I wanted to take a moment to highlight two current events that have been receiving national attention. You may have heard about these two incidents already, or this might be the first time you’re reading about them. Both of these newsworthy topics have a direct link to this month’s theme of social media and self-worth.
On December 28th, 2017, local police and a SWAT team surrounded the home of a man in Wichita, Kansas believing that there was a hostage situation in the house. The 28 year old homeowner and father of two, Andrew Finch, answered the door at the request of law enforcement. He made a motion to adjust his waistband during the confusion. Officers feared he was reaching for a gun and fired on the man. Mr. Finch was not armed, and he was not holding anyone hostage. An innocent man’s life came to an end as a result of an online video game and a prank went wrong.
Andrew Finch was a victim of swatting. Swatting is the act of falsely reporting a serious incident, often a hostage situation, to law enforcement. Swatting is like calling in a fake bomb threat; only instead of a threat to a building, the target is an individual. The intent is to surprise the victim with a heavy police presence at their home. Swatting has been used on celebrities and lawmakers. However, typically the target revolves around the online gaming community. Gamers often broadcast their matches online so that others around the globe can watch. Several years ago, swatting a high profile online gamer began to happen on a regular basis. You can view this swatting video on YouTube to get a better understanding of what this looks like.
In the case of Mr. Finch, the accused swatter who called in the fake 911 report lived in Los Angeles. Tyler Barris has been arrested and is being held without bail. Mr. Barris has admitted to receiving money for making swatting calls in the past. Additionally, he was linked to a bomb threat call to an LA television studio several years ago.
Sea of Trees
Logan Paul, one of the instacelebs we discussed in a previous post, reached Internet stardom with his mischief filled videos. Previous videos of his trip to Japan featured him doing things like dressing up as Pikachu and throwing plush Pokemon balls at Japanese citizens. While insensitive, this was nothing compared to his January 2nd, 2018 vlog post.
The video showed him discovering a corpse hanging from a tree in Japan’s Aokigahara (suicide forest). The general attitude of the video was dismissive of the tragedies that occur there every year. After showing the body, he makes a comment “This was all supposed to be a joke…when did it get so real?” while holding back laughter. The video sparked controversy across the US and Japan. People were upset at the content of the video and that Google (who owns YouTube) allowed the video to be posted. Google eventually did take action against the YouTube star by removing him from their the Google Preferred program. This limits the ways his videos can be found online and in turn, restrict his revenue stream.
Mr. Paul responded initially with a written apology that was met with harsh criticism due to its perceived lack of authenticity. On Wednesday, January 24th, he uploaded his first video since the incident. The video entitled “Suicide: Be Here Tomorrow” is designed to bring a message of hope to teens and young adults. Additionally, Logan Paul pledged one million dollars to help suicide prevention centers across the county. This most recent upload has been well received, with many seeing it as a step in the right direction.
What does this mean to parents / educators?
These recent incidents are a reminder of how different the world is from when we were younger. Thirty years ago, prank calls rarely escalated into anything more than an annoyance for the person on the other end of the line. It is absurd to think that calling 911 and making up a story that involves life-threatening consequences as a way to get an entire unit of the police force to converge on someone’s home is considered a prank?! Along those same lines, filming yourself with a suicide victim as a way to generate clicks, likes, and ultimately revenue seemed like a fantastic idea to a well known online persona that millions of teens and young adults look up to.
The point of this is clear. Teens and young adults today need positive role models more than ever. Both of these stories revolve around bad decisions based on the potential for increased social status. Some members of Generation Z measure their self-worth by how many likes, clicks, or shares they get. As parents and educators (or both), we need to continue to reinforce the message that “likes don’t matter”. Life is about being a good person, not an idiot with a thousand clicks.
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