Alabama Kicker Cade Foster Gets Death Tweets

It’s almost de rigueur at this point.  Somebody pisses off a group of people who reach for their keyboards and let slip the doggerel of wrath in the form of assault by Twitter.  This holiday weekend, the target of death threats was Alabama football kicker Cade Foster and family, following his poor performance in the Iron Bowl against Auburn.  Foster wasn’t even the kicker who missed the final 57-yard field goal attempt, impressively caught and run back 109 yards for a game winning touchdown by Auburn’s Chris Davis.  According to reports, it was Foster’s three missed attempts earlier in the game that predicated tweets instructing Foster to die, kill himself, hoping his mother gets raped, etc.  By Sunday, however, I think it’s fair to say the “system” worked as fellow team members, fans, and just users in general rallied in a show of support for Foster that more than outweighed the attacks and seems to have quickly silenced the reactionary authors of the nasty tweets.

It’s easy to ask the question as to whether or not social media like Twitter helps bring out people’s worst natures, and I have certainly criticized this kind of behavior in the past; but the trend itself begs the question whether or not it has any socially redeeming value.  In this episode of the Freakonomics podcast, Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt propose the idea that “virtual mayhem might reduce actual mayhem” by giving particularly young men 1) something to do; and 2) a means to vent their latent rage.  Specifically, the Freakonomics partners are talking about video games, suggesting that if adolescent and 20-something males are occupied with anything (like babies with busy-boxes) they simply don’t have as much time or incentive to get into trouble.  Turning to the topic of online behavior, however, Dubner proposes the same net social gain that real violence might be diminished by letting people rant even violently online.  Levitt counters, though, that online rants can be as hurtful as some physical violence (in fact they have led to physical violence) and he suggests that in virtual space these behaviors usually persist and consume real discourse in contrast to a heckler in a live audience who is more likely to be told to sit down.

I’m glad to see that in the case of Cade Foster, the audience seems to have told the hecklers to sit down.

© 2013, David Newhoff. All rights reserved.

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2 comments

  • Whilst it’s tempting to think that raging online is overall safer than raging in the streets, I do have my doubts.

    Expanding on Levitt’s point, brought up above: things usually tend to get nasty when the heckler finds himself in a group of like-minded individuals. I’m not sure whether football (or any other American sport) results in the kind of stadium violence that soccer is associated with here in Europe, but I do know the reason for football (European) hooliganism is that the hooligans are organised and numerous.

    People are at their worst when they’re in the crowd and on the Internet you can always find a crowd to be in. Moreover, online crowds tend to hang around for longer than offline ones, since you can participate from the comfort of your own home.

    On a related note, I read about a study that supposedly shows one’s cognitive powers go down when one spends time with other people – mostly through conformity and group pressure. I certainly feel that way every time I have a dekko at Reddit, for example. One of the “wonders” of congregating online is that while in meatspace you’d be constrained by the company that is in the general vicinity (which may have a mollifying, if not uplifting effect), on the Internet you have ready access to your fellow troglodytes of choice.

    I propose a rule of thumb: if anyone proposes any way in which the Internet is a huge benefit to humanity, it’s safe to assume that the actual situation is the complete opposite.

    • There’s no question, Faza, that this kind of behavior draws strength from a mob like a hurricane needs moisture, but the Twitter death threat is also an odd thing to me. An observer of a thread sees a mob, and repeated tweeters join a mob; but I’m baffled by the guy who taps out his first tweet before he’s even aware of that mob. Y’know, the game just ended, he’s angry that his team lost, he blames this poor kicker, and he’s just gotta grab the phone and tap out “Go die motherfucker!” before he can move on with his life. If that guy’s alone in that moment, his behavior truly baffles me. Okay, mostly baffles me.

      As for your study, it sounds like a formalization of what Sartre already said in “No Exit.” Admittedly, though, I have to say that the comments on this blog are an exception.

      Cheers!

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