The Weird Underworld of Twitter’s Trial Watchers

On March 11, 2015 thesleepwalking” trial of Joseph Mitchell ended in an acquittal. Mitchell, from Durham, killed his son in 2010 during a parasomnia episode. Because it was such a bizarre case, the entire trial was live-streamed on local news websites.

I followed the case closely because my dad was Mitchell’s lawyer and the Fergusons support each other (at least until I picked up crochet and no one complimented me.)

So I followed Twitter with the #JosephMitchell hashtag. And that’s when I found them. The bizarre, baffling community of trial watchers – people who watch live streams of trials and tweet about it.

The most puzzling thing about trial watchers is that they actually watch trials. For the most part, trial proceedings are agonizingly boring – they’re full of confusing law jargon, long breaks and lame witness questions.  But these people watch them. Why? Who are you people? Why? Seriously, why?

From my research most of the trial watchers are middle-aged white women who obviously don’t work because they watch trials all day. Their bios read things like: “Mother, grandmother, wife, trial watcher. Love my two dogs!” and stupid stuff like that.

Here are a few links to some trial watchers I came across while following the Joseph Mitchell trial:

I encourage you to click on all of them to give you an idea of what the trial-watching community is like. And it is a community, they discuss trial proceedings among themselves, offering their opinions, asking where to find live streams. And that’s all they tweet about. It’s just so odd.

Following the Joseph Mitchell trial on Twitter and discovering the trial-watching cult was eye-opening, mystifying and at times disturbing.

Looking back on my teenage deliquency

When I was 6 I stole a fuzzy pen from Party City. Without a disposable income I was left to rely on my mother, who, when asked, said I could not buy the pen. Bypassing the law, I took the pink pen, ready to embark on a life of crime.

Before we left the parking lot my mom realized what I had done (it was my first heist, what can I say?) and I had to go in, give the pen back and apologize. There I was: a tiny, budding kleptomaniac.

1999 Mugshot
1999 Mugshot

It could’ve stopped there. I could’ve had my one-day crime spree and chosen a quiet life in the country. But  I discovered file-sharing websites. And the ruffian was reborn.

It all started innocently enough, with CDs shared among middle school friends and downloaded onto everyone’s desktops. Alas the CDs weren’t enough, they couldn’t satisfy my need for music (aka my need to impress other people with how much alternative music I knew.) Babysitting money and hostessing couldn’t pay the bills, so I turned to the internet and the formidable, omnipresent file-sharing websites.

I downloaded a lot of music. I downloaded individual songs, full albums, even audio books (what? never heard of a nerdy criminal?). That being said, I don’t know that my downloading was unusual. Most of my friends did it, and it was so spread out over time that I’m sure I would be shocked if I heard how much I’ve actually downloaded.

Since the rise of Spotify and Pandora, I’ve put the life of crime behind me. But our recent discussions about the future of music and how music is disseminated has made me wonder about this decade or so, in which illegal sharing dominated the music industry.

Really I’m wondering why I did it. I consider my moral compass fairly straight (sun rises in the north, sets in the south, etc), so why did I steal from people? What I’ve got is this: it’s a cost-benefit analysis in which the benefit is clear (free music) and the costs are vague and misunderstood.

The argument I had as a teenager was that I was downloading music from artists who didn’t need the money, and prosecuting downloaders was so resource-training for authorities that being fined, or even noticed, would be nearly impossible.

The first part of that argument is easy to shoot down – not all the money from music sales goes to rich people, artists work hard to create their music and deserve compensation, and most importantly – capitalism.

I’m not sure about the second part of the argument because I have no idea how illegal file-sharing is monitored or prosecuted. Is it a felony? Is there a statute of limitations? How do they find you? Could you go to jail? Does it matter how much you download? Do authorities know who offenders are but just choose not to prosecute? What happens when recording companies get involved and take matters into their own hands? Will they kill me? I have a lot of questions and no answers. And that’s a problem because when we can’t see the consequences, we assume there are none.

But I still want that pen.

Seriously, SeaWorld?

Here’s a tip for all social media users: when you’re embroiled in conflict, don’t open the floor for discussion.

It seems obvious. Controversial figures walk on eggshells with the public. Their words are calculated, careful and don’t encourage the public’s probing.

If SeaWorld could get their heads above water they probably would’ve realized this. Instead, they decided to make waves with this week’s PR Face Palm – the Ask SeaWorld campaign and #AskSeaWorld hashtag.

The infamous theme park has been at the center of controversy since 2013’s Blackfish, a documentary about Tilikum, a SeaWorld orca, and the other captive whales. The documentary woke up the public and SeaWorld was left reeling, with plummeting stocks and low attendance.

orca31

I know what you’re thinking: “SeaWorld has so much money they’ll hire a great PR firm and calm the waters of public outrage.” That’s what I thought too. And then we got the #AskSeaWorld campaign.

Mashable collected some of the best tweetsThey are sharp, smart and scathing zingers. I love it. My favorite is this one:

shamu

Mic drop.

When SeaWorld was mum, Twitter users created a #AnswerTheQ hashtag. SeaWorld decided to take the high road, saying most of these tweets were from bots or crazy PETA people.

“A full 70 percent of the questions thus far have come from PETA and other animal rights groups or bots.” 

And then they condemned Twitter activists by saying this:

“It’s unfortunate that these people would try to drown out thoughtful and honest answers by flooding social media with repeated questions and troll account.”

Drown?

DROWN?

DROWN? Like what your captive whales do to their trainers because you mistreat them????

For lack of better words, I CAN’T EVEN.

Seaworld: fire whoever created that disaster, and #EmptyTheTanks while you’re at it.

Katherine’s Scientific Guide to Photo-Sharing Platforms

Overview:

Facebook: you see them all

Instagram: you see the best

Twitter: you see pictures of things I think are funny (I don’t upload any real pictures here.)


Example: I was a bridesmaid in a wedding on Friday. At weddings, cameras are on crack. Cameras on phones, video cameras, fancy DSLR cameras, people staring at you like they’re taking a picture, etc.

The wedding party took pictures outside The Carolina Theater in Durham. We were out there for at least an hour and we got every combination of poses possible. Individual bridesmaids, bridesmaid with bride, everyone together, everyone spread out artsy kind of. But hundreds and hundreds of pictures (all ruined by me blinking).

And then the photographers take behind-the-scenes photos of us getting ready and then before we walk down the aisle, etc. (There are lots of etc’s here).

And then someone filmed the whole thing from the balcony.

And then the reception was just a cesspool of camera phones.

I took 2 pictures the whole day. One was a selfie of me and the bride smiling. The other was a selfie of us thuggin’ it. Because no one does thug better than two middle-class white girls.

I instgrammed the thug picture.

mar

It was the best I had. And I’m sure I’ll instagram my favorite when the wedding photographer gets off her ass* and gets those pictures back to us.

Because that’s what Instagram is for, it’s for the highlights. The best photo you have, the one that most encapsulates the beauty or emotion of a place or event. It’s the top dog on your camera roll. So you slap on a filter to hide your paleness, tack on a wedding hashtag and post!

But Facebook is different. Facebook has albums. Uploaders use less discretion. Instead of a couple of the best photos on the big day, a Facebook album would show all the captured moments. Not every picture taken, but every moment captured.

And I just tweet for the J’s (jokes).

Summary:

1) not every photo-sharing platform is created (or used) equally 

2) Someone loves me enough to make me a bridesmaid.


*She was actually very nice and professional and it’s only been 3 days.

Make A Difference with Indiegogo

I’m doing this Indiegogo for a new phone. Trying to spread the word. This is how to raise money in 2015.

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/a-new-iphone-6-for-katherine-ferguson/x/10222632

UPDATE: March 22, 2015

I’m afraid my Indiegogo campaign for a new phone has plateaued.

Here are my donations so far:

  • $50 from an anonymous donor (me)
  • $11 from a family friend who said, “so shameless I couldn’t help but contribute”
  • $1 from my friend Robert
  • $10 from my friend Maria
  • $10 from my friend Lauryn
  • $10 from friend Zach
  • $50 from my dad (he owed me money anyway)

So a total of $142. Which leaves me a hefty chunk short of my $650 goal. I don’t see any more significant contributors so I’m going to hang up my Indiegogo cap.

I posted it on my Facebook. Two people shared it, 30 people liked it and there were about 20 comments. On Twitter I shared it and it got a couple of measly favorites. BUT MY CAMPAIGN HAS 3,986 VISITS! PEOPLE SAY CAPS LOCK IS LIKE YELLING SO IT’S OKAY BECAUSE I’M YELLING BECAUSE I’M SO POPULAR!!!

All caps aside, it was interesting to try crowdfunding. I have mixed feelings about crowdfunding, depending on the campaign. It’s awesome for charity or community programs. But then there are campaigns for people who just need money. Like this tech journalist who won’t be published and has bills to pay: http://www.gofundme.com/CrawleyFund. What the hell, Kim? And what’s that photo filter called, Death Knocking?

Even though Kim is an irritating whiner, crowdfunding has done a lot of good and it shows the immense power of social networks. For instance, Brandon, the famously famous Humans of New York Facebook page (remind me to write about that later) occasionally finds someone on the street and the person is randomly inspiring and Brandon starts a GoFundMe and like 25% of all Internet users send him their bank account numbers.

Here’s the original post: https://www.facebook.com/humansofnewyork/photos/a.102107073196735.4429.102099916530784/865948056812629/

And then this happened: https://life.indiegogo.com/fundraisers/let-s-send-kids-to-harvard/x/10222632

And the kid got to meet Ellen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B6idxd3nDwc

Like it or not (and all in all you should like it) online crowdfunding is here to stay and it’s revolutionizing the way we communicate causes, utilize our social networks, and raise and spend money.

The Watch Isn’t A Bad Apple

Stop harping on how you think Apple Watch will suck. It’s personally annoying me.

The watch is a first generation. Apple didn’t just wake up and create the perfect product. They created products and constantly improved upon them. Business Insider made this list of “failed” Apple products, but these were part of the process – they told Apple what consumers like and inspired future (very, very) successful devices.

Take portable music:

Earlier there was this:

https://i0.wp.com/cdn1.epictimes.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/WALKMAN1.jpg

Then, in 2001, the iPod came. And now we don’t even use iPod because our phones have music.

Should I talk about the computer?

https://katherineferg.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/0dcef-csirac.jpg?w=605

Technology is about evolution, it’s not an instantaneous bolt of enlightenment. Just because it’s a product doesn’t mean it’s a finished product.

“Ya jerks”

The older generation bemoaning the digitalization of news finally has a youthful ally – an 8-year-old boy in Bloomington, Indiana. He’s being lauded by AARP newspaper subscribers as a hero. The boy left a voicemail for The Herald Times in Bloomington, Indiana berating editor Bob Zaltsberg for cutting out some of his favorite comics. The voicemail is raw, passionate and includes language I learned in high school.

Here was his list of demands:

Ziggy, Close to Home, Garfield, Frank and Ernest, Peanuts, Garfield (again), Dilbert, Nancy (then his mom gave some other lame requests from the background),  Peanuts (again), Garfield (for the 3rd time), Close to Home (again). Then his dad says, “You don’t care about Doonesbury do you?” Not so fast, dad. Doonesbury makes the list at the last minute.

He closed with an ultimatum (kind of): “I’ll give you all my money, if you just give us it back. Idiots, jerks, shitholes…shitholes.”

*Mic drop”

On its surface, the voicemail is hilarious because it features a kid cussing and it’s a scientific fact that society finds it funny when children, grandmothers above 75 and middle-school teachers, curse.

But on another level the voicemail is priceless because it’s so unexpected. I’m sure the editors expected a quiet comics transition with mild email backlash. Instead, the editor got owned by an 8-year-old and now everyone knows Bloomington’s newspaper changed their comic strips.

I do think this boy is an anomaly. Not only because he calls people shitholes, but because he reads the printed comics. After he reads the comics he probably hops on his Schwinn (without a helmet) and rides down to the soda parlor before the ice cream truck rolls by his cul-de-sac.

It’s funny to us because we don’t expect children to like comics anymore. At least not printed comics. You can Google “Dilbert” and the day’s comic comes up. How easy is that?

We’re constantly harping on how children these days are screen-addicted, lazy little shitholes. But times are different. Children do spend more time in front of screen, they have their own iPad Minis, but that’s because they’re future people.

Which makes it all the more funny when someone born in the 21st century gets so worked up about the back page of a newspaper.