In Chapter two of “Here Comes Everybody,” Clay Shirky talks a lot about the benefits of technology in the broadcasting of events after tragedies, but he didn’t talk about the darker side of websites like twitter and Flickr.
Twitter, Flickr and similar websites where you can upload on-the-go are great when you want to get the word out fast. In situations like the Indian Ocean Tsunami that Shirky talks about briefly, it was great. Right after the disaster happened, people were able to post photos and videos showing what was going on in the aftermath. It saved countless lives and helped people find out about loved ones without waiting the days it would take to get media coverage.
This is not really the norm, however. Sites like twitter are primarily social sites. There are more posts about everyday things than anything else. This isn’t really a problem. I certainly don’t care if other people want to spend their time updating their Facebook status or tweeting.
The problem is when tweeting or something similar becomes more important than actual people, conversations and events.
I went home over the weekend and my sister told me about a fight that broke out at her school on Friday. There were only students around at the time and just like in the movies everyone was circled around the two boys. There were countless people that could have easily interfered without hurting themselves or the two boys, but everyone was too busy videotaping it on their phones, tweeting about it or encouraging them to do anything about it. No one even told a teacher. When they finally broke up the fight, one boy was unconscious and according to several bystanders, he had been knocked out in the first punch. She found out later through a mutual friend of the boy who started it that he had picked the fight so his friend could tape it and put it on facebook and youtube.
This kind of thing happens all the time. Just a few days ago, I read an article about this very thing entitled “Kids Doing Stupid Things for Attention.” The author talks about the things people, primarily teenagers will do and put on the internet to get attention.
I do not know what we can do to keep that kind of thing from happening. I’m not proposing that we shut down the sites because that would be ridiculous. It is not the internet or the sites that are causing people to do these things, it’s us: their viewers. Every time we visit the sites and laugh about the videos with our friends, we are perpetuating the cycle. If these kids didn’t get the attention, they wouldn’t do it.