Taking part in the blog tour for Christopher Farnsworth’s new book, Hunt You Down, and I’ve got a guest post from Christopher for you.
More on the book later – first, over to Christopher.
The unthinkable happened again on a Monday night. Someone detonated a bomb at the Manchester Arena in England on May 22, just as an Ariana Grande concert ended. Twenty-three people were killed, including children there to see the pop star, and 250 were injured. Social media lit up with shock and grief.
And in the middle of all this, a freelance writer in Boston named David Leavitt tweeted, “MULTIPLE CONFIRMED FATALITIES at Manchester Arena. The last time I listened to Ariana Grande I almost died too.”’
It was a cruel, stupid joke when people were still searching for their kids. And in the midst of the uncertainty and horror, it was nice to have a reliably crappy villain to target. Leavitt’s name became a trending topic within the hour, with almost 50,000 tweets about him, pretty much all of them angry. People called for him to be fired, to be blacklisted by editors, to be punched in the face, and worse.
He was back to tweeting stupid memes the next morning. His profile pic seemed to smirk above it all, free from any consequences, as he tweeted, “I saw your face #AndThenIStartedToLaugh.”
Nothing really changed. The kids were still dead. And in the end, Leavitt got about a thousand more followers on Twitter.
But what if someone could tap into that outrage? What if someone could take all of that anger floating around the Internet and direct it against people like Leavitt? What if someone could turn social media into a weapon?
That’s what I wondered when I started writing my latest novel, HUNT YOU DOWN, which is out now from Bonnier Zaffre. At the time, I was looking at the GamerGate movement, and how it harassed, threatened, and abused women online. I thought it would be interesting to pit my character, John Smith, against an enemy he couldn’t really touch — an anonymous puppet master pulling the strings on millions of people, using social media to send them into violent rages.
At the time, I thought I was writing fiction. But now, the weaponization of the Internet has become very real.
Everyday social media users are also spreading information that can be just as dangerous as ISIS beheading videos, even if they don’t realize it.
Years ago, conspiracy theories were slow to spread because they had very few vectors to reach large numbers of people. They were limited to books and homemade magazines. The Internet changed all of that. Starting with the first message boards on Usenet and chain e-mails, conspiracy theorists found a quick and effective way to spread their version of the truth to millions of new potential converts.
Social media sped up the process even further. People disseminate half-truths, bad ideas, and memes designed to trigger our worst impulses. Outrage is the quickest way to get attention on the Internet, and when we read this stuff, we tend to drop down into a fight-or-flight response that feels just like a real threat.
Most people just move on to the next outrage, or, at worst, send some more angry tweets out into the void. But some people take it very seriously, and act on it.
A gunman walked into a pizza parlor with an assault rifle at the end of 2016 because he believed an online conspiracy theory about child sex slaves called “Pizzagate.” Despite the fact that the rumors are simply untrue, they are still circulating on the Net, gathering more believers every day.
In India, fake news shared over social media has reportedly led to multiple deaths as rumors about gangs and child kidnappers spread out of control.
The survivors of the deadliest mass shooting in modern history have had to deal with death threats from people who accuse them of faking the whole thing. A Michigan judge is facing death threats from anti-vaccine forces due to a child custody case. A right-wing writer and his sister have been threatened and harassed by the alt-right for his stand against his former employer, Breitbart News.
And some Russian-linked online accounts called for violence against minorities, immigrants, and police officers in an effort to spark riots and spread chaos. These accounts racked up hundreds of thousands of followers before they were shut down.
It only takes one or two individuals with a head full of bad wiring to take these posts seriously. If someone believes they are really in a war, then it’s a small step to fighting it.
Which means we need to pay attention to these warning signals. The online world is the real world now, like it or not.
Christopher Farnsworth is the author of six novels, including HUNT YOU DOWN, available now from Bonnier Zaffre.
When a reality TV star is gunned down at her own wedding, her mob boss father calls on the services of John Smith, a hitman who cleans up the messes of those rich enough to afford him, with a special talent for finding his man. But he’s no ordinary gun for hire.
Smith is a man of rare gifts, and he knows your every thought . . . Motivated by money and revenge, Smith comes across ‘Downvote,’ an encrypted site on the dark net with a list of celebrity names and a bounty for anyone willing to kill them. But taking down a shadowy figure who has weaponized the internet proves more difficult than he thought. And this criminal mastermind continues to remain one step ahead.