Veetle chief technology officer Ethan Wang recalls an incident back in 2008 when a teenager live-streamed his own suicide. None of today’s companies are investing in public safety, Wang said on The Crime Report website. And it doesn’t appear that they’re investing much in public morality either.
At breakfast the other morning I was listening to an NPR report on an 18-year-old woman in Ohio who is being charged with kidnapping, rape, sexual battery and a variant of distributing child pornography. As I’m listening to the report I’m wondering, How do you even concoct such a litany of alleged crimes?
Live-streaming the alleged rape of her 17-year-old friend, that’s how.
Prosecutors assert that Marina Lonina broadcasted the incident on the Twitter-owned app Periscope. The defendant claims (on legal counsel) that she live-streamed the alleged rape because she was trying to get the man to stop. Really? Sounds more like a freebie amateur porn flick to me. Come on!
And Franklin County, Ohio, prosecutor Ron O’Brien would tend to agree:
“She continued to live-stream it and she told the police that she continued because she got caught up in the likes that were showing on her screen,” he said.
“And she didn’t call 911,” he continued. “She giggled throughout.”
O’Brien identified 29-year-old Raymond Boyd Gates as the alleged rapist and said all three appeared to be “under the influence. And at least the victim was highly intoxicated.”
“You can hear the victim screaming, ‘Stop,’ ‘Don’t,’ ‘Please,’ crying,” O’Brien said.
Caught Up in the “Likes”?
Initial disgust capitulated to “reality check” here. Can you really “blame” the kid on that one? That’s where we are right now. Welcome to the New Voyeurism of the App Age. Whether it’s Twitter’s Periscope or Facebook Live, live-streaming is the “New Selfie.” The rub is: With still photos, inbuilt technology, like automated algorithms, can help flag nudity or grotesque executions. But Live Streaming is a much more elusive animal.
Algorithms can’t discriminate moving images at the speed of light. They can’t, for example, tell whether someone is waving a handgun or a water pistol. And no computer program can predict what intoxicated or capricious “live humans” will do next. Not even God can do that!
So where does that leave us?
It leaves us in a moral quagmire: a liminal lake of egregious disconnect. Whether its texting on the road, listening to the digitally packaged, musically manicured news as entertainment, or drunkenly giggling over the number of “likes” an alleged live rape scene displays on our app, we’re not in a very salubrious place…to put it mildly. We’re in a murky miasma of digital free-fall and…does anyone really care?
My 9-year-old daughter does.
The other day she, her brother and I were browsing through a seaside resort nicknack store. You know the kind, brimming over with shark’s teeth, surf boards, and a zillion t-shirts. So we’re walking past a postcard rack awash with beach bodies. Pointing to the rear view pics of the thong swim suit bikini gals, she comments, “Dad, what style of swim suit are those?” “There’s something gross about them…can we move on?” And we did, as the perplexity on her face said it all.
She didn’t understand 1) why or how this style of swimwear was appealing, and 2) why these explicit cards were obnoxiously “in your face” in a fun, funky store like this, in a way that disconcerted her innocent equilibrium.
And I had a difficult time answering her questions as we moved on to the mug racks and mood rings.
Pulling It Back
What’s one of the hip “tech” jokes these days? You start out on the first step of the escalator with your Samsung (whatever) Smartphone; by the time you’ve reached the top, it’s a dinosaur. Time to upgrade. Point being: we’re addictive, obsessive, and controlled by a device in our hands that has the power to dangerously desensitize us to the pain, beauty, and fleeting reality of our little lifespans on this planet.
We can miss what’s actually playing out in front of our eyes if, like Marina Lonina, the live-streaming “likes” on our app are…well just too engrossing.
And it’s not a very “cutesy” place to be in—especially where our impressionable youngsters are concerned. Youth culture today, probably not unlike any other era at its core, is awash with unprecedented possibilities and treacherous pitfalls. I’d like to think that we, the grown-ups, have the will and wherewithal to steer and (at least try) to protect them from the snares of the app age.
What say You?
Author: Gerard Murphy
Editor: Travis May