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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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