The internet: What has it wrought?

The internet: What has it wrought?

By Ellen Ratner   

NEW YORK — This week we saw murders of Muslims in New Zealand. The murders were tragic, and the perpetrator had written a very long epistle about how to hate. In these days of social media, he actually live-streamed the shooting. At least 50 people were killed and more are hospitalized, and some will not make it.

On Friday in regards to New Zealand, the United Nations said, “The Secretary General has the urgency of working together and to end violence in all forms.” There was misinformation on social media. The shooter says he was inspired by Donald Trump – the UN spokesperson had not read his rant.

The known shooter said on social media, “Remember, lads, subscribe to PewDiePie.” The New York Times reported, “Like many of the things the suspect appears to have done in preparation for the shooting on Friday – like posting a 74-page manifesto that named specific internet figures who had influenced his views, or writing that the video game Fortnite ‘trained me to be a killer’ – the PewDiePie endorsement served two purposes. For his online followers, it was a kind of satirical Easter egg.”

(“Subscribe to PewDiePie,” which began as a grass-roots online attempt to keep the popular YouTube entertainer from being dethroned as the site’s most-followed account, has morphed into a kind of all-purpose cultural bat signal for the young and internet-absorbed.)

On March 10, we also saw the crash of the 737-8 on the way from Ethiopia to Kenya. The president was busy, speaking right after the crash to the head of Boeing. On Friday, President Trump spoke to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia. The White House issued this statement: “President Donald J. Trump spoke by phone with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy about the tragic crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight ET 302. The Prime Minister offered his condolences to the families and friends of the eight Americans killed and thanked President Trump for U.S. assistance in investigating the incident. The President reiterated his sorrow over the loss of life and underscored America’s commitment to work with the Government of Ethiopia – a longstanding partner and friend of the United States – and international civil aviation authorities to determine the cause of the crash.”

The UN spokesperson read out the list of names of people who died who were associated with the United Nations, and the Secretary General put a wreath in their memory. The United States’ FAA was slow in ordering the end of the flying of the Boeing plane. It was by all reports the last major country to do so. The president said that planes were getting more complex – and they are – but we need to have better training as well as better planes so that this kind of tragedy does not happen again.

The internet has become a kind of modern-day town hall. We go to learn about tragedies, and then we find out that bad guys (like the shooter in New Zealand) used the internet not only to broadcast what happened, but to live-stream it. The plane going down might never have been connected with the Lion Air crash if it were not for the internet. The internet allows us to not only read about the connections, it allows us to read the hate. In fact, the Wall Street Journal headlined an article “Did Twitter Ground the 737-Max?”

I am doing a book with my classmates for our 50th reunion (yes, it has been that long!) and one of the questions we asked is, “How does what is happening today reflect on what happened back then during the Vietnam war, the end of Segregation and the like?” Most of the people say they cannot believe what is going on now. We grew up before the internet.

Somehow, someone has got to clean up the hate. Clearly, the internet allows people to communicate and stay in touch in a way they could not during the 20th century. But what has it wrought? It has allowed us to connect what happened to the 737-Max, and that’s a good thing; but it also allowed the shooter in New Zealand to have a platform. That was not good.

It’s time to clean up the internet and make it something that connects us, such as allowing the 737-Max to be uncovered. But it needs to not permit hate speech of any kind, such as what finishes the lives of at least 50 people – and finishes off a good society as well.

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