Tag Archives: social media

The only thing we know for certain is that we don’t know anything at all

jahar-hashtagIf there are any Wikipedia editors out there, I have a significant update for the John Wilkes Booth entry. I think he might have been innocent. Bear with me, I know I sound crazy. But I may have ‘proof’.

After the Twitter account of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (or Jahar) was publicised last weekend, I noticed some disturbing tweets. On March 11, 2012, at precisely 8:21am, he simply tweeted: “time travel”. Then, almost a year later, on February 13, 2013, he dramatically tweeted: “I killed Abe Lincoln during my two hour nap” (where “nap” can be taken to mean “adventure through the wormhole”). This blatant admission of guilt has since been retweeted over 260 times by various people across the world, including Twitter user @TheSecular, who added “hmmm” to their manual retweet, with all the narrow-eyed suspicion of someone who’d just stumbled across evidence of a time-travelling presidential assassination.

It’s worth noting that Jahar hashtagged his tweet with #intensedream, which should give him a legal loophole to jump through should it ever go to trial. Still, it’s comforting to know that the super-sleuths of Twitter are on the case following the tragic scenes in Boston the other week, forensically analysing every tweet he’s ever written.

Another online sleuth, going by the name of @Mr_GreedGH, quoted two of Jahar’s tweets for the benefit of his 2,000+ followers, adding that they strongly hinted at the terror attack that was to come. One tweet, originally posted in late March, said: “Being bilingual is da bomb” (my emphasis), while another, posted in early February, said: “I’m in the New York state of mind”. With such breathtaking investigative flair, I certainly hope the likes of Kris Kross and Billy Joel have ironclad alibis as to their whereabouts on April 15th. Nothing gets past these online Columbos.

Out of pure nosiness, I spent most of last Saturday reading through Jahar’s timeline. When I started reading, his account had just over 82,000 followers (up from around the 300 mark). By the time I arrived at his very first tweet (a laundry-based update from October 2011) he had over 90,000. If you visit his timeline now and refresh your page every few minutes, his follower count steadily continues to rise – just over a week since his arrest in Watertown, Massachusetts.

Since the bombings, Jahar’s Twitter timeline has become a forum for argument, rumour, abuse, seductive conspiracy theories and even messages of support, solidarity and declarations of awkward romantic feelings from fangirls. Aside from the aforementioned Twitter sleuths poring over Jahar’s timeline for the ‘smoking gun’ tweet that doesn’t seem to exist (e.g. “I did bombingz lol”), it’s developed into a straight fight between the #freejahar movement – who believe he’s been framed by the US government – and those who want to see him fry for the terrorist atrocity he stands accused of committing.

Twitter is basically the digital equivalent of standing outside a courthouse hurling impassioned abuse at a suspect being whisked away beneath a gunmetal-grey, prison-issue blanket. But instead of attempting to land a satisfying blow on the side of the police van as it whizzes past – sending a metallic-sounding thump and barrage of vitriol reverberating around the suspect’s dark soul – all you have to do nowadays is click a ‘follow’ button, post a cathartic, 140-character tweet to the suspect’s timeline (in response to something he probably wrote months ago), then head to the kitchen for a sandwich.

Given that Jahar is unlikely to be keeping track of his Twitter mentions from his prison cell, people’s responses to his tweets are less about genuine attempts to communicate with him and more about playing to the gallery and informing their Twitter peers  – for the avoidance of doubt – that they despise terrorism.

For instance, in response to a photo Jahar tweeted of a sunset last December, one Twitter user bluntly responded: “You’re not artsy dude you’re a killer.” Had Twitter been around in the 1980s, it’s the kind of tweet one might have sent John Wayne Gacy in response to a Twitter timeline full of nightmare-inducing clown art. Of course, Gacy had already been tried, convicted and sent to Death Row to await execution by the time he discovered his creative side. In contrast, Jahar’s sunset photo was probably posted to Twitter with the same instinctive urge to share as someone presenting their Instagrammed chicken and pesto panini to the world. I doubt it was some kind of artistic statement – four months prior to the Boston bombings – which aimed to show that even aspiring terrorists can appreciate natural beauty. 

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Interestingly, one day after the attacks, Jahar tweeted a response to @ImRealTed (a parody account of the Ted film character) in which he called out a heart-rending human story from the Boston Marathon as “fake”. The story, which had spread like wildfire around social media sites – unchecked, typically – told the story of a man who intended to propose to his girlfriend after she’d completed the marathon. But after hearing the two explosions, he rushed to the finish line to discover that she’d tragically been killed. The accompanying photo showed an anguished man tenderly cradling the head of a lifeless woman lying on a blood-spattered pavement. “This deserves endless retweets,” said @ImRealTed, as the story was shared with the account’s quarter of a million followers.

They got the retweets they asked for – over 1600 of them – but the story was fake, as Jahar rightly pointed out. The man in the photo was a perfect stranger to the injured woman on the ground (18-year-old high school student Sydney Corcoran, who hadn’t even been running in the marathon and notably didn’t die from her shrapnel injuries). The story was as fake as the one about the Sandy Hook pupil running the marathon for victims of last December’s school shooting. But that didn’t stop several Twitter users, apoplectic with rage over Jahar’s supposedly insensitive tweet, from responding. “Wow you fucking bomb people and then call out fake stories on victims stfu,” said 17-year-old Christina, who later added that “no one cares about the story being fake when a terrorist says it”.

Her uncompromising ‘guilty until proven guilty’ approach is almost as baffling as her apparent willingness to accept bullshit stories at face value (unless officially debunked – by a trusted, non-terrorist source, obviously).

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Jahar now has a twitter feed with enough retweets and favourites to rival Rob Delaney, with a growing base of support from people who genuinely believe he’s innocent – not to mention a growing army of smitten women. “I think I’m in love with a fake terrorist,” tweeted one ‘supporter’, with a split-screen photo of her smiling face next to Jahar’s. “It’s always the hot ones that turn out to be the messed up ones,” tweeted another. “Can we talk about how perfect his teeth are?” said one Tumblr post, beneath a photo of Jahar wearing a wing collar dress shirt and a beaming smile (with his arm around a girl whose face has since been scribbled from history). One girl even posted a handmade ‘Jahar’ photo-collage to Twitter. It’s like glimpsing what the world would be like if Match.com introduced a ‘Phwoar on Terror’ category for anyone wishing to meet extremist singletons.

Aside from the draw of his boyish good looks, Jahar’s Twitter account is actually quite ordinary. He chatted with friends, posted photos of his cat, tweeted song lyrics, enjoyed sharing random facts and watching Breaking Bad, slowed down for squirrels crossing the road and advised his friends on allergy products (“You need to get Claritin Clear,” Jahar advised @therealAbdul_…just over 24hrs after he’d allegedly killed three people and maimed hundreds more at the finish line of the Boston Marathon).

There’s no mention of “jihad” or “infidels” in his timeline, but you will find “Nemo” and “Dory”. (Unsurprisingly, this being the internet and everything, Jahar’s Finding Nemo­ tweet triggered an inexplicable and pointlessly macho etymological discussion about the term “Glasgow smile” and whether it was the correct term for the violent torture method that one Twitter user said he’d use on another. Several of the ‘conversations’ that Jahar’s tweets have spawned have the stagnant air of YouTube’s comments section about them.)

He even tweeted a few things that I wholeheartedly agree with, like calling MTV “garbage”. He also retweeted a link to a Media Matters article – with the words “just depressing” – about how the Kardashians get 40 times more news coverage than ocean acidification. It’s a strange feeling to find a modicum of common ground with a suspected terrorist.

But it’s this apparent ordinariness which has left people baffled as to how he could be involved in the grave events in Boston. A video of Jahar lightheartedly performing the robot during a wrestling training session (posted to YouTube by a friend, with the title ‘This was the Jahar I knew’) only adds to the confusion and sense of disbelief among his supporters. I guess it’s how we’d all feel if we suddenly found ourselves at the mercy of a mysterious bomber, only to later discover that Peter Crouch had transformed himself into the Ted Kaczynski of the English Premiership.

Perhaps the most notable and disturbing thing about the #FreeJahar movement online is how quickly it’s adopted a siege mentality. And due to the involvement of more than a few Beliebers and Directioners (who flock towards any cause that enables them to act as a hivemind) it already has the unsettling feel of a teenage cult. Many of his supporters are already spending their time defending the campaign against ‘haters‘, which is an infuriating label to hurl at anyone who objects to the plastic pop of One Direction and Justin Bieber, but completely inappropriate when used to deflect criticism from anyone genuinely unsure as to the innocence of an alleged terrorist.

In a frighteningly similar way to how Beliebers and Directioners believe they have a deep and very real emotional connection to their idols, which they assume is reciprocated, some of Jahar’s supporters have been tweeting as if he’s fully aware of their efforts. “I’m sure Jahar wants us to be strong, but if he hurts, I hurt. It’s hard to explain, but that’s the way it is for me,” tweeted the supporter behind the four-day-old ‘Supporting Jahar‘ account.

The emotions of his more impressionable supporters are also starting to be routinely targeted by what sounds like bite-sized fan fiction. Only yesterday, a rumour appeared from nowhere that “Dzhokhar cries when he wakes up and to stop the crying he goes back to sleep.” This nugget of information was attributed, in the vaguest sense imaginable, to “a nurse from the prison Jahar is in” (that being the Federal Medical Center, Devens). It surely won’t be long until someone tweets: “After our campaign secures his freedom, Jahar has said that he’s going to do the robot dance especially for us!” (source: A legal type dude working on his case and shit)

And in typical obsessive fan style, some supporters are even tweeting the usual “Let’s trend!” rallying cry – only to complain, when no such trend appears, that their efforts must have been actively blocked. Even though many supporters assert that they’re not conspiracy theorists – while at the same time posting and retweeting endless conspiracy theories about the Boston Marathon on various social media sites – their belief that even Twitter must be working against them says much about their naivety.

zubiYesterday, a Twitter account purporting to belong to Jahar’s mother appeared, which encouraged followers to make cash donations to help with Jahar’s legal defence. A photo of a woman claiming to be Zubeidat Tsarnaeva holding up a sign with routing numbers for a Russian bank account was the third tweet to be posted to the account (there’s also an accompanying YouTube video). Bizarrely the tweet prior to that was a message to Jahar himself, which asked him to follow her and then communicate only via direct message (“do not do a public Twitter,” she stressed). Even more bizarre is the fact that the @Tsarnaeva account appeared to have been created in July 2010, yet not a single character had been typed nor a tweet posted until yesterday afternoon.

Worryingly, the person behind the account claimed that they had received over $2,000 in just a few hours (after the appeal had been promoted by the ‘leader’ of the #FreeJahar campaign @TroyCrossley). Crossley later admitted that the account didn’t belong to Jahar’s mother, but assured everyone that the creator of the account was a supporter of the campaign nonetheless and the banking information was entirely accurate. So at least those 14-year-old online activists, with their supportive t-shirts and consciousness raising messages scribbled across their fresh faces, can now wire their mum and dad’s cash to Chechnya without feeling that something’s amiss.

(Well, they can’t anymore because the @Tsarnaeva account has since been deleted.)

The point of this long, rambling blog post is to stress that none of us really know anything, which is ironic given that we live in an ‘information age’. The people who believe that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is guilty of carrying out the deadly terrorist attack in Boston are relying on information provided by a frequently unreliable mass media, not to mention law enforcement agencies who’ve been feeding the public a constantly mutating, and at times wholly contradictory, narrative.

The #FreeJahar movement, on the other hand, will continue to rely on Alex Jones’ Infowars and any number of armchair conspiracy theorists to pick at the threads of the official story, sharing among the hivemind any and all discrepancies that provides ‘proof’ of a False Flag terror attack, and thus, Jahar’s innocence. Meanwhile, the super-sleuths of Twitter will read and re-read Jahar’s achingly normal tweets through the murky hue of their terrorist filters. And supporters and detractors alike will continue to lock horns across the Internet, pretending they have all the answers.

The internet is awash with deceit, misleading and downright inaccurate information, endless repetition, argument and counter-argument, and more charlatans than you can shake a stick at. Although, from a slightly wider angle you can see that there are several other shady characters in the vicinity with stick-like implements…and if you look at the impossible directions of the shadows on the ground, it could be argued that I wasn’t stood there shaking a stick at a charlatan at all. The online aftermath of a terror attack is a confusing and depressing sensory overload. The only thing we know for certain is that we don’t really know anything at all.

(In the time it’s taken me to write this blog post, Jahar’s inactive Twitter account has gained over 20,500 followers.)

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A three-tiered chandelier the size of a car ferry

ilb-eating-money“It doesn’t matter about money; having it, not having it. Or having clothes, or not having them. You’re still left alone with yourself in the end,” as Billy Idol once said, probably through a perfectly cultivated sneer. Unfortunately, as profound as Idol’s quote is, for some people it’s simply not true. It does matter if you have money. And perhaps most crucially, it’s important to show everyone else what you’re doing with it.

Let’s face it, when the end finally does come, if you can’t afford to have your withered, cryogenically frozen body launched into space aboard a rocket crammed with the material possessions of your obscene wealth – while funereal confetti cannons shower mourners with singed and unusable £50 notes – what’s the point of your pitiful existence?

That’s obviously not my personal view. As I have no money, I’m firmly with Billy Idol on this one. In the event of my death and subsequent funeral, I wouldn’t have the remaining funds to do anything more showy than have a single cloudy eyeball sellotaped to a firework rocket and launched from a milk bottle. But for supposedly wealthy people like Instagram user ‘itslavishbitch’, who I happened upon this week, it seems that money and possessions are everything. And thanks to social media, he’s now able to keep the rest of us “peasants” (to use his delightfully arrogant term) constantly updated about just how wealthy he is.

Not much is known about ‘itslavishbitch’ except that he’s a 17-year-old called Param, who resides in San Francisco and appears to be a sort of Asian Montgomery Burns. The unsubstantiated rumour is that he’s the son of Shikha Sharma, CEO and Managing Director of Axis Bank, India’s third largest private bank. But there are also rumblings that he’s nothing but a fake (albeit one with access to a staggering array of expensive-looking props).

A little bit of research by Digital Trends revealed that his social media channels all appeared online between January and March this year, with his personal website (www.itslavishbitch.com – also created in March) being set up through ‘Domains By Proxy’ – a service that allows you set up websites while keeping all personal data out of the public domain. Whatever the truth – whether genuine multi-millionaire or mere troll – he’s a truly detestable character. But one, admittedly, who’s actually made me feel a lot better about not having two coins to rub together.

Because when you look through his Instagram account, you can’t help but love the Internet for giving him the digital tools to make himself look like a total prick. He revels in the trappings of his vast wealth, but does so alone. The things he holds most dear do nothing more than lie around his penthouse suite inanimately, occasionally glinting in the light when a three-tiered chandelier the size of a car ferry is switched on. Meanwhile Benjamin Franklin looks on, disapprovingly, from stacks of one hundred dollar bills strewn about the place. But if you allow yourself to see beyond the apparent wealth on display, it’s an Instagram account that practically howls with the cold wind of emptiness whenever you visit.

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It also seems to confirm that excessive wealth detaches people from reality to such an extent that they’re forever engulfed in a fog of complete ridiculousness. In one photo, he’s shown pouring Bulgari-labelled San Pellegrino sparkling mineral water into a toilet (the only water he’ll shit into, presumably for the expensively fizzy splashback experience), while in another he’s shown tying a $2k wad of dollar bills to a bunch of helium balloons. There’s also a photo of him wearing two pairs of expensive jeans – one over the other – and another which shows him using yet another $2k wad of dollar bills like a mobile phone, with the caption “I be talkin moneyy” (sic). Going off the images alone, Param’s Instagram account often looks less like an elaborate trolling exercise and more like the heart-rending photo-journal of someone suffering from early onset dementia.

He also seems to have a love of expensive stationery. One photo shows his gold Cartier fountain pen, while another purports to show five gold-plated staple strips sitting in the palm of his hand at a cost of $175. I assume he uses them to staple cash to peasants’ faces whenever he’s in a generous mood, which is why I would never be tempted to enter one of his many cash giveaways.

Speaking of which, you can find details of these giveaways on his personal website. Not that you can actually read anything on there, as you’re constantly harassed by an aggressive pop-up that obscures half the screen and encourages you to download his grammatically incorrect book – Its Lavish B*tch – The Guide – which is billed as “a comprehensive young entrepreneur course”. (The true extent of his entrepreneurial experience is anybody’s guess. When the Huffington Post recently interviewed him and asked the question: “How do you have all of this cash?” he bluntly responded with: “It’s my parents’ money.” I doubt he’s generated a penny of the wealth he flaunts, which makes his self-help book something of a bizarre promotion.)

His YouTube channel also gives us a glimpse into his affluent world, with one video in particular serving up a brilliantly mundane moment. After being chauffeur-driven to his “crib” to the sound of ‘I Stunt’ by the aptly titled rap artist Philthy Rich, Param enters a mirrored lift, briefly gives the finger to camera and selects his required floor. “Elevatin to the laundry room hoe,” brags the Boyz ‘N The Hood-lite subtitle. Unfortunately, once he arrives at his floor the video abruptly ends. I was expecting the camera to be plunged into a laundry basket made of spun gold, containing thousands of dollars-worth of fresh clothes, with the subtitle: “Smellin like a motherfuckin summer meadow, bitches!”

If Param is the genuine article, then there’s never been a more stark reminder of the vulgarity of excessive wealth in the wrong hands. Alternatively, if he turns out to be nothing more than a troll – more desperate for attention than possibly any troll in history – then it’s a simple reminder that we live in an age that enables us to sell to the world whatever image we create for ourselves, however ridiculous, divisive and inflammatory. Nothing is ever quite as it seems in the bizarre online world that robs us of so many hours each day.

I’d re-invent myself as an arrogant millionaire, but my stationery’s just too cheap and ordinary. A miserable life of peasantry awaits.

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Offended by things. Lots of things.

American author Fran Lebowitz once said: “Being offended is a natural consequence of leaving the house”. Of course, nowadays, you don’t even need to leave the house, or raise your weary head from your drool-sodden pillow. All you have to do is reach for your smartphone each morning, drop into your social network of choice, then wait patiently for someone to point you in the direction of something vaguely controversial.

You could scribble a colourful limerick on the cubicle door of an Outer Hebridian public toilet, and a photo of it would eventually be blown around Twitter on a disapproving wind of collective huffing. We seem to spend an inordinate amount of time being offended by things.

Back in June, Adidas managed to offend lots of people after they revealed the new JS Roundhouse Mid trainer on their Adidas Originals Facebook page, which featured a garish orange “shackle-like ankle cuff” that some critics said resembled a symbol of slavery. The online backlash against the company was almost immediate. “How  would a Jewish person feel if Nike decided to have a shoe with a swastika on it and tried to claim it was OK in the name of fashion?” said one Facebook user called Kay Tee (Katie, I’m assuming).

Admittedly, Topshop recently had to remove a Slayer t-shirt from sale because it featured the death’s head insignia – “in the name of fashion”. But I strongly doubt that the elephant-sized Goering in the Adidas boardroom is the distinct lack of Nazi-influenced designs in their range of sports-casual footwear. Of course, if they now phase out their famous three stripe trademark and replace it with the double Sig Rune of the Schutzstaffel, those monsters will make me look pretty stupid.

If the ankle chain on the JS Roundhouse Mid had been attached to a leaking bag of clinical waste, which wearers of the trainer had to drag behind them like determined mountaineers pulling the corpse of a frozen friend through deep snow, it still wouldn’t have generated half the commotion that the chain’s link with slavery did.

Ironically, while everyone was busy dribbling their self-important opinions about the “Amistad Originals” (as they were rib-ticklingly dubbed) reports that Olympic-branded shoes and clothing – to be worn by Team GB and Games volunteers – were being manufactured for Adidas in sweatshop conditions in Indonesia went largely undiscussed.

But that didn’t matter. Because eventually, after 3,500 largely negative comments on their Facebook page, Adidas announced that they were cancelling plans to release the trainer. The offended masses of Facebook and beyond had triumphed.

At the start of the year, there was even a mild hoo-ha about the season five promotional poster for Mad Men, which appeared, in all its minimalist glory, on phone booths, bus shelters and subways in New York, and even plunged spectacularly down 12 stories of the Figueroa Hotel in Los Angeles.

The debate about the ad campaign flared up after a New York graphic designer photographed one of the posters on a phone booth for his “daily photo project” before posting it to Flickr, Instagram and Twitter, with the comment: “I’m not too sure how appropriate is this Mad Men poster”. His photo (and opinion) was then widely retweeted, re-posted, analysed, discussed and expanded upon across the Internet.

Because that’s what we do now. Rather than leave our thoughts and feelings bouncing aimlessly off the walls of our minds like an abandoned game of Pong, we routinely disseminate our observations to a global audience of strangers for wider consideration and analysis.

For die-hard fans of the show, the Mad Men poster – striking in its simplicity – was a visual cue to dust off their Dorothy Thorpe Roly Poly glasses, top up their whisky supplies and buy enough cigarettes to turn their lungs into charcoal briquettes. (While for opportunistic scribblers on the New York subway, it was a sure-fire meme.) But for those who weren’t familiar with the show’s distinctive iconography, there was a problem with the poster’s bleak imagery. One New York blogger wrote:

“If you know the show, you smile at the inside joke. If you don’t know the show, you Google “March 25″ and maybe you guess what it is or maybe you think March 25th is National Commit Suicide Day and you start the search for the perfect building to throw yourself off of. Or, if you see it in NYC, you think of [Richard Drew’s ‘The Falling Man’ photo, taken on 9/11].”

Anyone who speculated that the Mad Men poster might have been advertising March 25 as “National Commit Suicide Day” should perhaps have noted other unlikely observances in their calendars, such as ‘International Do A Poo On A Miniature Golf Course Week’ and the widely celebrated ‘Smash Your Nuts With A House Brick Day’. It was a ridiculous argument. Although one blog commenter did dwell on the suicide theme by suggesting that the Mad Men poster could certainly be viewed as insensitive – especially if we all clicked on the handy link he’d provided about the death of Paul Tilley, the former creative director at DDB in Chicago, who jumped out of a window at the Fairmont Hotel window in February 2008 (four months after the finale of Mad Men’s first season).

That’s the thing with the internet, you see. If ever you’re not entirely sure as to why you should be offended by something, there will always be someone willing to take you by the virtual hand to help you to join up the dots – any dots.

Unsurprisingly it was the poster’s ‘falling man’ link that was the most emotive observation. Although it mainly seemed to be bloggers who raised the spectre of 9/11, with some helpfully placing Richard Drew’s iconic photo next to the freefalling Don Draper image – just to make absolutely sure we got the comparison. Similarly, one blogger wrote that the Mad Men posters were in “bad fucking taste”, while helpfully linking those three fucking words to the ‘Falling Man’ Wikipedia page. You can heavily signpost an argument on the internet like nowhere else.

Most recently, a pop-up Benetton store in SoHo, New York, called ‘The Art of Knit’ managed to offend some uptight parents with its ‘Lana Sutra’ installations; yarn-wrapped mannequins contorted into various sexual positions by Cuban-born artist Erik Ravelo. And once again it was a photo posted to Instagram that sparked the debate (albeit without a supporting tirade from the poster about their love of knitwear being forever ruined).

Ravelo’s art installations – remarkably well done, it has to be said – look like two life-size Morphs wrestling on a colourful bed of spilled intestines. However once the images hit the Internet, the debate as to whether the sculptures were offensive and inappropriate played out in everything from the Huffington Post to the deepest, darkest, ‘secret door-knock’ Mumsnet-style forums. Great exposure for Benetton, but a tedious, and now routine, argument to once again bore the shit out of us online.

I don’t think it’s that we’re more easily offended these days, I think it’s just the ease with which we can now trigger or join a debate that’s turned us into blathering bores. After all, we can share an observation with the world with a simple swipe of our index fingers across the smeared screens of our smartphones. Social media has given us a voice online…and we really like the sound of it.

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