My rush to judgment

This week there were two viral stories online that really set me off. The first was about a doctor in Campbellton, New Brunswick who travelled to Quebec, didn’t self-isolate and inadvertently brought COVID-19 back to his home province. The other, complete with shocking video, involved an 18-wheeler barreling into a crowd of peaceful protesters in Minneapolis.

I lashed out against both on Facebook. (I would have done it on twitter, too, if I hadn’t wisely deleted my account.) I called the New Brunswick doctor shockingly irresponsible and said the trucker was literally a terrorist.

Now that the dust has settled, it turns out that stories lacked crucial context.

John Hinderaker at the conservative Minnesota-based blog Power Line notes that the trucker wound up on the closed highway by mistake and did his best to warn and avoid the protesters when he saw them. Amazingly, no one was seriously hurt or killed.

Vechirko, it turns out, had made a delivery to a black-owned gas station and innocently ventured onto the highway before authorities had effectively closed it. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but Vechirko was hauled out of his cab and beaten by “protesters.” He was rescued before they could murder him. [Co-blogger Scott Johnson] wrote:

Trailer truck driver Bogdan Vechirko has been defamed by House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler and disparaged by Governor Tim Walz. Driving his rig on Highway 35W in Minneapolis, he was surprised to come upon “protesters” packing all lanes of the road in front of him. If he had wanted to hurt them, he could have taken them out like bowling pins. Instead, Vechirko blared his airhorn and brought his rig to a stop before he hit anyone.

Vechiko was beaten by the crowd and denounced by several Minnesota politicians…and by me.

Meanwhile, a Facebook friend of the New Brunswick doctor has a lengthy post explaining why he shouldn’t be scapegoated:

He was also savaged by politicians. And again, on my own Facebook page.

The Covington incident from early 2019, in which a group of teenagers were subjected to a witch-hunt based on misleading photos and video, was a defining moment for me. Even when I thought the boys were in the wrong, I believed the response was unnerving and over-the-top. When it turned out they were innocent but even professional journalists kept piling on anyway, it made me fear for society itself. Social media is whipping us up in angry mobs.

(People say mainstream media is making it worse, but I believe the opposite: mainstream media is under pressure to join the mob after it’s flared up. By my reckoning, the average American liberal angrily cancels his or her New York Times subscription five times a year because of an insufficiently judgmental headline or doubleplusungood op-ed.)

For all of my self-righteousness about these online mobs, it turns out I’m just as guilty. I have to be better. We all do.

Here’s how a great man 150 years ago avoided publicly flying off the handle:

Abraham Lincoln had a brilliant tactic to dial down his anger during the Civil War, a time when the country wasn’t just divided–the house was “on fire,” according to historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s new book, Leadership in Turbulent Times.

[…]

According to Goodwin, when Lincoln was angry at a cabinet member, a colleague or one of his generals in the Union army, he would write a letter venting all of his pent-up rage. Then–and this is the key–he put it aside.

Hours later or the next day, he would look at the letter again so he could “attend to the matter with a clearer eye.” More often than not, he didn’t send the letter. We know this was Lincoln’s tactic because years after his death historians discovered a trove of letters with the notation: never sent and never signed.

Lincoln practiced this habit for three reasons. First, he didn’t want to inflame already heated passions. Second, he realized that words said in haste aren’t always clear-headed and well-considered. Third, he did it as a signal–a learning opportunity–for others on his now famous “team of rivals.”

Twitter wouldn’t be such a dumpster fire if it held your tweets for 24 hours before they become public.

Ranking the video apps

The good news, now that we’re all stuck working from home, is that there are so many free video calling apps available. The bad news is that there are so many free video calling apps available.

It’s now possible to video chat with people almost anywhere in the world. The problem is, everybody seems to have his or her preferred app, so you find yourself adding more and more of them to you phones and tablets. Assuming you can – Apple’s Facetime isn’t available to Android devotees like me.

The Washington Post tested out a bunch, including a new competitor from Facebook, and found that each one has advantages and disadvantages. But the increasingly ubiquitous Zoom, despite some security concerns, was the all-around winner:

No video chat app looked great every time, but one had clear video more often than the others: Skype. The app that helped create the idea of video chats with grandparents is still in the game.

When we held up an eye chart to the camera, Skype made it easiest to read the small type. It’s also what we used to make the video accompanying this column. Just know, its performance demands a lot out of your computer, so you may need to close other apps.

[…]

Membership in the Apple cult — we mean, club — has its privileges. Most of the security pros we spoke with said FaceTime was their go-to of our mainstream options. The problem is, of course, it only works if everyone you need to speak with also has Apple devices.

Group video calls of up to 32 people using FaceTime meet the gold standard of security with end-to-end encryption. That means they can’t be seen or heard by anyone else who might try to intercept them.

[…]

Yep, we’re sticking with Zoom, even after all those security problems — and in part, because of how it responded to them.

Zoom defines much of what we need from a group video conference. It gives you the simplest way to get up to 49 people together on one screen in happy rows of boxes, regardless of whether they have an account or whether they want to use an iPhone, Windows PC, or even an old-fashioned landline. Usually, everyone just has to click one link to get in.

Zoom’s features win the Goldilocks principle, sitting somewhere in between a work app (you can share screens) and a social one (you can turn your background into a Malibu dreamhouse). While it could still do better when participants have poor connections, Zoom’s call quality is good enough across a shockingly wide array of devices. Google’s Meet, a Zoom clone in many respects, never met our threshold for video quality and is utterly bereft of any fun features at all.

Then there’s simplicity. Our families and friends all know how to Zoom. Even after a week, we still can’t quite figure out — or trust — the sharing mechanisms of Facebook’s Rooms. Skype recently added a one-link-to-join option like Zoom, but you can’t use it for a scheduled meeting or put it behind a passcode. Houseparty is fun but requires too much coordination when you actually want to meet someone at a particular time. Apple’s FaceTime needs a rethink for the pandemic era where you can’t expect everyone you need to interact with owns an Apple device.

Of course my preferred video calling app, Google Meet, wasn’t the best in any category. But as someone who uses G Suite, I find that it incorporates the best in my email and calendar.

I seem to be in the minority, though. (Most clients I tell about it have never even heard of it, and Google has not helped its own case by having so many chatting and messaging apps – Duo, Hangouts, Meet – that seem to do pretty much the same thing.) So I guess I’ll have to keep several of these apps on my phone until a clear winner emerges.

Either way, the Post story concludes with a prudent warning about the price of “free”:

…Zoom’s main business is selling video chat software. It’s the only service we tested that you have to pay for after a limited window — $15 per month for calls lasting longer than 40 minutes. But we actually find that reassuring compared to some of its rivals mainly in the advertising and gadget-selling business. We know we sound like a broken record, but remember: If the product is free, that means you’re the product.

“Putting photos of me rolling in money on Facebook when I haven’t paid child support is the best idea I ever had!”

said one “father,” anyway:

Facebook helped the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office charge a wayward father for failing to pay child support.

Christopher Robinson, 23, is facing three felony counts of failure to support his 3-year-old child, according to a complaint filed with the criminal division of the Wisconsin Circuit Court.

The complaint indicates that for three years, Robinson never made any of the required $150 monthlychild support payments.

But pictures that Robinson posted to Facebook that show him posing with cash and bottles of liquor helped the district attorney’s office build a case against him.

Mom of the year

A New York court has ordered a woman to stop posting anything online about her children:

There’s not much to “like” about this woman’s Facebook habits.

A mean upstate mom who cyber-bullied her emotionally-disturbed 10-year-old son on Facebook by calling him an “a—–e” has been banned from posting anything about her kids online.

“Melody M.” told the court she wrote the insult about her son because that’s what “he is,” court documents said.

“Charitably stated, her testimony reflected a lack of insight as to the nature of her conduct toward her oldest child,” an upstate appeals court said Feb. 14.

The court barred Melody from “posting any communications to or about her children on any social network site.”

The court found that Melody used Facebook to “insult and demean the child,” calling him an a—–e, among other things.