Tuesday, July 5, 2011

TV, Facebook, and the Mob Mentality

"The mob is the mother of tyrants."  -Diogenes

I hope this doesn't sound too sanctimonious, but I have never been happier that I don't own a TV than I am tonight.  Looking at Facebook, I see that a little girl named Caylee was murdered.  I don't know how, and don't want to know. It's not that I don't care.  It's an unspeakable tragedy, but one that happens all too often; too often for the news to focus on it at the expense of other issues that directly affect far more people. I also see that the girl's mother, who was accused of the murder, was acquitted.  Apparently, a lot of people think she is guilty.  If she is, and she slipped past the system, that is a tragedy too.  But not as great a tragedy as the murder itself.  Not even close.  It is also not as great a tragedy as if the mother were wrongly convicted.  I have no idea if she's guilty or not, because, I haven't followed this whole awful business.  I know how horrible the world can be; I don't need to scrutinize whatever particular horror the media has decided to fixate on.

Since I already knew that children are murdered every day, what disturbs me most about this are the comments I'm seeing on Facebook.  People are claiming that they are certain that the mother was guilty, and I've even noticed a few (mostly friends of friends) saying things like "People know where she lives....".  They are talking about how, if they were in charge, she never would have made it to court.  I even saw a virtual fight break out, where a couple of blowhards in a comment thread started threatening each other physically.

All this sounds a lot like the rumblings of an angry mob.  Luckily, this is only a virtual mob.  They aren't gathered outside someone's door, and they don't have knives and ropes inside their jackets.  But I get the impression that, if this poor girl's mother stepped out on the streets, and met a crowd of people who were talking to each other this way....they might actually kill her. And maybe she is guilty, and maybe she deserves a nasty fate.  But a mob is not who should decide whether she's guilty, much less take her punishment upon themselves.  Our justice system is far from perfect, but it's light years ahead of mob rule, which is far more likely to result in injustice than justice.

I've always thought that sites like Facebook are good for keeping you informed about how other people are thinking.  I want to know how others think, even if it disturbs me.  And tonight, what I see makes me think we are still quite capable of mob violence.  And it is disturbing, because if there's anything more frightening than a murderer going free, it's a lynch mob running wild.

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