Hard to break instincts for social media

Outraged baby

I’m a trained journalist. But I almost got sucked into one of those outrages that get passed around Facebook even when they are wrong.

I think it’s very similar to what James Altucher calls “outrage porn,” where people get a high from being outraged, and feed it back and forth among themselves. We (I) like to think we’re above that sort of thing, but it’s so easy to get pulled into it, especially when we pick it up from someone we know and trust–but they can get pulled in also!

I don’t want to add to the spread of a falsehood, so I’m not going to link to the original piece. But for context, I need to tell you my friend linked to a story that claimed Illinois just quietly made it a felony to record police in the course of their duties without their consent. In light of the increased reporting of police abuse, of course any suggestion that such a law passed would lead to outrage.

(Note: whether police abuse is, in fact, increasing or what the causes might be have nothing to do with this post.)

The link also includes a petition to the governor countering this, which at this writing has reached nearly 35,000 signature out of 50,000 needed.

This kind of thing outrages me, and I had my finger on the mouse button to repost it to all my Facebook friends. But something told me to look into it a little further.

I’m glad I did.

Not only is there no truth to the outrage article, but it’s actually the opposite: the old law could have been twisted to make recording police carrying out their duties illegal.

The new law isn’t perfect–opponents quite rightly fear that it weakens the requirement that police obtain a warrant before recording suspects. But as far as whether you can legally record police at work without their permission (and what cop abusing his authority is going to give permission?)–the new law actually makes it clear that you can do so without fear of prosecution, at least for that “offense.”

For the record: it’s legal in all 50 states to record police carrying out their public duties. That doesn’t mean you won’t get in practical trouble if you do so. After all, by definition an abusive cop isn’t following the law. What’s one more abuse? For that reason, a lot of people have begun using apps that stream the recording to someplace in the cloud as the video is being taken–there have been too many reports of police illegally confiscating cell phones and cameras and deleting files or even destroying the devices. If it’s already on the cloud, then the evidence is preserved.

In any case: I am reminded once again of the wisdom of pausing, checking things out before passing them on, etc. Social media has not changed this human tendency to outrage, but it has made it exponentially easier to react emotionally before logic has a chance to ask questions.

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Be skeptical of your own thinking

Blood sucker
Budding politician?

You don’t have to know a lot about history to know that people used to think illness could be caused by too much blood, and so the way to cure illness was to bleed the patient. I heard that George Washington died as a result of being bled to treat pneumonia (turns out it was actually “acute epiglottitis“). We just shake our heads and sigh at the ignorance.

You may not realize that the idea of “having too much blood” made perfect sense, supported by evidence and observation. Continue reading “Be skeptical of your own thinking”

photo by: Sarah G...
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