A week before the Boston Marathon bombing, I was volunteering at a ten mile race in Washington D.C.
I spent the morning at the finish line of the Cherry Blossom 10 miler, giving medals to the elated finishers of the race. Thousands of people ran the circuit around the Tidal Basin, past the blooming trees, enjoying the Spring sun as it rose over the river.
There was no notion of danger, no way I could conceive of the violence that would rattle a similar event just a week later in a city not too far away. There is no way to prepare for such madness, no avenue of avoidance to strictly follow. Ugliness exists, and it struck Boston.
My deepest condolences go out to those affected by the violence, and my sincerest praise to those who finished the race, and those who helped apprehend the criminals.
As details emerge about the case, the prevailing question seems to ask why young men raised for a decade in America, sharing our values and apparently excelling in matters of school and community, why would they suddenly, desperately pivot toward extremism? Why would they strike at the city that they lived in?
There are no easy answers.
A few months ago, as the Presidential election had the Nation’s attention, I remember hearing an interesting story on the radio. A university professor was suggesting that in the current social media atmosphere, voters may be less likely to seek out viewpoints opposing their own because the internet had made it so easy to connect to like-minded people.
When people cultivate facebook friends, subscribe to twitter feeds, and connect to their networks in all the various possible ways online, they teeter on the creation of an echo chamber – a Republican’s newsfeed is only going to show Republican stories, a Democrat’s will only show Democrat stories.
The idea came to mind as I listened to a report on how the Boston bomber was active on Russian social networking sites, on Youtube, and elsewhere, where he could connect to extremist causes, and discover literature that supported his own violent ideology. Is it possible, that despite making Boston their home for years, the narrow digital route to international terrorism helped them remain separate from American culture?
I am obviously a huge fan of the internet, and I love that I can reach people all over the world by writing in this blog. I am also aware that the network can be used to promote violence, by ignoring rational perspectives and focusing on connections to the fringe of civility.
I don’t know how to fix this problem. Maybe the solution is to publicize where the extreme exists online, call them out and hold them up to the same criticism that mainstream thought is subject to, let the voice of the peaceful majority talk over them, and drown them out.