Why The Problems With Police And Social Media Both Are Symptoms Of The Same Disease: A Failure Of Society To Actually Help Those In Need
from the a-link dept
I’ve written in the past, many times, about how so many people keep wanting to blame social media companies, or intermediary liability laws, for what are only a manifestation of larger societal issues. Social media is only serving to make evident what was previously hidden. A few weeks ago, we quoted UK tech policy expert Heather Burns noting that intermediary liability laws were being expected to pick up the slack for a wide variety of other failures regarding mental health care, social safety nets, criminal and civil justice issues and more. Basically, a whole bunch of government failures were leading to problems in society, which were then being seen online. And rather than trying to fix the underlying causes of those, people were… blaming the internet. Burns later came on our podcast and we had a great detailed discussion about this issue.
A few days later, I heard a fascinating interview on NPR’s Fresh Air. The interview was with Rosa Brooks, a law professor and human rights activist, who joined the Washington DC police force as a reserve officer for a period of four years (for most of the Trump administration). The interview is really quite fascinating on a variety of levels, but one thing stood out to me — that actually connects back to the point that Burns raised about how we’re expecting the internet and intermediary liability laws to fill in for all the massive failures of society. To some extent, Brooks made the same point about the police: we’ve undermined so many other social safety nets, that we now expect the police to fill in for just about everything else.
This isn’t a new idea, of course. Tim Cushing has covered this point over and over again right here on Techdirt, including just recently, in writing about Denver’s test to switch to sending out mental health professionals rather than police on distress calls that did not appear to involve criminal behavior, and how it had been a huge success. For many years, Tim has posted other similar stories, where it’s just so dumb to send police to deal with a societal failing — often in the mental health arena, but elsewhere as well.
In the Brooks interview, she notes how silly it is to have armed cops handling traffic stops. So many needless police shootings involve traffic stops where the cops overreact and shoot someone they stopped for some minor infraction. We could easily separate out the roles, and make traffic enforcement done entirely differently, by traffic enforcers who are not police with guns, but have a more administrative role.
And when you combine all of this, you realize that both of these threads really are about the same thing, from different angles. Society has failed to deal with mental health. It has failed to deal with extreme poverty. It has failed to deal with criminal justice and civil justice reform. And those are all creating messes. But rather than expect the government and public policy to actually clean up the messes — we’re dumping them on social media companies… and the police. And both are leading to disastrous outcomes.