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Kate Brown Reads Mean Tweets: The Coronavirus Screenshots

 

“10 percent of any population is cruel, no matter what, and 10 percent is merciful, no matter what, and the remaining 80 percent can be moved in either direction.”

– Susan Sontag


“If I participate, knowingly or otherwise, in my sister’s oppression and she calls me on it, to answer her anger with my own only blankets the substance of our exchange with reaction. It wastes energy.”

– Audre Lorde, “The Uses of Anger”


“Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The trees add shade to shade, lights out in the/ houses, we’ll both be lonely.”

– Allen Ginsberg, “A Supermarket in California”


In light of the comments above, I would like to make an apparently radical proposition: maybe we should not speak about other human beings with such decisive cruelty. 

Because I am making this claim in light of conversations about Governor Kate Brown, you are probably thinking that I am a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, but I’m really not (are millennials dyed-in-the-wool about anything except for the disturbing specter of student loans?). Though I have voted in every election since I turned 18, I’ve maintained a thorough distrust in the two-party system, nursing all the while a comparatively strong faith in both community organizing and mutual aid work as the real nexus of care in American communities. 

Considering all this, I hope you’ll believe me when I say that I am not exactly Kate Brown’s most enthusiastic supporter. In point of fact, my ideal governor is some kind of cross between America’s most beloved honorary librarian, Dolly Rebecca Parton, and Admiral Bill Adama from Battlestar Galactica. Because I am rational enough to know that this dreamy hybrid candidate is unlikely to run during my lifetime, I usually end up somewhat reluctantly voting for someone who actually appears on the ballot. 

Like you, perhaps, I’m not certain about much at the moment, but I am confident about this: people are angry and scared right now. Not knowing where to put their anger and fear, they are letting these ugly feelings ferment into bitterness and spite. This is probably obvious to most people, especially anyone who has taken even a cursory glance at the comments section of any article on any topic published on any platform at all lately. But still, when I see words like the ones I’ve posted above, I find myself wondering, especially as I consider the sheer brutality of the language that these commenters have chosen, if we are really thinking enough about what this sticky miasma of toxicity really signifies about our ability to see one another as complex human beings– people just as likely hurting as they are prone to inflicting hurt. 

KATE BROWN READS MEAN TWEETS

Have you ever seen those “Celebrities Read Mean Tweets” videos? I love those. The original series, which aired on Jimmy Kimmel Live, features actors, singers, athletes, and politicians reading things that people have written about them online. Not only are these clips usually funny, but they’re also often bizarre. There is something about hearing mean tweets read aloud by the targets of the comments themselves that makes the words with which they’re composed seem especially foolish and irrational.* The sheer scale of the comments’ cruelty is exposed by adding something more human– the voice and face of the person the commenter is speaking about–to a scene that depends on so many digital layers: the smartphone of the commenter, the film camera for the show, and the device the viewer uses to watch it all happen.

Sometimes, especially lately, I think about Governor Brown staring at the wall in bed at night, unable to sleep. She watches the headlights from cars passing by. They shine briefly through her window, then disappear slowly as they move past her house. She does this over and over again. Maybe she is feeling emptier than usual. Maybe it’s the worst night of her life. Maybe she doesn’t watch the headlights at all, but instead has to take a sleeping pill or two just to quiet the nerves and the sadness. I don’t know what she does. But I try to think about her as the kind of person that I believe most of us are inside: insecure and lonely and deserving of care. And then I think about her pulling out her phone and sitting up to read comments like this. The words in front of her aren’t funny like the ones on Jimmy Kimmel Live. They seethe and they bite. They shake with simple rage.


“Kate Brown is an evil bitch with evil on her mind,” she reads aloud to the large, dark bedroom.

“Anyone who really believes that Kate Brown is a good governor–or even a good person–is delusional. What a bitch.”

“Kate Brown is the worst. She is taxing our stimulus checks. Piece of shit she is.”

“I hope your kids put you in a nursing home when you’re old and a pandemic hits so you’re isolated from your family…You deserve nothing you heartless witch.”

“You are scum. A day of reckoning is coming for you.”

“Because of you kids are killing themselves and you don’t give a fuck.”

“How does it feel to wake up every morning and realize that you’re the most hated woman in Oregon?”


I think that Kate’s most committed detractors would say that she’d feel nothing at all if she read comments like this. Especially the ones who describe her as heartless, and who have taken the remarkable cognitive leap of placing the blame of every youth suicide in Oregon from 2020-2021 directly on her shoulders. Or perhaps some of her critics would concede that words this brutal would surely hurt anybody, but that “Aunt Kate” will soon forget them, and more than likely end up laughing all the way to the bank.

I find both of these outcomes improbable, though. I really do.

POT/KETTLE CONSIDERATIONS

Don’t worry, dear Republican reader. I know you’re thinking that it’s surely easy enough for me to practice my saintly brand of empathy on folks nestled comfortably on my own side of the political spectrum. But, rest assured, I am practicing this with your people, too. 

For example, I saw a handful of tweets the other day expressing the hope that Mitch McConnell dies an excruciatingly painful death. While it’s indeed true that McConnell’s beliefs are directly opposite of my own in nearly every way, I find neither satisfaction nor utility in praying for him to suffer. He is certainly not the only politician that has advocated for an expensive, authoritarian border wall intended to keep refugees from pursuing better lives for themselves and their families (to provide just one McConnell position I find heinous). Moreover, the event of his suffering, especially at this point in his rather long life, is unlikely to convince him of his moral failings. After all, we do not live in the plot of A Christmas Carol, and most of us are not visited by literal specters of our wrongdoings. It is also highly improbable, given the proliferation of hateful xenophobes in this country, that upon McConnell’s death, a man with his values won’t simply arise in his place, making any hate that I harbor for him, at least from a utilitarian perspective, a genuine waste of cerebral real estate.**

Because I am a deeply flawed human myself, I do occasionally slip into incoherent, Internet-induced fits of ill temper, my blood pressure rising from some Twitter headline worded in just such a way to make me bristle at the latest antics of the Grand Old Party. But before I touch a single laptop key, I try to pause my rabid scrolling, take a few deep breaths, and remind myself of that useful saying–often attributed to Buddha– about the act of holding onto anger being like drinking poison and waiting for someone else to die.

AUDRE LORDE & THE USES OF ANGER

Hello, activists and academic types: I do know about “The Uses of Anger.” Thank you for providing the occasion for my second counterargument. For those of you who are unfamiliar, the writer/librarian//activist Audre Lorde wrote this really important essay about how white people’s fear of (or distaste for) her anger not only silenced her voice in public fora and revealed harmful racist attitudes, but also kept meaningful dialogue and social progress from occurring. Though Lorde speaks a great deal about the nature and power of anger in this piece, she just as often speaks about the idea that it must have its “uses”– that essential second noun in the title. She says, “We cannot allow our fear of anger to deflect nor seduce us into anything less than the hard work of excavating honesty” (emphasis my own). She also makes an important distinction between anger and hatred. “Hatred is the fury of those who do not share our goals, and its object is death and destruction. Anger is a grief of distortions between peers, and its object is change.”***

I believe that the comments that I’ve shared about Kate Brown reflect hatred more clearly than they reflect anger, particularly because they seek to wound rather than grow something real from the ashes of grief.

Indignation is undoubtedly a vital catalyst of activism as well as an essential means of articulating the nature and consequences of injustice in this country. And there are undoubtedly folks right now, as you saw above, who believe that their own indignation serves the same function. But I’ve been thinking about it, and I’m pretty sure that calling people “communist whores” on social media and rather baselessly accusing them of everything from Satanism to child abuse isn’t quite the same as what Lorde means here. I think you’ll agree, but let me know if you don’t. I’m still thinking through it. 

Though some of Kate Brown’s critics have long been fans of equating her with Hitler, they have recently begun devoting even more amounts of time and energy to equating coronavirus restrictions with the laws imposed by Nazi Germany.**** I confess that I don’t have the space or motivation here to address that level of ignorance, and I doubt that the folks in question will ever read this article, anyway. I suppose I’m not addressing the people who consider public health policies intended to minimize the loss of human life equivalent to the systematic murder of more than 6 million people. Rather, I’m addressing those who realize that there are obvious differences between (even admittedly chaotic and inadequate) governmental attempts at controlling a pandemic and violent, state-sponsored genocide, but then still insist upon calling Kate Brown a “crooked bitch” and“ an abomination unto God and man.”

And I’m perhaps also talking to my friends, people who I love deeply and often agree with, but who are so focused on coming up with colorful ways to skewer Lindsey Graham on Twitter that their sentiments eclipse mindful and proactive conversations about the work we could be doing to keep people like Lindsey Graham out of office.

It may seem like I am making a “hate the sin, not the sinner” argument here. But I’m not trying to. Nor am I trying to police the emotions or reactions of others, which they of course have every right to vent– online or otherwise. What I am trying to do is show how incredibly convenient it is to make one person the embodiment of all of the sources of our anger, insecurity, and personal trauma. I am also trying to emphasize how frankly disturbing it is to see how vicious the language of Oregonians on both sides of the political spectrum has become when they talk to each other about people like Kate Brown, a human being who a) they have likely never met or spoken to, b) who they can never really know outside of the way media outlets describe her, and c) whose actual degree of agency in making the decisions that enrage them is likely much smaller than they imagine.

Also, I just know from experience that cruelty only begets more cruelty, and that after unleashing my own vitriol against the people I thought that I hated, I never once felt better. Only like there was still poison sitting in my stomach.


NOTES & FURTHER READING

* This phenomenon reminds me of the work of a now-famous TikToker named Lubalin, whose method of singing the comments of inane Facebook beefs is both hilarious and revelatory

** The Rush Limbaugh question: Rush Limbaugh, as you probably know, just died, and several major news outlets published op-eds about whether or not it was ethical to “dance on his grave.” Indeed, Rush Limbaugh has said some of the meanest and most sincerely messed up things I have ever heard spoken aloud by a political commentator, and he has succeeded in turning many of my friends’ loved ones into red-faced, Incredible-Hulk versions of their former selves–shaking their fists as they mainline Fox News and incessantly sniffing about for more evidence that millennials are spitting on the Founding Fathers with their safe spaces and their gay agendas. But again, as I read these editorials, I found myself wondering why we were spending so much time grappling with the supposed dilemma of how we should respond to Limbaugh’s death. The man died, as we all will, and those who loved him will mourn him. The more important question for someone like me, who did not love Rush Limbaugh, is not whether  I am morally “permitted” to react to his death, but rather how I can personally contribute to a society that leaves his hateful dogma in the Dark Ages *where it belongs*. After all, as I’ve noted, if I spend such a large portion of my thinking life on quandaries like this one, I won’t have the proper enthusiasm or inspiration to roast the latest drivel from the mouth of an Alex Jones or a Tomi Lahren.

*** Later, Lorde defines exactly what she means by “change” : “I do not mean a simple switch of positions or a temporary lessening of tensions… I am speaking of a basic and radical alteration in those assumptions underlining our lives.”

**** I’m really not being hyperbolic:


On Levinas and Kate Brown’s Face

I wanted to go on a whole thing about Emmanuel Levinas and empathy and looking into the face of the Other in this article, but attention spans are short, and forgetting is long. Maybe I’ll save that essay for another day. I suppose it suffices to say that looking into the face of another human being should be an exercise in empathy, even though we know that it often is not. Interestingly enough: I have noticed that the conservative media often chooses the most unflattering photos of Kate to accompany articles about her. Not the ones where she is smiling and looking rested, reading to kids or hugging her husband, but the ones where her mouth is half-open, her face gray and drawn. It’s all old hat of course. Paint the woman in power as the shrew or the hag, and half of your rhetorical work is done for you. Call her “Aunt Kate” with that patronizing roll of the eyes and she becomes something altogether flattened, diminished. 

ESTUARY/ ARS POETICA

The Handbook of Australian, New Zealand, and Antarctic Birds calls the pelican “an eclectic and opportunistic scavenger.” It hunts for food alone in deep water, takes what it can from trash cans and landfills, eats anything from “insects and small crustaceans to ducks and small dogs.”

If hungry enough, the pelican will take fish from another bird’s mouth. In captivity, it will eat the whole bodies, bones and all, of other birds of prey. When I think about the hollow of this bird’s insatiate beak, how its very shape speaks the words I covet, I can’t help but to think about how the poem arrives as a stranger, how I catch and cradle it in my mouth as if to preserve it for all of us and for myself alone, this analeptic and unremarkable sustenance. 

I can’t help but to think about how every space, every life I’ve lived in is a kind of estuary, a blending of salt and cool fresh water. The salt of illness, of absence, of forgetting. Of cars pulling out of the driveway, walls coated in dish fragments and pancake syrup, voices raised in the hallway that once belonged to my parents and now somehow are my own.

The gentle push of fresh water: my bare feet on hot cobblestones as I walk alone in Granada at night, wiping my face as I become more and more lost on those purple winding streets near the old part of the city. 

Fresh water when a man from Sinaloa, also a traveler, finds me in the dark and doesn’t touch me once. Doesn’t touch me at all except to wipe the tears from my eyes and describe the way home in an accent I remember. Quick and warm, split from the Andalusian, perfect, hesitant, careful and desalinated–

The poem is that man in the dark of the street. His thumbs resting on each of my tear ducts, his face lit up by the last remaining orange of those wrought-iron street lamps from the final years of Franco, their bulbs still humming all wide and faintly on the pathless outer edge of the Albaicín.


Premarital Counseling I

This is a simple poem I wrote about how terrified I am that my marriage will turn out at all like the ones in Revolutionary Road and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and any number of novels about domesticity in suburbia (not because of who my fiancé is, but because of the simple fact that I am embarking upon a long-term commitment known to produce long-term bitterness). It’s sort of an abstract piece, but it’s not entirely metaphorical. I do, in fact, have a sheep. In case you were wondering, his name is Lenny.

Swiping Through Mugshots on a Saturday Night: How Community Facebook Pages Indulge Our Cruel Desires

for Tiffany Lazon

 
And most of all beware, even in thought, of assuming the sterile attitude of the spectator, for life is not a spectacle, a sea of grief is not a proscenium, a male wailing is not a dancing bear.

– Aimé Césaire, Notebook of a Return to My Native Land

When the Stranger says: “What is meaning of this city?

Do you huddle close together because you love each other?”

What will you answer?

“We all come together to make money from each other”? or “This is a community”?

…Oh my soul, be prepared for the coming of the Stranger. Be prepared for him who knows how to ask questions.

– T.S. Eliot, “The Rock”


Last month, news outlets in Albany, Oregon reported a break in a local missing persons case, the disappearance of a 37-year-old woman named Tiffany Lazon: Tiffany’s DNA was found on a circular saw that had been in possession of her husband Craig, an Albany man with a history of domestic violence and sexual assault. In 2015, Tiffany accused her husband of attempting to murder her, but her reliability as a witness was called into question due to her history of drug addiction. She later withdrew her testimony. After Tiffany’s DNA was discovered on the circular saw, local police found a large quantity of blood on the floor of a U-Haul truck that Craig rented earlier that month. Due to mounting physical evidence, Craig Lazon was arrested on January 21st on the charge of first-degree murder.

Let’s begin with a truth universally acknowledged: the majority of comment sections on the internet are riddled with trolls, unproductive infighting, and *alternative facts*. Though I certainly acknowledge this truth, I felt shaken by the prevalence of cruelty and misinformation in the comment sections of news articles about Tiffany’s death. A number of people attacked Tiffany’s character and blamed her “lifestyle” for the violent circumstances of her death, stubbornly ignoring the complex truths that establish a context for the murder. I’ll address just two of them here: 1) Oregon, Tiffany’s home state, has the highest drug addiction rates in the country but is ranked dead last for mental health treatment, a vital component of successful drug rehabilitation. 2) Recovering from a drug addiction– like opioid use disorder, for example– is mind-bogglingly difficult, which is why the relapse rate for short-term, abstinence-only rehabilitation (still the most commonly availably treatment model) is somewhere around 90%.

Okay @NancyFromDowntheStreet? Can we perhaps consider some of these things before proposing a solution as inane as “tell them to stop doing drugs”?


Comments on articles about Tiffany Lazon exemplify a disturbing set of social media habits which have nestled comfortably into the culture of community Facebook pages. In recent years, these pages have become increasingly popular as local newspapers–with their social pages, classifieds, dating profiles, and opinion articles–have fallen by the wayside.

In order to illustrate the true nature of these habits, I present to you just a smattering of the reductive and often shockingly inhumane comments that I have encountered since becoming a member of the page. All of them were posted in discussions of two of the community’s favorite topics: addiction and homelessness.

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A comment on a news article about Tiffany: “There is a history of mental illness, drug issues, & evidence of similar accusations BEFORE this husband was ever IN the picture.”

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A comment on a thread about the influx of unsavory characters into the utopian paradise that is Albany, Oregon, “The more you do to invite people to move here, the more miscreants come too.”

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A popular post on the “What’s Up, Albany?” Facebook page . This massively oversimplified rendering of addiction masquerades as common sense and employs humor to distract us from the fact that it is stupid as all hell. A more accurate comic strip might represent a young man who had a traumatic childhood, went to an underfunded school with overworked teachers, was failed by a nation that relies on GoFundMes for adequate medical and mental health care, and is just goddamn lonely, so he starts abusing pain pills. After becoming addicted, he bankrupts his parents by attempting rehab six times; he is suicidal throughout. He would do anything not to be dopesick, so he increases his intake of the pills until he becomes an IV heroin user. He dies of an overdose. But that’s not as funny, is it?

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I found these comments on a community member’s post about an interaction they had with someone clearly suffering from mental illness and/or addiction.

I hope it’s clear that these comments do not quite foster what one might call a “communal” environment (which is ironic, because a lot of these commenters are the very same folks constantly bemoaning the fact that the community of Albany has been summarily ruined by rapists, Californians, and other “miscreant” bad hombres). Speaking of irony, do people not understand that it is a bit hypocritical to condemn violent criminals by calling for their”extermination”? It appears…not.

And so here we are, arriving at the main event. In the following paragraphs, I will illustrate three of the most concerning trends cropping up in community Facebook pages. I prioritized these topics by way of a highly scientific methodology called *my own opinion*. Hypocrisy abounds!

1. Using (and sharing) mugshots, security footage, and candid photos as salacious forms of entertainment:

In the last year or so, I have witnessed the rise of a concerning trend in which “concerned” community members post photos of an individual to “warn” others about their alleged criminal behavior. Of course, some of these people are actual criminals, and regular mugshot-perusers aware of their crimes may photograph them in the community with prior knowledge of their records. However, not everyone cares about little ethical habits like fact-checking and verifying sources, so this habit has also become a favorite of those who have no qualms about taking an iPhone photo of some guy in the Home Depot parking lot and speculating that he is “probably” a pedophile.

In a February article for The Marshall Project titled, “Newsrooms Rethink a Crime Reporting Staple: the Mugshot,” Keri Blakinger noted that click-through mugshot galleries have been “an easy moneymaker for struggling newsrooms: Each reader click to the next image translated to more page views and the opportunity for more advertising dollars.” However, vocal opponents of this transparently shady practice have caused some outlets to discontinue posting the photos. Blakinger’s article features one of these advocates, Johnny Perez, who highlighted the fact that the galleries “reaffir[m] existing biases and create biases where none exist.” Perez is highlighting biases against people of color here; however, his analysis could also apply to the assumptions we make about gender, social class, and sobriety status–all things people seem to think they can ascertain from mugshot photos.

In my community Facebook page, I regularly see people comment on the appearance of people in mugshot galleries, criticizing everything from their hairstyles to the meth bites that dot their faces (“This chick looks about 80 years old. This is why we don’t do meth, kids.”), tagging their friends in the comments (“Remember this guy from high school? @KarenFromHighSchool), and, one of the most concerning phenomena, suggesting that that they “think” the person pictured is the same person who they saw lurking by the local playground last week. Apparently, the public cannot be sated by the mere titillating drama of an official mugshot or a clip of security footage*, but must also indulge in creating their own true crime content (a bespoke and locally-sourced mugshot gallery, if you will).

It is certainly possible that the alleged criminals of “What’s Up, Albany?” are guilty of the crimes of which they are being so informally accused. But if Black Mirror has taught us anything, it’s that we should wonder (and worry) about what happens when unverified gossip on social media turns on an innocent person, and ruins their mental health, their reputation, or their livelihood in the process.**
This leads me to gross internet trend #2, which is admittedly quite similar to trend #1, but with more pointed critiques of serial Yelp-ers and more serious consequences for suburbanites without a criminal record.

2. Complaining (and spreading unverifiable information) about local employees and businesses:

When I worked at an independent bookstore, someone wrote a public Google review about me that falsely summarized a conversation I had with a customer. The review addressed an incident that the reviewer had no context for or background information about (sound like a familiar pattern, yet?). The interaction involved an older woman who had been a long-time customer of the bookstore, and who treated me like I was the dirt beneath her feet. She spoke to me like I was an idiot, said nasty things about me and my workplace, and berated me constantly about things that were outside of my control (forgetting, like many retail customers, that most low-wage employees have absolutely no control over things like return policies or store stock).

Manager
The best meme in the entire universe.

After holding my tongue like a good retail Barbie for months on end, smiling gently at the woman instead of standing up for myself, one fateful afternoon–I cracked. The woman came into the store, peering around as she often did when she was looking for something to complain about. In less than two minutes, she found something: the music we were playing was too distracting, she said, and demanded that we change it to something without words, as she cannot browse if there is music playing that contains words! Admittedly, this was not the ideal moment to stand up for the low-wage workers of America, and I am not necessarily proud of my response that day, but I had reached my boiling point after months of enduring this woman’s wrath. I stared straight at her, fixing her with an undoubtedly unscary stare, and said Not everything in this store is designed for you. *** It was not a kind statement, but I contend that it’s true. And if you have been in my position, you know that you can only suffer through so many hours of human beings verbally pooping on you because they can’t use their Amex card or because the discount doesn’t apply to the item before the steam starts coming out of your ears like a cartoon character. Unless you are a saint. In that case, bravo oh blessed one!
So now you know what happened. But get this: according to the grand record of alternative facts that is the world wide web, something much more cruel and sinister went down at the bookstore that day. According to the reviewer, a fragile, innocent old woman walked into the bookstore, and I told her–apparently out of the blue, with no justification to speak of– that “This bookstore isn’t for people like you,” suggesting that I was some granny-hating millennial heady with minimum wage power instead of a depressed twenty-something who got a higher score on the “Discover Your Mental Age Quiz” than her own grandmother.

To this day, the “eyewitness account” of my alleged bigotry is on display in the glorious annals of Google Reviews. If the reviewer had included my full name in the post, her false account of events would have become an easily searchable record of my character, and this record would be visible to people, like those on hiring or admissions committees, who have a say in decisions that affect my future.

I recently observed the pitfalls of recounting injustices online after a much more serious event in our community. This January, an 11-year-old resident of Corvallis, Rhianna Daniel, was killed while passing through a crosswalk on her way home from school. Before a reliable account of the incident was available online, several members of the city’s community Facebook group decided to tell their version of events. Some of these comments suggested that the accident was a hit-and-run. When the official report of the incident was released, it became clear that this was not the case. Rhianna was hit by a local physician who stopped his car, performed CPR, and stayed with her. By all accounts, the physician was a kind, well-liked community professional. And yet, for a time, he was labeled a senseless murderer who left a child dying in the street.
Many of the comments about Rhianna’s death reminded me of the way in which the media misrepresented Susan Klebold, the mother of Columbine shooter Dylan Klebold.

Though we all know the tendency of major news outlets to play up the aspects of a story that will most capture viewers’ attention (Nightcrawler, anyone?), Susan’s memoir provided a detailed rendering of some of the particular ways in which they attempted to imbue their source materials with even more drama. For example, aerial shots of the Klebold home were shot to make the the building look like a sprawling mansion, a tactic meant to pair nicely with the developing “truth” that Susan Klebold was a wealthy, frigid matriarch incapable of rearing a bloodthirsty neo-Nazi. The reality, of course, was much more muddled, The reality was that unlike Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold was a generally kind and well-behaved child who grew up in a relatively peaceful middle-class home. The reality is that he went to significant lengths to obscure his activities and the extent of his mental illness from his parents. And no one likes that kind of ambiguity.
3. Promoting psuedoscience, multi-level marketing schemes, and fear-mongering warnings that disproportionately impact the vulnerable:

I will not waste time on why multi-level marketing schemes, chaotic-evil corporations that target poor people, single parents, and people down on their luck, are disgusting. Others have done it much better. Check out, for example, this mini-doc from VICE about the way LulaRoe scammed tens of thousands of their “consultants,” or this John Oliver episode exposing MLMs that target poor folks and immigrant communities. The masterminds of these corporations are the worst kind of human gym socks. The kind that make you question why you even wear socks, or have a nose, or go to the gym in the first place.

I work in a library, and I have learned a lot through my job about how misinformed I was about computer literacy in middle America. I used to assume that most young Americans, for example, are able to successfully navigate tasks like checking email and conducting a Google search. However, I am reminded on a daily basis that this is not the case, and that there many people of all ages and from a variety of backgrounds who struggle with the digital skills that more privileged folks consider basic. All that is to say that it can be difficult to determine the reliability of the source of a Facebook post without a sufficient level of computer literacy, and that–technological devices aside– a lack of education can make parsing the rhetoric of advertisements, scams, fake data, and alternative facts extremely challenging.

Some recent examples of fake news-y warnings and alternative facts on my community Facebook page include “why North Korea’s next target is the mid-sized suburb of Albany, Oregon” and an advertisement for a lesson in iridology, a “not useful and potentially harmful” pseudoscience. (<- “Hi!” says this hyperlink, “I am a peer-reviewed article! You should consult sources like me instead of @LilyfromSpinClass”). When you see these posts, they might seem so laughably fake or scammy to you that you assume most people will arrive at the same conclusion. But sadly, this is not true. While there are definitely some willfully ignorant people on this planet, those who have the money and resources to access better information, you might be surprised by how many people lack the tools critically analyze marketing, propaganda, and lies. And if I have learned anything from my sojourn into this wild corner of the internet, it’s that this vulnerable population makes up only a fraction of those who “communal” Facebook practices hurt the most.


Do I have all the solutions to these problematic phenomena? No, of course I don’t. I’m just an underemployed millennial with a WordPress account. I do have some suggestions, though:

Reporting a crime? Contact your local P.D. directly.

Want to accuse someone of pedophilia, drug trafficking, or child abuse? Contact your local P.D. … directly!

Want to disseminate information associated with fields of study you have no expertise in? Please don’t.

Want to learn some cold, hard facts, and become a better voter, consumer, or neighbor in the process? Visit your local library. Conduct research by reading a variety of unbiased sources, perhaps with the assistance of an information professional (like a librarian).

Want to recruit a poor single mother into your more-than-vaguely-cult-like MLM? No again. Please put the Rodan & Fields down.


As I conclude this little essay, I would like to call attention to the following short video, which summarizes all that is terrible about community Facebook pages in a much more concise (and ultimately more memorable) manner than I do here. Thanks, Nicole!

Notes & References

My thinking in this piece was informed by Dr. Safiya Umoja Noble and Amber Jamila Musser, two scholars whose essential work on the ways in which racist attitudes proliferate online informed my graduate thesis. Noble is known for illuminating the ways in which search engine algorithms reflect (and produce) problematic and violent biases. In her essay “Teaching Trayvon: Race, Media, and the Politics of Spectacle,” for example, she demonstrates how your search terms end up reflecting your prejudices, which ultimately leads you to more content that confirms what you already think. So much for doing “research”…

* Dear reader, you should know that the local police department has gotten in on this too! Just like in ye olde Wild West, the Albany Police Department has been posting mugshots and screen caps of security footage on their Facebook page, occasionally with their own jokey witticisms attached as captions. While again, I understand that these posts might help to solve crimes, it seems that they also serve as forms of gossipy entertainment. The APD’s tone in some of these posts strikes me as remarkably unprofessional, but that could be due to the fact that I am a decidedly un-fun person.
**And look, I am not just spouting off at the mouth here. I know this stuff is bad. And even if it doesn’t seem immediately harmless now, it contributes to crueler, more ignorant biases in communities both digital and geographical. How do I know this? Well, because I wrote a whole Masters thesis about it (sort of). My project investigated the ways in which violent “spectacles” circulate on the internet (think police brutality videos) and how online trends and memes (think Pepe the Frog) evolve into racist, white supremacist hate symbols. There is some boring literary theory in there, so I will give you some highlights relevant to this article: social media, with its personalized algorithms, paid-for “top search results,” and made-for-you echo chambers, is not a great place to gather information and images and think about them critically. It’s better for staring at things we already agree with and nodding profusely, getting enraged by hateful or misinformed opinions from “the other side” with no hope for meaningful dialogue, and laughing at memes we may never know the origin of.
***Though my work experience in Disability Accommodations has shown me the myriad ways in which we must make spaces more accessible to those with disabilities, I am speaking primarily about customer preferences here, and particularly those that employees simply do not have the capacity or authority to alter at a customer’s whim.

Further Reading
Citizen by Claudia Rankine, a mixed-media masterpiece that grapples with racism, misogyny, loneliness, and identity.

Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism by Safiya Umoja Noble, a book that expands upon the principles I summarized in “Notes & References.”
Betting on Zero (2017), a Netflix documentary about the big yikes international MLM we know as Herbalife.

A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Susan Klebold, an empathetic, well-researched memoir that highlights some of the ways in which news outlets manipulate complex truths in order to market more scandalous and digestible stories to American audiences.

Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America by Beth Macy, a powerful and well-researched history of the opioid crisis which focuses in particular on Central Appalachia and the parts of Virginia that Macy covered throughout her career as an investigative journalist. A text that– by virtue of its empathetic storytelling and masterful takedown of Big Pharma corruption–allows the reader to connect more deeply with the humanity of addicts and their families.

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This is a post from Tiffany’s personal Facebook page. I think her words should remind us that she does not deserve to be discussed as a one-dimensional caricature of a drug addict nor a subject of holier-than-thou gossip, but as a complex human being whose suffering reflects our failures as a community.