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Posted by on Jun 23, 2011 in Science & Technology | 6 comments

Utah Gunman Updates Facebook During Standoff; Media Framing Helps Incite Virtual Lynch Mob

In Ogden, Utah last weekend, a 36-year-old man updated his Facebook profile a dozen times throughout a 16-hour armed standoff with local police. Subsequently, Facebook turned into a lynch mob (not unlike Cook’s Source) after national media reports on Wednesday stated (without sourcing) that Jason Valdez had held a woman hostage and had reported the event on his Facebook profile. The New York Daily News version of this story has 1,562 Facebook “likes”.

However, CNN had reported almost 24 hours earlier that “a woman was with Valdez in the motel room; police characterized her as a hostage but Valdez implied she was a willing companion.” The photos Valdez posted to Facebook of himself and Veronica do not look like either are under duress. (Valdez has one arm loosely around her shoulder, like two people on a date, while the other operates his Android phone.) 

Moreover, comments on his Facebook page (totally public) reveal that Valdez apologized to Veronica on her Facebook page just early morning, Saturday June 18. In addition, conversation on the Valdez Facebook page makes it appear that Veronica was part of his social circle, not a stranger. [See Storify: Utah Gunman Updates Facebook During Armed Standoff]

“Hostage” was a key word that set off the lynch mob, based on my informal reading of comments. Just as with Cook’s Source, mob behavior and trolling ruled the day. Here are some examples (warning, adult language ahead):

“hope he dies so us taxpayers dont have to support his stupid ass in prison”  – Deejay Amish

“Bet you wish you would’ve offed yourself huh? Who shoots themselves in the chest anyway. Can’t even kill yourself right.” – Becky Huffman 

“this retard took a chick hostage and failed at killing himself.” – Airborne Alex Oliveira

“Charles I tried calling her, straight to voicemail. Does anyone know what hospital he’s in? Maybe we could send some pizzas they can ram into his feed tube, might choke and die?” – Rafeeq Jaber

“Hey is he dead yet?” – Dylan Tapusoa

How long will it take for lynch mob behavior like this to pass into the  night? These statements are not being made under a mask of anonymity — there’s a name (Facebook thinks they are “real” names) and a photo associated with each comment. Those comments are in turn reposted to each person’s own wall — making certain that at least part of their online social network hears their words. Is the world truly this judgmental? So lacking in basic humanity that the thought of peer judgment isn’t an inhibitor?

Much more at Storify: Utah Gunman Updates Facebook During Armed Standoff

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  • JSpencer

    Looks like typical mob psychology to me. Human nature hasn’t changed over the years, only the props – which is why an increasingly dumb and dumber culture is so dangerous.

  • breesteak

    Are you under the impression that a man that held a woman “hostage” for 16 hours in a motel and took shots at police should not be judged? A man that had outstanding warrants? All this is his own fault. He deserves whatever the Internet has to dish out.
    Especially after leaving his FB account public. He left it so others could comment.

    Welcome to the Internet.
    The Internet judges everybody of all races, creeds, etc. No matter what they’ve done or will do.
    Obviously you’ve not been here very long.

  • JSpencer

    Breesteak, your presumption aside, I’m fine with being judgemental – when there is sufficient data. Unfortunately we now live in a society that’s quite willing to dispense with certainty before pronouncing sentence. My belief about the dangers of mob psychology stands. This should not be construed as a defense of Valdez.

  • There are now **31,225** comments on the last post on his wall (a post made by his sister). The most recent was made two (2) minutes ago. …permalink.php?story_fbid=234467993239727&id=100001869235716

  • onefifteen

    Hey now. We aren’t being butthole trolls just for the sole purpose of being jerkoffs. We just feel that this guy had done very wrong and we want to bring to light his wickedness. And by the way, it only started out so negative. Now we talk about pineapples and tits. And FYI, we have over 33, 100 posts now, you added and extra hundred or so.

  • Kathy,

    Let me introduce myself, I am Gopabandhu Bash. Of course that is not my real name, but it is what I will tell you. For starters, thanks for covering an aspect of the Jason Valdez situation. It is very tragic that he choose to fight a warrant, held captive a “friend” at gun point, when he needed an escape route, and shot himself in an attempt to escape justice.

    I post here for I feel you overlook 2 key things. First, you mention that there isn’t sufficient evidence for judgement, yet he bragged about his actions on a public medium. He didn’t make any intention to not communicate to the outside world, since his page is 100% public.

    The second thing you overlook is the motivation of those commenting on posts his famly/friends make on his page. Firstly, his family has made clear they do not want him to see justice, because for some reason, they feel he doesn’t deserve it. This is morally wrong, and not acceptable in our society. Secondly, he has not taken any procautions to hide his life, thus it’s taken that he wants comments about it. He IS a known gang member, as well as most of his family. He communicates this heavily in how he dresses, and what he says.

    For these reasons, those online, who are human just like you, desire something be done to fix these moral issues. We are not inhuman, we are just better at using a computer than writing a nice letter to his mother. You are mistaken about our identities, most of us do not use real accounts. This is not because we have nothing to hide (for we have done nothing but speak our opinion, and have only spoken out against jason and those that support him). No, we speak anonymously because we don’t want people to be distracted by who is speaking, but rather hear the whole message.

    Remember, Virtual Lynch Mob beleives in bettering society through social engagement. Feel free to contact me, or any of the other Virtual Lynch Mob members. If you raise valid points or questions, to which a reply is warranted, we will respond.

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