There’s almost a wilful blindness when it comes to the Internet and the technology surrounding it.
Of course most people don’t even understand that their name, address and phone number are stored and available for free online in an easily searchable format. If you’re in the phonebook, your numbers are on the web.
“Killing Time With Tech And The Things You Really Need To Know About Your Online Privacy”, Me; May 28, 2008.
I just had to prove that my fucking daughter was all right because some “person” who has never met me, barely exchanged any words with me, couldn’t stop for a minute and think, gee, perhaps she’s like many other mothers, annoyed at bedtime. She couldn’t stop and think, hmmm, an email might suffice.
“Watch what you twitter, big sister is watching.”; Thordora
“if I smother my 3 year old, who will NOT GO TO FUCKING SLEEP, is it REALLY a crime?”
The “tweet” in question. Notice the punctuation and question with an obvious answer, and the word “if”. At no time in this statement does Thordora threaten her children. It’s a type of humour called “absurdism” which makes an exaggerated claim to make a point about something else… Thordora is saying she is tired.
Absurdism: An act or instance of the ridiculous. “True absurdism is not less but more real than reality” (John Simon). A philosophy based on the belief that the universe is irrational and meaningless and that the search for order brings the individual into conflict with the universe. Distinctively Absurdist language will range from meaningless clichés to Vaudeville-style word play to meaningless nonsense.
Taken from merriam-webster.com, Answers.com and Wikipedia.
Because of a misunderstanding on a social networking site a friend of mine had to explain to police she hadn’t harmed or killed her kids.
My friend, Thordora, posted a comment to her Twitter account. She was tired, fed up with her kids bedtime rituals and joked about “smothering” them.
After a series of convoluted events a woman named Tara, who lives in Pennsylvania, used “tweets” on her Twitter account to contact a complete stranger in Los Angeles, who somehow managed to convince the police near Thordora’s home there was imminent danger to Thor’s kids.
This is what happens when two strangers who are naive about the technology they’re using collide. Thor, for a minute, believed everyone reading her “tweet” would understand her. Tara thought it was her responsibility to get her Twitter “community” hard at work finding Thor — ultimately slandering Thor’s name up and down the Twitter world.
Thor should also have known better than to leave her address and real name attached to her site. I don’t know Tara, but at any point during the evening common sense should have told her to slow the fuck down.
But this incident illustrates perfectly there’s a serious disconnect going on as people get involved with communication tools they know nothing about beyond the basic four step tutorial on how to get their Twitter/MySpace/FaceBook/Second Life account started.
Basically Twitter recreates in a blog format all the fun of instant messaging without all the hassle of having friends to send them to, plus there’s none of that unnecessary making sense bullshit.
Thordora did exactly what you’re supposed to do, exactly what the site is designed for, she collected what was on her mind into fewer than one hundred words and posted it as a “tweet”.
But her naiveté was not understanding what the consequences of yelling “fire” as the punchline to a joke in a crowded chatroom could be.
Someone writes a tweet about baseball… someone else recognizes the player, the team and makes their own comment to prove they’re just as cool as the writer. Someone writes something political, I respond in kind. It’s easy and essentially meaningless. But someone drops something about poking their kid with a sharp stick… ah, now how do I respond?
Tara responded by eventually thinking about the children. And, eventually, she managed to get two Canadian police officers to knock on my friends door.
The thing is, while Tara is claiming she did the right thing “for the children”, what will she do when she discovers the comments left on YouTube by pervs detailing what they’d like to do to whatever woman/girl is in the video? Is she going to send out tweet alerts warning about potential sexual assaults?
People like Tara are accessing these new communication tools and bringing with them all the morals and “community” responsibilities they idealize about their own neighbourhoods. So calling the police in another country to respond to a crime which only occurred in her head makes complete sense.
From her response on Thor’s site:
I hope you… realize that a lot of people you don’t know were very concerned for your welfare and the welfare of your children, and be glad that people out there care about you.
There is something very ominous in her little mission statement. Like how people scattered all over the world now have a direct say in how we raise our children.
Somehow I can’t imagine Tara hearing a baby crying in a neighbours house and whipping that cellphone out to notify 9-1-1. Of course she wouldn’t do that. But she would Twitter about it…
Which was her guiding principle on the night she started the process which ended with my friend having to wake her kids up to prove to a couple of cops they were safe. It happened because Tara needed something to fill the empty space between thoughts. She needed something to make her “Twitter community” keep its gaze on her… she needed a tweet.
Someone who followed the incident on Twitter describes it like this in the following three quotes:
No [Tara], you did not ‘respond directly’ to Thordora until you made it all about YOU in posting this non-sense, “Dear person who just swore in capital letters about smothering your toddler, I’m sorry, but I had to unfollow you. That is not right.”
From what I understand of Twitter “unfollow” means Tara is basically shunning Thor.
After that, and after re-tweeting it, directing other people to the cause of your hand-wringing and “your angst” you sent the oh-so-clinical, “@thordora It would be a crime. If you’re having thoughts of hurting your child or yourself, plz get help ASAP. Go to the hospital NOW.”
So instead of calling the authorities, or contacting Twitter, Tara decided to continue sitting at her computer and writing to a person who might be asleep or a thousand miles from a computer… basically a person who only existed in her head.
And, when Tara finally started making phone calls it wasn’t to the police. It was to a child services agency*. But she made everyone on her Twitter list understand what was going on, because it was good theatre… it was keeping her Twitter-maniacs in the loop. So they, too, could be in on keeping children safe.
Also, you didn’t call the police or ask anyone else to call? Liar. Or are you again playing semantics because it wasn’t the police you were trying to contact but some other agency? “I need a person in Canada to make a toll free call for me. I can’t call from the US, the number goes to the wrong place. DM me if u can help “
What a great new community Tara wants us to be a part of… instead of just passively collecting evidence in the form of screenshots, downloads and asking some questions, Tara and her friends want to be part of the bust. Not because they’re interested in keeping Thor’s kids safe, or in making their streets safer — otherwise look out anyone who jokes about wringing their kids neck at a party hosted by Tara. These people got their keyboards sweaty because they need the tweet. They needed to have a reason for updating their FaceBook status, or to change the emoticon in their sidebar.
There is good along with the bad in any new communications tool. But the ones suddenly available to us over the past few years are more about communicating with ourselves than with others. There is a certain amount of narcissism involved in any “social network”, but within the category Twitter is remarkably narcissistic.
Find people you don’t know, and communicate with them by following their “tweets”… which are vague references to small instances during the day. There is no reflection, no discussions, just you responding to 50 words which probably occurred to me three minutes ago.
Twitter, it seems to me, is all about projection. There aren’t two people in the discussion, there’s just me. When I’m tired or bored of the “me” represented in what you’re writing, I drop you and find someone else who is more “me”.
If all we’re going to teach ourselves about these technologies is the four basic setup steps, these technologies won’t act as anything more than a place to live the fantasies we have of ourselves. And the technologies we decide to use, if all they do is feed the fantasy of importance, will never add anything positive and lasting to our lives.
The problem with communication technology is if you don’t have more than the basic grasp of how it works it will come back and bite you on the ass. Every time we use “Points” or “Air Miles” cards, for example, we willingly give a third-party company you’ve never heard of access to the most intimate details of your life.
I’ve written before about the dangers of throwing billy clubs around the living room of our glass house. Communications technologies make it very easy to reach out and judge someone. They make it very easy for people like Tara to initiate a series of events two thousand miles away which result in a friend of mine having to explain to the police — who keep records — she wasn’t killing her children.
But people like Tara, who I’m sure is a wonderful mother, don’t understand their personal history is also available online through a simple search. It’s something they must become aware of in case they were to pull a stunt like this on someone who, unlike Thordora, would be willing to retaliate in kind**.
The social networking arm of communications technology is in its infancy, we’re still learning how this all works and what this is going to accomplish as a social experiment. Hopefully the annoying pieces like Twitter will be useful in some capacity as a bear trap for people who want to turn the Internet into a police state so they can tweet about the police knocking on their neighbour’s door.
*which is just… retarded. Either Tara can’t use Google, or wasn’t nearly as interested in saving the children as she tweeted. There are roughly thirteen provincial and territorial government sponsored child protection agencies in Canada, as well as all kinds of NGO’s. There are also dozens and dozens of police agencies. None of which block calls from the United States.
The tiny amount of effort Tara put into this “rescue” — by only calling one random agency a couple of times before giving up — proves to me she was in it for the tweets, and nothing but the tweets. Or maybe she figured Canada turns our phone off at 8pm.
**I was torn about including a link to Tara’s website. Despite using her name this post isn’t about her. But she and her friends are still tweeting and commenting about Thordora, and that pisses me off. To be honest the whole thing pisses me off… what I’ve really wanted to do since this thing started is post Tara’s address, and the phone numbers and addresses of her family under the heading “glass houses”… maybe even include the number for the Harrisburg detachment of the Pennsylvania State Police.
But I will link to her site. And if she wants help making her web presence a little less high profile I’ll even suggest a few options. Thordora asked me to remove the link to Tara’s blog, so I’ve removed the hotlink for a cold one… which I’ve also removed. This post is not about Tara, it’s about other stuff. Go ahead, read it and find out… all the words are even spelled properly.