MOUNTAIN GROVE, Mo. — In the small towns nestled throughout the Ozarks, people like to say that everybody knows everybody’s business — and if they do not, they feel free to offer an educated guess.
But of late, more people in this hardscrabble town of 5,000 have shifted from sharing the latest news and rumors over eggs and coffee to the Mountain Grove Forum on a social media Web site called Topix, where they write and read startlingly negative posts, all cloaked in anonymity, about one another.
In rural America, where an older, poorer and more remote population has lagged the rest of the country in embracing the Internet, the growing use of social media is raising familiar concerns about bullying and privacy. But in small towns there are complications.
The same Web sites created as places for candid talk about local news and politics are also hubs of unsubstantiated gossip, stirring widespread resentment in communities where ties run deep, memories run long and anonymity is something of a novel concept.
The Times‘ story includes some of the “bad things” people say about each other online, which I just have to post here:
FROM PARAGOULD, ARK. (POPULATION 26,113)
“I met a girl who at Wal-mart the other day, she was bragging that she was getting 1200 dollars a month from the state for having 4 kids! She doesn’t work and doesn’t want to. Bragging that she also getting child support from 3 different men! Oh my god! Why would anyone brag about being a total drain on society?”
“i think when these girls have one child ok maybe an accident. but when it gets to two of them. i think the law should be pasted that they have to get fixed so there isn’t a third child. sorry just my thought.
Are we more civilized in how we use social media in larger towns? What about university towns?
The Broadway Crime Report in Iowa City, Iowa repurposes already published news reports and turns them into racist rants about the city’s “Southeast Side,” where large clusters of poor African Americans have settled in recent years.
Run by an anonymous resident (I suspect) on WordPress, the Crime Report highlights the “crimes” of the city. Surprisingly (or maybe not) almost all of the crimes reported include mugshots of the accused — most, if not all have dark skin.
Some headlines (and possible meanings):
“Lacrecia’s [the name of a resident] Contribution to Diversity in Parenting Styles” is about an African American woman alleged to have “used” her 6-year-old to buy heroin. Beyond the value the headline writer has for “diversity,” this story resonates with the notion of welfare queens, mothers who “use” their kids for personal gain, often in terms of money and drugs.
“Dwane Jamaal Punches Nurse in the Face,” like most stories, uses the name of the accused in the headline, which is a very interesting characteristic. Names (first and/or last) aren’t usually used in average crime reports in mainstream media, at least. The comments at the end of this story is also representative of the Crime Report, in general.
This comment, “I’m sure diz hurr situation was a misunderstandin n’sheeit, dat boy is a good boy” is a good example of how Ebonics (or perceptions of it) are used to highlight the race of the accused — not the alleged crimes.
“Demeko’s Smack Shack Closed,” which is about an alleged Coralville crime (though focused on a minority neighborhood and, again, on the race of the accused), talks about an alleged drug house that got busted.
The last graf may say more about why this piece was posted: “Johnson is being held in the Johnson County Jail on a $20,000 bond. Hernandez is being detained for immigration officials.” The bold is not mine.
I once posted on the Crime Report, seeking an interview with the person who runs it, but never got a response.
I don’t know if I’ve shared on here my views on social media. If not — I’m not a fan.
To be more clear is that I am not a fan of discussing how social media can “change the world.” I don’t think it can.
Maybe the people behind the social media can, but I think we get lost in the oos and ahhs of social media and forget the people involved — and not involved — in uses of “new media.”
Perhaps writer Devin Coldewey said it best in his blog post following the social movements in Egypt. When many pundits credited social media (whoever or whatever that even is) with the movement, Coldewey argued otherwise:
Twitter and Facebook are indeed useful tools, but they are not tools of revolution — at least, no more than Paul Revere’s horse was. People are the tools of revolution, whether their dissent is spread by whisper, by letter, by Facebook, or by some means we haven’t yet imagined. What we, and the Egyptians, should justly be proud of, is not just those qualities which set Egypt’s revolution apart from the last hundred, but those which are fundamental to all of them.
He also wrote:
It’s one thing to give credit where credit is due and admire the rapidity and resilience of internet-based communication. The new uses to which the younger generation is putting the internet are very interesting and point to shifts in the way people are choosing to share information. It’s another thing to ascribe to these things powers they don’t have, powers that rest in the people who use them. It sounds like quibbling, but it’s an important distinction. Facebook greased the gears, but it isn’t the gears, and never will be. The revolution has been brewing for decades, and these same protesters have been in the streets countless times, after organizing by phone, by word of mouth, or simply as a shared reaction to some fresh enormity.
I couldn’t agree more.
By the way, it wasn’t the access to the Internet (or even the Internet itself) that said this great words, it was a human being. Sure, I gained access to it via technology, but it was the passion in his words that moved me, not the clicks it took to get there.
So, too, I am concerned not so much about the method by which people post their problems or rant their racism as much as how and why people believe what they do — and feel the need to tell everyone.
Until social media scholars care about both the technology and the people behind it (many argue that they already do care about both), I’ll bitch about it on my blog.