In case you missed it, Kim Kardashian, arguably one of the most iconic & well-known public figures in 2016, was robbed at gunpoint in a Paris private apartment early this Monday morning. She was found tied up, robbed of millions of dollars worth of jewelry, and according to a spokesman, is “badly shaken but physically unharmed”. Kanye West, the famous American rapper & recording artist who is married to Kim Kardashian, allegedly cancelled his concert abruptly at the Meadows Music & Arts Festival in Queens upon hearing the disturbing news. The couple reportedly have reunited and are requesting privacy at this time, while Paris police & French officials continue their investigation.
Armed robbery involving 5 men posing as Paris police. Millions of dollars in jewelry lost. A mother of two young children, a sister, daughter, and friend was bound by rope- the little privacy her life may enjoy was stolen from her. And yet, perhaps the most disturbing element of this story is the Internet’s reaction.
I just finished reading a very insightful piece, written by umair haque, on the decaying decline of Twitter and the root of its rot. In it, he discusses how the great challenge the Internet faces today is what he calls “abuse”. As Mr. Haque writes:
“To explain, let me be clear what I mean by abuse. I don’t just mean the obvious: violent threats. I also mean the endless bickering, the predictable snark, the general atmosphere of little violences that permeate the social web…” (Umair Haque, “Why Twitter’s Dying (And What You Can Learn From It”)
Here, he diagnoses a clear problem that many have tolerated for years now- the systemic plague of callousness & jaw-dropping coldness that is prevalent across the web. We know what it looks like: a Fox News’ official Facebook page posts an article about “Crooked Killary”, and the top comment with the most ‘likes’ says something about how she is a terrible human being & is unfit for the presidency. Similarly, when CNN posts an article about the GOP nominee, Donald Trump, the top comment calls into question his character, morals, and business practices. At least this is done civilly, right? Not quite. You see, if you have paid attention to anything on the Internet where comments are involved, you would realize that in order to be the ‘top’, you oftentimes need to be the meanest. This is nothing new. For years now, psychologists have studied the motivations behind the culture of angry Internet behavior, and what they are finding is largely confirming the fact that more and more, online users of social media are sacrificing their very identity for the opportunity to act in such a way where their customary moral boundaries and social etiquette are degraded or even eliminated. In the psychological field, this is called “deindividuation”. The concept is simple. First, the online user discovers the news article or post in question; second, they read/skim it all while making initial judgements based on what they read; and third, they identify which position will be held as the ‘typical’ one, and therefore, they decide to “troll”- that is, they purposely provoke other users into emotional discord & unrest, often by posting inflammatory remarks which seek to derail a potentially civil conversation into a more extraneous one. Despite its commonality, the existence of “internet trolls” does not seem to be an issue of most social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), as long as they are not posting explicit threats or posting unauthorized/illegal content. But even when people DO post unacceptable content, these companies are mum.
Living in 2016, we are much more connected to the Interwebz as ever before; ten years ago, when Facebook was just starting to develop, the thought of a politician communicating with plebeians on an instant-messaging basis would have been unheard of. Now, a mayor of a town can post a status about an upcoming town event from his official Facebook page, and can directly respond to individual residents who ask him questions about the said event. On March 21st, 2003, I remember sitting on the carpeted living room floor, turning on CNN, and to my shock, witnessing the city of Baghdad light up the night sky as American bombs rained upon the ancient Mesopotamian city. Early the next morning, I waited on my porch for the local mailman to deliver (aka fling) the newspaper to my front porch, and when he delivered, I took it, unwrapped it from its dewy plastic cover, and opened up the front page to read the Associated Press’ coverage of the invasion of Iraq. I was 11. In 2016, I receive a Twitter notification on my iPhone 6 Plus and watch armies on both sides of a conflict destroy what is remaining of Syria. I am given live feed, and if I know Arabic (I don’t), I can read official reports from Syrian residents on the ground in Aleppo. If I want to see what the Free Syrian Army is doing at any given moment, I can just type in “#FSA” into the Twitter search bar, and watch thousands of news updates pour in within seconds. I can read, at any time, coverage of any war or conflict, from the comfort of my phone in the palm of my hand. Even in a matter of thirteen years, the way we see, receive, and process information- especially on world events- is radically different.
It was 7:30 a.m. EST when I groggily picked up my phone, turned off the alarm, and quasi-drunkenly clicked the apps on my phone. I go in a typical order- Facebook, Instagram, Mail, Twitter, VSCO (yes, I use VSCO. Bite me). When I clicked on Facebook, I went to the search bar to see what everyone is talking about this morning. The top result? “Kim Kardashian- 350K people are talking about this”. I’m not Luddite- I realize that she is one of the most talked-about celebrities, for better or for worse, in this current age. While I don’t “keep up” with the Kardashians, I realize they exist. And yet, 350,000 seemed to be an extraordinary amount posts related to this Armenian-American clan, especially on a random Monday. Immediately before clicking, I wondered whether Kim “broke the Internet” again, or wondered if there was news of a new pregnancy- both of her children, North West and Saint West, received an incredible amount of media coverage minutes after their conception was announced publicly. Amidst my childlike wonder, I clicked on her name as a topic, only to be horrified. I saw the headline on CNN- “Kim Kardashian Robbed At Gunpoint in Paris”, and clicked to catch up on what happened. After reading about how she and her privacy were invaded by armed men posing as police, and how she was bound by rope, forced into a bathtub with tape covering her mouth, I was blown away. How? Why? Who? All of these were questions running through my mind; while I suppose robberies happen every day, they tend to take on a whole new meaning when a cultural icon of her status is the victim. Seeking more info, I went back to the Facebook News feed, only to be sickened in a completely other way.
Kim Kardashian was robbed at gun point. Atomically, she is a human being, of the same species as most of my readership (I assume). Abstractly, she’s a very well-known celebrity, synonymous with new wealth within an increasingly consumerist society. And yet, you would think that an evil, ravenous dragon who consumes entire villages was the victim of a robbery heist (“The Hobbit”, anyone?). Why do I say that? Well, comments ranging from “She deserves it”, to “LMFAO”, to “That’ll teach her!” abounded- all of them being the ‘top comment’ on various Facebook posts, posted by official news stations & affiliates. Don’t believe me? Check it out for yourself:
- Some called her a “worthless social parasite”
- Others suggested it was a “publicity stunt”
- Others attempted to make a ‘witty’ joke by commenting something inappropriately irrelevant
- Others engaged in “victim-blaming”
- Wait, more victim-blaming
- One called Kim a “narcissist”, undeserving of sympathy
- Another creatively referred to the family as the “Kartrashians”
- Others called the family “low life garbage”
- One suggested that rape should have been considered
- And lastly (but not least), someone suggested she remembers that she is a “wife, a daughter, and a mother next time she poses naked online”, because as we all know, posing naked online deserves punishment by armed robbery.
These are only but a FEW of the snarky, horrid comments spewed forth by the cognoscenti, the self-proclaimed experts on the worthiness of human life, especially human life which they never actually encountered in person. To list them all would take a few days processing. And yet, folks, this is our Internet culture. This is our present, and it points to an even more depressing future, because as mentioned before, our world continues to increase in social media’s acceleration, all while we collectively decrease in compassionate consideration. In one way, the aforementioned poster of number 11’s comment was right- Kim is a wife, a daughter, and a mother. And yet, the way she is treated on social media by the Internet vigilante mob of justice, you would think she was none of the above. After all, who would ever say such heartless, biting, and unsympathetic things to one’s own wife, or one’s own daughter, or even one’s own mother? If one was to view Kim as a human being- a radical thing to do, apparently- then one would view her as a person whom they share a common humanity with, or on a clan-like, familial level, are of the same blood. However, very few people view her as such. Instead, the self-righteous commenters on social media see Kim as this abstract figure, a waste of space whose existence is satire, at best, and an inconvenience, at worst. And yet, there is this creepy demand that they put on her. The Internet mob is caught in an awkward dichotomy; on one level, they act as if they have no claim to relationship with Kim, but at the same time, they present their demands and critiques of her life, which imply they desire some sort of relationship- albeit a sick one. Here is the great subject-object irony- civility and proper morality is expected of the object of these posters’ hatred- namely Kim; Kim is criticized for dressing immodestly, hoarding massive amounts of wealth on her very body, as well as being criticized for constantly seeking attention & being in the daily headlines. These people commenting expect Kim, the object of their disgust, to be held to a certain standard; but the same qualities are not expected of they themselves, the subject. Herein, however, lies the problem: Kim, and moreover, the posters, are not objects. They are not even subjects, in a literary or newsworthy sense. They are persons, and yet in many ways, their humanity has been forgotten.
It’s a sad cycle. Major news break. Users on social media flood to be the ‘first’ comment. Some guy is “selling potatoes”, another is quoting the opening to the History Channel hit show, “Pawn Stars”. Another somehow composed a sonnet in Harambe’s memory. All clever, ‘witty’ ways to capture the coveted ‘top liked’/’most upvoted’ spot. But at its worse, it gets darker. When the news subject is an object of popular hatred- one could think of two United States presidential candidates, a famous, transgendered television personality, or even a former Christian football player, the snarky comments abound in plenty. However, even more disturbingly, they would never reach their goal (to be a top comment) without the support of the 1.3k Facebook users who ‘like’ their comment. Not only are there people making horrid comments, devoid of all sympathy, but there is a massive Internet mob behind them, cheering them on, raising their torches & pitchforks. And to be quite frank, it’s disgusting. If eyes are the window to the soul, and we let the Internet function metaphorically as eyes here in this example, then the soul of those who use the Internet- actual, living, breathing, human persons- is ugly and in need of serious healing.
The “no chill” culture, where a person posts something so ludicrous that he or she would have to think twice before actually saying it in person for fear of physical harm being done to them, has seriously stained our humanity. The human soul which animates the body is a beautiful thing. It is endowed with the intellectual faculties of the reason & the will. As the ancient Greeks wrote, we are moved towards the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. Beauty, goodness, and truth- these ‘transcendentals’ have been the muse by which the greatest artists were inspired to paint the Sistine Chapel, the guiding force to Mother Teresa’s incredible work with the poor, and the motivation of Western philosophers to uncover what we can know inductively and deductively about the ultimate cause of all existence. And here we are, a supposed ‘progressed’ people, watching the destruction of a celebrity’s character online with glee, calling people who we will never meet insulting names, and deflecting every serious situation with a meme. For ‘homo modernus’, we are a doing a pretty terrible job at living up to our name as a modern people. We can send a man to the moon, we can discover life at the bottom of the ocean, we can create robots that simulate human activities, and yet we cannot display basic empathy and compassion to a person in need- for as much as we desire to claim our current world as the most progressed & advanced, we fall back into barbaric tribalism and exclusivity, forgetting our shared humanity, and using mediums that could be used for good (social media) as tools of our own bigotry, a perpetuation of systemic hatred for the “other”… especially when that “other” is famous.
The news of Kim Kardashian’s awful morning tells us that this world can be a very dangerous place, especially if one has wealth- and it is known that he or she has it. The reaction to this unfortunate news of Kim Kardashian being robbed at gun point tells us something else. It tells us that this world, especially as it is manifested through social media, can be a very ugly place. It also informs us of where we are as a collected human body, who spend probably more time than we need to on the Internet. The emptiness of any sympathy, empathy, or even basic consideration for her well-being points us to seek where and why so many lost their soul, an observation evident in the cruel comments posted by them on social media. Even worse, these comments are fueled to the top of a page after thousands of Internet mob members, in blind admiration, ‘like’ the comment, pushing it to the forefront of our social media consciousness. Some of you may comment and say I am painting a bleak, depressing picture of the current state of affairs. Some of you may say it was an isolated incident, and if this happened to a lesser-known celebrity, the vileness of the Internet reaction would have been severely decreased.
All I know this this: if my mother, sister, or daughter was ever robbed at gunpoint by five aggressive strangers, it would be devastating. I would be horrified that a group of individuals would have disregarded the inherent dignity found in each of my loved ones. However, they wouldn’t be alone, because in addition to their blatant refusal to see my loved ones as persons and instead commit violence towards them, sure enough, the Internet- depending on how well liked my mother, sister, or daughter was- would join in the fray. After spending a lot of my adolescence and early adulthood on the Internet, I have learned a few things. One of these things is this- I wouldn’t expect much emotional support from the online community. In fact, I would probably just omit the fact that my family was assaulted, and go back to posting videos of dogs cuddling bunnies. At least that’s something people on the Internet won’t lose their humanity over.