I never thought the day would come when I had a word to say in favour of mobile phones or ‘Social Media’ such as Facebook. Now it has.
We have been suffering from ‘Indignation Fatigue’: the scenario in which in America a white policeman abuses, beats up, even kills an unarmed black man, tells self-justifying lies when and if called to account, and is completely exonerated has become so common that our indignation centres are having to take a little rest; we just think wearily ‘Oh, God, not again.’
But just recently, witnesses have been filming such episodes on their mobile phones. They then post the film on a ‘Social Medium’ such as Facebook, where, as they say, it ‘goes viral’. (This curious and unpleasant expression just means ‘becomes popular’, ‘is looked at by many people’: I suppose you could say that Michael Jackson, for instance, or a royal wedding, ‘went viral’, unless of course you prefer to speak good English.) When this happens, not even the people who are supposed to police the police have the chutzpah to pretend to believe the policeman’s story, and they have to actually seem to punish him. Now, if you’re a white policeman and you shoot a black boy taking soft drinks and crisps home to his parents, you may get your wrist slapped and be told not to do it too often.
Only, of course, if there is evidence, such as a video recording, that can’t be ignored: ‘Mere’ verbal evidence from a dozen bystanders will be discounted — especially if they are black — in favour of the policeman’s story. (That happens in England too, as I know to my cost).
It’s shocking, but we have to accept it: policemen will misbehave, and then tell lies about it, unless the rest of us watch and record what they are doing. Journalists — the good ones anyway — have always been guardians of our liberties. Now we see that so, too, are mobile phones and Facebook.