Thursday, August 14, 2014

The #Ferguson Social Media Disaster

No one who is reading this blog should be unaware of what is happening in Ferguson Mo right now--but let's recap anyway (more detailed timeline):
  • Sat Aug 9: 18 year old Michael Brown was shot to death by a (yet unnamed) police officer. He was unarmed.
  • Aug 10th: Protests begins. The protesters were met by police officers but there was no violence. The police's story is that there was a struggle over the officer's weapon. Rioting with looting (20 busiensses) and a burnt gas station take place. 32 People arrested.
  • Aug 11th: More looting (Shoe Carnival 10 miles SE of Ferguson). Riot squats use tear gas.
  • Aug 12: Non-violent protesters demand name of officer in question. Request is denied. FAA creates a no-flight zone.
  • Aug 13: Reporters for Washington Post and Huffington Post arrested. Detained without charges and then released.
The above comic was from 10 years ago in Fallujah.

Here is Vox:
Washington Post reporters have been arrested in two cities this year: Ferguson and Tehran
Over the past few months, Washington Post reporters, hundreds of whom work across the globe, have been arrested in exactly two cities: Tehran, Iran, and Ferguson, Missouri, United States of America. That should tell you something about the ongoing crisis in Ferguson.
On Wednesday, Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery was reportedly arrested along with Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Post for failing to exit a McDonalds. According to Lowery's Twitter account, the two were "assaulted and arrested" because "officers decided we weren't leaving McDonalds quickly enough, shouldn't have been taping them." No charges were filed.
Brand Damage

The Federal government got the Cliven Bundy ranch 100% right. Whoever made the call to stand-down on the confrontation knew that (A) a ton of dead civilians, with AR-15's or not would do nothing good for the situation, the Bureau of Land Management, or the rule of law. There was no reason to use assault (SWAT) troops when it was quite possible to wait and let the legal system work more slowly.

Here the police department seems committed to doing the exact opposite.
How To Win Friends and Influence People
What we are seeing here is 20th century police-state tactics running up against 21st century social media. The protesters have several hashtags that have made national news. Reporters on the scene are operating in real time with Twitter updates that are widely read and wide-spread. Camera phones are able to record just about everything and startling pictures have come out of the area despite it being a cordoned off no-fly zone.

There seems to be no way that the police come out of this intact. Even leaving off the law-and-order questions (or what people who had their businesses looted or torched think of this), the use of militarized police against a populace that has, by and large, stood with its hands up taking pictures is an inverse of power: it is a losing strategy.

A process that took Gandhi years is now digitally accelerated. We get real-time tweets of the arrested reporters and have to wait for their release--still well within the 24 hour news cycle. This creates riveting drama. We can talk to people directly within Furgeson via the Internet (one of the reporters was holding Twitter Q&A). This creates connection. We see ourselves under the barrel of that rifle up there.

This is a Public Relations crisis and it is going to do damage to the MO Police department and, probably, to an extent militarized police across the United States. The fact that the PD has no competing voice in this dialog--that they appear only in pictures and quotes dressed as storm-troopers is an indication of their inability to grasp what is happening here--how public they really are--and how eventually they (each of them, the real people) will be exposed.

This is a disaster for the police and The Omnivore finds they have only brought it on themselves.

Here is a post from the conservative National Review Online:
Here’s a microcosm of the relationship between state and citizen: We know the names of the nine people charged with felonies in the Ferguson looting, but not the name of the police officer at the center of the case.

The government is all discretion when it comes to one of its own. True, there have been threats against the police officer in question — but if any municipal institution is positioned to defend its members, it is the police. And are there no threats against private individuals who are arrested or investigated? Are there no threats against people in prisons? Police departments and prosecutors regularly release discretionary information that has serious consequences for the lives of private individuals, including those who have not been charged with or convicted of any crime.


  1. I always find it disgusting when I see a mass of people protesting some injustice to their community, and the form of their protest includes destroying their community.
    Stupid fuckin idiots.
    Ok. I just HAD to get that out. And now that it's vented, I agree that the police department's handling of the crisis has made it far worse, even IF the officer in question turns out to be fully justified in his field-action.

    1. Keep in mind that there have been documented cases of protesters -preventing- looting (or, at least, trying to). Exactly what happened with the service station burning down, I'm not sure--but it's not clear to me that the protest and the damage are, in this case, one in the same.

      -The Omnivore

  2. Yes, I have also been hearing that, and it is very heartening.
    And yes, applying the term "protester" to looters is probably unjustified.
    I wish the news-media would improve in it's reporting on that.
    And it can start by getting rid of Fox(not)News.
    ...just kidding. but no I'm not really. but yes I am. but not really ;).