Saturday, January 7, 2017


"Why would four suspects in Chicago broadcast the torture of a man on Facebook Live?" Good question. The easy answer, as N.G. Berrill, executive director of the the New York Center for Neuropsychology & Forensic Behavioral Science points out, is that they're stupid. To borrow a quote originally about sexting, one could make the point that some people call live-streaming one's own violent acts "entertaining," but that in a court of law, they call it "evidence." And, let's face it, by a certain standard, openly doing things that are likely to land one in prison with one or more felony convictions is nothing if not stupid.

But there's another answer, and it's illustrated by this:

At one point, dissatisfied with how few people have tuned in to watch the group assault the man, the woman with the cellphone says to her internet following, “You all ain’t even commenting on my shit. Ain’t nobody watching my shit.”
Mr. Berrill presumes that it's "a scary place" where people are willing to publicly engage in cruelty in order to earn accolades from others, but if that's the case, the United States has been a scary place for a very long time. Because while mistreating bad people may still be mistreatment, visiting this fate upon "bad people" has often been a way of reinforcing social norms, especially those that were not explicitly encoded into law. The actions of the four young people who have been charged in the Chicago assault don't strike me as much different than the actions of people who would turn up to attend a lynching - and then pose for photographs with the body. Of course, they were unlikely to have later been charged with the murder, or even being an accessory to same, but the basic thought process seems the same: "Here I am, being seen to participate in the inhumane punishment of someone different. Isn't that great?"

As long as people expect and/or are given approval for this sort of thing, it will continue. Approval is a powerful thing, and we shouldn't underestimate its ability to motivate.

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