Over the years I have learned that with every tragedy usually comes something good. Perhaps it's to balance out the bad. Perhaps we are just looking for anything good, no matter how hard it may be to find it.
With the terrible tragedy in Montreal and the violent shooting, I didn't expect to see anything positive come out of it.
I was asked by the media to explain how a community network can help influence behavior. I was asked if violent video games can create violent real life behavior. I have been asked these questions before. And my answer really hasn't changed, with one exception.
I'll discuss that in a minute.
My constant answer is this:
Content doesn't make murderers. Violent games and violent content alone, IMHO, can't influence a stabile mind. Millions of people play them and access this content and never kill, hurt or attack others. Fragile minds, however, might be influenced by this kind of content. But you can't regulate or prohibit content because some troubled people can be influnced by it. It's not fair ot the millions of users who enjoy this content and can keep the virtual separate from reality.
Years ago, when most of the other voices of Internet safety were advocating turning off the technology and the Net entirely becasue of potential dangers, I used an example that got everyone's attention. I took out a sharp pencil and asked everyone what it was supposed to be used for. "What are its benefits?" I asked. Everyone responded "for drawing a picture." "for doing math." "for writing music." "for designing." "for jotting down notes." "for creating a love poem."
the I asked "what are the dangers?" after a couple minutes they responded "running with a sharp pencil is dangerous." "the lead can break off in your skin." "it can ruin something if pencil marks get on it."
no real surprises.
"Should we post warnings on pencils about the risks of falling on a sharp point, or having the lead cut into you or getting lead marks on your white sofa?"
in unison, they all shook their heads. "of course not! those risks are obvious. And if not obvious, something that all parents teach their kids to watch out for."
I closed in for the kill. "What about kids who poke other kids in the eye with a sharp pencil? or even a dull one!"
they all stared at me, as though I had lost my mind.
"Should we blame the pencil manufacturers?" (comments about overly hot cups of coffee held in your lap and other non-sensical lawsuits ensued.)
"What if someone who owned a pencil also stole a car?" They were ready to have me committed to a mental institution. "Would you see a connection between owning pencils and stealing cars?" They began to move towards me slowly...speaking in hushed tones (one had a white fabric garment hidden behind his back...two others began to cut off my means of escape...
"My point exactly!"
(I have said this more often in connection with MySpace than with any other site.)
Lots of people have pencils, or a myspace or if you are a member of the goth community, post on vampirefreaks.com.
It's easy to see connections when there aren't any.
Pencils and stolen cars. Murders and being a goth.
Goths, I am learning, are a relatively peaceful bunch. They may dress, wear their hair and use body piercings in ways others don't, but that doesn't make them satanic worshipers or advocates of violence.
Now, here's the exception.
While content, IMHO, can't influence violent behavior, communities can.
Social networks are communities. They can be a community for college or high school students (facebook), one for everyone and their dog (myspace) or one for goths (or people who want to look like or sound like one or watch them, like vampirefreaks.com). Communities encourage behavior. When you go to church, for example, you learn to walk quiestly and to sit relatively still because others do and others would also react if you didn't. Kids are famous for wearing pruple with green if the cool kids think they are the cook new color combination. That's a community of cool kids influencing behavior.
A social networking community is a community. If the only way to look cool is to pose without your top, expect to see more topless poses on the site. And if a site permits, condones or the community encourages violent or threatening behavior, you will see more people acting out, because the community permits it.
I had judged VampireFreaks based on their failure to respond ot our complaints, when we worked with victims of cyberbullying and concerned users and in some cases parents. The the shootings occurred and I publicly voiced my frustration with VF administrators failing to respond to us.
Jet sent me an e-mail. I learned that there is more going on behind the scenes on moderating the site and encouraging safer behaviors. Jet has paid and unpaid site moderators, and rules about on site behaviors.
He has also educated me more about goths.
so, what role did VF play in influencing the shooter? The jury is still out...but I feel that it might be a pencil and car thing more than a myspace posing in your bra thing.
we'll see how it plays out.