By Alyssa Rosenberg, washingtonpost.com
When the news first broke that a seemingly random slaying had been broadcast on Facebook, many assumed that we had crossed an inevitable, dreadful Rubicon: a murder staged by the perpetrator and sent out to the world as it happened. As it turned out, according to police, Steve Stephens filmed himself stalking and shooting Robert Godwin Sr. and then uploaded the video to Facebook. We remain on the other side of that river, even as we shuffle toward the water’s edge.
Incidents such as this are horrifying. But our sense that technology and social media have given rise to new forms of horror, and given vent to new kinds of nastiness is probably overstated. It’s true that technology makes it easier for killers to self-broadcast their own acts of violence and statements in which they try to justify themselves, just as the Internet makes it easier for those who want to be nasty to track down their targets. Focusing on technology, though, is a way of stanching the flow of cruelty, not eliminating it entirely. Long before you could hop on Facebook Live or tweet invective, killers and ordinary citizens alike found ways to get their words out, even if it took more effort than it does now. Acting as though technology has foisted fresh horrors on us or made us less nice is a kind of denial.