I started writing this as a personal status post on Facebook. But it ended up being too long for a simple status message. And no one uses Facebook Notes. On the great advice of a close friend, I’m flexing it out to a full post here. The Orlando terrorist attacks have brought a number of thoughts to my mind. I’m not sourcing or citing anything in this piece. I’m writing a full response in a separate post with citations. This is a freestyle where I’m letting my thoughts organize themselves.
I’m writing up my full thoughts today to go on my site. But I’m going to post some thoughts here because I don’t think these thoughts belong in that piece.
With each passing tragedy in history, social media becomes more toxic. It’s almost unwatchable.
I’ve read a billion and one hot-takes on what happened today. Invariably almost all of them are wrong, or slightly off. The primary reason people are wrong is because they build themselves a personal echo chamber so they hear what they want to hear about an event.
When a larger news story happens, I typically hop over to Twitter. I’ve structured my follow list to include a lot of on-the-ground reporters and people who follow larger networks of reporters. So when a large event happens I’m getting the equivalent of a live news wire. It’s a lot of information. I’ve often equated it to looking into a firehose of information turned on full blast. You watch reporters post facts and inaccuracies live. Whatever eventually happens on air is being sorted out by the beat reporters and their sources beforehand on Twitter.
This fast flow of information can be overwhelming if you focus on each report. What I prefer to do is watch from the 10,000 foot view and watch trends develop. Which also means, I invariably can tell when someone or a news source starts getting fed bad information. They start circling in a information circle where bad sources confirm each other, while outside sources are contradicting them. The bad source circles never know because they talk to no one outside their own bubble. People have different blind spots.
My goal in following the reporters is to catch what they’re saying BEFORE they get filtered through a producer or media company. When a typical news account files a story and posts it on their main site, a reporter’s information has been properly sanitized to fit whatever narrative a given news story is supposed to drive. All news media is biased. I accept this as fact. But good reporters have a desire to be two things: First and accurate. They push their source information out on Twitter fast. When one reporter posts something unique, others rush in to confirm for their network. When enough of them confirm the point, a news “fact” is born.
Which brings me to Orlando. The events in Orlando began around 2 am. Police arrived later.
The EARLIEST confirmed news reports suggested domestic terrorism as a potential cause. The reporters knew a few facts as true: 1) A shooting had happened in a club, 2) Many were dead and injured. Social media posts of those in club looked bad. 3) Police and FBI were investigating it as “potential” domestic terrorism. People were told to wait for more facts and not jump to conclusions.
Those were the early morning facts. The pundits were not awake and active yet.
You could tell when the East Coast finally began waking up and seeing the news. Because around 5-6 am a large number of liberal journalists were writing a narrative that this event was a gun control story. Reporters on the ground, largely out of the loop, continued to report the facts, but people waking up immediately saw: “Shooting in a club, many killed or injured” and moved directly to the “We need more gun control” narrative. There was little narrative until the east coast began waking up. Just a tragic story.
From 6 am to 12 noon, the gun control crowd built itself into an absolute frenzy. This included unabashed attacks on anyone tweeting out prayers and support for Orlando. ThinkProgress’s editors in particular set out to attack anyone not pushing the gun control narrative. This narrative continued, unabated, just past the President’s speech in the afternoon where he SAID it was a terrorist attack. By this point in the day we already knew, confirmed by multiple sources, that the terrorist had called 911, announced allegiance to ISIS, and spoke of the Boston Marathon bombing in glowing terms.
After the President’s speech, some commentators began noticing tweets getting deleted from the gun control advocates. Their political narrative was getting blasted apart by facts which made them look horribly out of touch. Vox.com largely continued unhindered by facts. James Taranto of the WSJ noted a number of times how Vox was ONLY reporting facts from a gun control perspective. They didn’t quote the sections of the President’s speech pertaining to terrorism. They chose their narrative and refused to budge.
Which brings me to the problem of speed.
The Orlando events happened fast. Facts flew. Confirmations were bouncing around quickly.
Events happened in real time and news editors are incapable of catching everything.
The key to watching news real time is to see watch fact verification happen. During the San Bernardino attacks, a handful of reports thought they had the real names of the terrorists and tweeted out. It took 1-2 hours to verify this information was false. For a while, two names were floating around haphazardly. I don’t blame journalists for this problem. Real time reporting and verification is difficult.
And, this may surprise you, I do not believe the media got together and decided gun control was the decided narrative for this event. That’s impossible in an event like the Orlando terrorist attacks. The information is flowing too quickly. Instead of letting the information develop, they instead reverted to what they knew: news narratives.
People were/are scared. They had just watched the second worst terrorist attack since 9/11 happen. As of right now, 50 people dead. Many more injured. People are terrified of what that means for them. So when terrified, people did what they needed to interpret events: they returned to narratives that help them explain the world.
For liberal journalists that meant returning to the gun control narrative. No matter what the facts were: gun control explained it. Lone wolf style terrorist attacks only happen overseas, not here in the US. Gun control is a navigable narrative. Lone wolf attacks on soft targets is not.
It happens to conservatives too. Right now Trump supporters are calling for the “Muslim ban.” Which is stupid and would have done nothing in this case. The terrorist in this case was a US Citizen. Who, while on the terrorist watch list (who isn’t these days?), was cleared by the FBI. We heard similar stories out of France and Belgium after their terrorist attacks. Their authorities knew about the terrorists in their country, but never had enough proof to stop them.
That thought, that your government is knowledgable about threats, but due to civil liberty protections is incapable of pre-empting the danger, is terrifying to think about for some people. But the reality is this: gun bans, muslim bans, or any kind of ban will not stop terrorist attacks. You cannot ban terrorism. If a person wants to inflict massive levels of harm, they are given time to plan, they can inflict that harm. Remember, 9/11 was committed with box cutter knives. Those terrorists had the element of surprise.
Here’s how to stop all forms of terrorism in the US: repeal the 4th amendment and let the US Government go after all suspected terrorists. Expand the surveillance net to include US citizens and us big data to predict where incidents will flare up. Think this is impossible? Think again. Target and Amazon can predict when a woman is pregnant by her purchase. This information isn’t enough to grab a person under the 4th amendment. But if you want it to, repeal it. France effectively did just this with their emergency government powers. They repealed civil liberty protections to target terrorists in their country. They were able to bring down numerous terrorist cells.
Do you never want gun violence again? Repeal the 2nd Amendment and confiscate every. single. weapon. in. America. Gun violence will drop. Violence won’t. But gun specific violence will.
The two most empty political phrases in America are: “common sense gun control” and “secure the borders.” Those are meaningless phrases used by politicians and pundits to allow listeners to fill in the blanks to mean whatever the listener wants.
We aren’t going to repeal the 2nd or 4th amendments. They are vital protections of American liberty. They are essential to the health and safety of our Republic. BUT. That also means it opens us up to potential dangers. Narratives will NOT save you from that danger. You cannot tell yourself that gun control or a Muslim ban will protect America. It won’t. A gun ban or a deportation of all Muslims would put this country at a Civil War II. And terrorists will simply find another way to attack.
The reason social media is toxic is because it allows us to build our own special bubbles of narrative protection. When something bad happens we can retreat to that narrative of protection to explain the world. We don’t have to deal with the truth of reality. We want to be comforted that our personal narrative can explain the evil away. Social media enables this behavior.
For liberals gun control advocates: gun control was the protective bubble they ran to for protection.
For conservative Trump supporters: The refugees, Mexican wall, and Muslim ban were the things to blame and the protective narrative.
All of it is fantasy.
The reality is this: We live in a world where terrorists are going after soft targets in public centers to strike at us. Our governments have done an excellent job of protecting hard targets. Areas that are vital to American interests are fully protected and monitored. Soft targets are not. We, as Americans, are going to have to decide how we are going to fight back. How much freedom do we want to give up to have a secure society? Likewise, how far are we willing to go prevent the radicalization of young Muslim men domestic and abroad? Because those are the questions we will have to answer. Liberty vs security is we’ve had forever. Preventing radicalization is not one of them.
People want to believe all we have to do is prevent ISIS from entering our borders. That’s not the question before us. It’s not the problem. The problem is preventing ISIS from radicalizing OUR citizens. We’ve long had problems with Chinese and Russian propaganda masquerading as news in America. Now we have to deal with ISIS radicalizing our people.
Narratives don’t answer those questions. Only truth. Reality deals with truth. Narratives prevent you from dealing with that reality. The best thing you can do in a crisis like this is to leave that narrative and begin educating yourself on the fight ahead.
I pray God would bring peace and healing to the families of those who lost loved ones today. I pray God would being his peace and guidance to first responders who walked into that club and witnessed things no man or woman should ever see. I pray the people of Orlando would unite together to heal and create something good out of tragedy. I pray for our President and his team to find the best means to protect the United States. And finally I pray for the United States of America. I pray that God bless the United States of America and may we emerge strong, resolute, and united as a Nation. Amen.
And having thus chosen our course, without guile, and with pure purpose, let us renew our trust in God, and go forward without fear, and with manly hearts.Abraham Lincoln, 1861