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Columnists
Purcell: Why my father shuns social media

My father is behind the curve on social media, but I think he is onto something.

You see, my father was born in 1933. He was a paperboy in the days when paperboys stood on city corners and shouted “Extra!”

In his home, the newspaper still is king. He has two delivered daily. He reads every inch of both. He does the crossword puzzles in both, too—with a pencil.

(Note to people under 30: A pencil is a small, yellow stick that leaves a mark when its tip is pressed against paper.)

My father knows that people can do crossword puzzles on their computers and smartphones, but the idea is nutty to him. Only an idiot would bring electronic equipment into the bathroom.

To be sure, my father has shunned the communications marvels of modern times. He uses my mother’s smartphone—but only to avoid long-distance charges. I showed him how to use her phone to text family members, but he gave up on that fast.

(Note to people over 50: texting is when you press both thumbs against a smartphone keypad to bastardize the English language.)

I bought him a Kindle for Christmas a few years ago and created an email account for him. He gave it a try but quickly lost interest in emailing anyone.

I showed him how to search the web to locate people and businesses. He gave that a try, too, but still prefers to use the White Pages or Yellow Pages.

(Note to people under 40: The White and Yellow Pages are thick directories of people and businesses that are left at your door once a year.)

He loves to read, so I showed him how to download ebooks, but he still prefers paper-bound books.

(Note to people under 20: A paper-bound book is a compact device in which words are printed on several pieces of paper; the paper is glued to a spine.)

But one thing he will never do is use a social media website, such as Facebook, which, says The Statistics Portal, has more than 2 billion active users.

For starters, my father thinks social media is a total waste of time.

He thinks it is causing group think, as many people “friend” others who think exactly as they do and “unfriend” those who think differently.

He thinks the fake news articles are driving misinformation—a dangerous thing in a republic, whose success depends on thoughtful, well-informed voters.

And he thinks social media is increasing incivility, as people, hiding behind their keyboards, shout and yell and call others names.

According to two former Facebook executives, my father’s observations are spot on.

According to Fortune, one former executive said that Facebook “was developed to be addictive.” He said that the information-sharing platform was designed as a “social-validation feedback loop.” He said that it “exploited weaknesses in the human psyche.”

Fortune also reports that a second former executive said that Facebook “encourages ‘fake, brittle popularity,’ leaving users feeling empty and needing another hit, and suggested that this ‘vicious circle’ drives people to keep sharing posts that they think will gain other people’s approval.”

Which brings us back to my father.

He may be behind the curve on social media, but he’s thriving in the real world of the White Pages, printed newspapers and books with spines.

When he wants to communicate, he approaches other human beings, usually my mother, and uses his voice. Sometimes he uses facial expressions and hand gestures to emphasize a point.

As I said, I think he’s on to something.


Column
Another View: Pull battered UN Peacekeepers from the Congo

The killing in the Democratic Republic of Congo earlier this month of 15 Tanzanian United Nations peacekeepers by members of a rebel militia should serve as one more indicator that it is time for the world to give up trying to create order in that country.

There are estimated to be some 16,000 U.N. peacekeeping forces in the DRC. The killing of 15 of them and five Congolese soldiers stationed in the eastern part of the country, just trying to keep the lid on, prompted a horrified reaction from the rest of the world. Congolese and foreign militias in the DRC, formerly Zaire, have been killing people who were there to try to enforce peace and security since independence in 1960.

The political context within which the killing of the peacekeepers occurred this time is a reflection of the usual melee prevailing in that country. President Joseph Kabila completed two constitutional terms in 2016. He is now seeking to delay required presidential elections.

He came to power when his father, Laurent Kabila, who with Rwandan help overthrew 32-year dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997, was assassinated. Joseph Kabila succeeded his father, without elections, in 2001.

He won what appears to have been reasonably fair elections in 2006 and 2011. Now he is dragging his feet. His first argument was that the DRC should have a census before a vote was held. Now he is relying on a claim that preparations for a proper election will take until at least mid-2019. There are those who would argue that due to the fact that the country is a total shambles in terms of government and infrastructure, it will never be possible to hold real elections, or, at least, without a colossal expenditure of foreign money and logistical assistance.

The United States already has effected a reduction in the size of the peacekeeping force by cutting off some of the estimated $1.14 billion a year the mission has required there. The killing of the Tanzanians in Semuliki in North Kivu Dec. 7 should be seen as a reason to pull out the rest. At that point, the DRC may fragment, or the Congolese themselves, numbering some 80 million, may finally realize that they have a reason to organize themselves, establish order and pull the country together, by elections or other means.

All the peacekeeping forces are doing now is ensuring enough stability for foreign interests to continue to extract the country’s mineral wealth, such as copper, cobalt, coltan, diamonds, gold, oil and timber, with the Congo’s elite, led by Mr. Kabila and his family, continuing to take its big cut. That is not at all the purpose of U.N. peacekeeping forces around the world, nor America’s purpose in financing their activities in places like the DRC. As of now, they are wasting time, money and lives, to no useful end.

- The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


Columnists
Sanchez: Dealing with the extremists among us

Glory Hallelujah, you might proclaim, righteous voices for harmony within our increasingly diverse nation have overcome hate.

It’s safe to say that Americans of all races were mortified in 2017 to see video of thugs marching with lit torches through the streets of Charlottesville, Va. The mob of mostly white young men chanted all sorts of hatred against Jews, blacks and immigrants. It was a bone-chilling spectacle for many who thought such movements were relics of a pre-civil rights era.

So Twitter’s move to silence the neo-Nazis and various other bands of white supremacists that gathered in Virginia might feel like the perfect reply. The racists are getting their comeuppance. No longer will their horrendous 140-character screeds be allowed.

On December 18, Twitter began halting such rants through its new community standards. So far, accounts associated with American Renaissance, Britain First, the American Nazi Party, the Traditionalist Worker Party, the League of the South, the New Black Panther Party and Nordic Frontier have been suspended.

This #TwitterPurge will likely only increase in 2018. As we’ve seen with any number of attacks on free speech, the push back tends to ricochet. And, yes, this is a free speech issue.

Any threads that can be traced to violence are grounds for having an account suspended, an understandable decision. But how far this will go, and whose account might be next, is a bit trickier. Any post that Twitter deems to “threaten or harass other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability or serious disease” are subject to suspension.

The danger of this new policy might not be immediately obvious.

Hate shoved underground doesn’t dissipate. It settles in to root. And, as any good gardener knows, the roots of an invasive plant can scurry underground for years, deviating and twisting until they pop up where you least expect to find them. We’ve seen it happened before.

The hateful militancy on display in Charlottesville is traceable to antecedents in the 1990s. The explosion of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995 is significant to the timeline. There is a hauntingly beautiful memorial now on the site, an empty chair for each of the 168 victims, many of them children from the daycare center that was blown apart by the truck bomb.

Timothy McVeigh, who was executed for the murders, devised his scheme to avenge the government siege of a heavily armed, anti-government, white supremacist family at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992 and to avenge the more deadly federal siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, in 1993.

After Oklahoma City, much of this counterculture movement went underground. A whole mishmash of white nationalists, anti-government sovereign citizens and pseudo-military groups began to form, but largely out of public view.

The nation further took its eye off of such domestic terrorism after Sept. 11, believing that foreign terrorists were the more urgent threat.

We should be concerned about what these folks might do in the future, nursing their rage at being sidelined from a social media platform that has done so much to lend them a more prominent public profile.

Already there is evidence that they have merely switched to other platforms. Many others are readily available to them.

As unsettling as it may be to contemplate, right-wing extremists have done much to shape debate in common discourse, be it on immigration enforcement, the Black Lives Matter movement, NFL players taking a knee in solidarity, the dominance of English vs. foreign languages, and who is allowed to speak at college campuses.

The public needs to be informed, aware and engaged. They must grasp how extreme views can infect the wider discourse.

Charlottesville was targeted by racists over the issue of removing Confederate monuments. Reasonable people can disagree on that issue. But they need to also be aware of how nuanced, informed views can be overtaken by emotional and incendiary provocation.

And to do that, we have to be able to see where those prone to violence, to extreme views that no American should stand for, express themselves.