew might be inside. But instead of seeing concerned friends checking up on each other to make sure everyone was ok, I saw people whose entire focus seemed to be on some variation of, “Oh, crap, another shooting. Now the liberals are going to use this as another excuse to try to take our guns away.”
They have every right to their opinions and feelings, but the idea that people I knew were so tone deaf that they’d post things like that while it was still happening was like a kick to the solar plexus. I was shocked and appalled that people I’d called friends could be so utterly insensitive. This wasn’t an attempt at a real dialog, it was bitching about and belittling others. It was flinging shit over a wall. I never thought that this was an acceptable first response when it was fucknut strangers saying it; I sure as hell couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that some of the people I’d spent time with over the years were the fucknuts.
In that moment, all I felt was loathing. I loathed them, I loathed myself for being associated with them, and I loathed social media. I mass-unfriended just about everyone I knew, and Facebook became something that I only looked at once in a blue moon. I wasn’t being entirely rational, obviously, but even later, once Thing 2 was safe and some time had passed, I never made any attempt to undo what I’d done. That was four years ago, and I haven’t spoken to the worst offenders since. There was no conversation, no explanation, no questions, no contact. It just ended. Part of me wishes I’d taken the opportunity to try to have a conversation about it, but most of me is perfectly content just not being friends with those people any more. For me, it wasn’t about the gun issue, it was about the behavior. The problem is, when guns are involved, it always seems to come down to “you’re just pro-gun/anti-gun, and that’s all this is about.”
Sometimes, it’s just about decency. Maybe it should always be about decency. That covers a hell of a lot of, “Don’t do evil shit” territory, doesn’t it?