Social media tells story of friend’s terrifying ordeal, racially profiled on 9/11


It all started around 1 p.m. with a simultaneous tweet and Facebook post:

Stuck on a plane at Detroit airport…cops everywhere

The day was Sept. 11, 2011, the 10 year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and the post was by my friend and BTW, WTF?!?! blogging partner Shoshana Hebshi. I saw it in my “Top News” feed on Facebook. Worried for Shoshana’s safety and a bit curious, I clicked to her profile page, where I found four more updates, freshly posted:

A little concerned about this situation. Plane moved away from terminal surrounded by cops. Crew is mum. Passengers can’t get up.

Cops in uniform and plainclothes in a huddle in rear of plane.

I see stairs coming our way…yay!

Majorly armed cops coming aboard

And that’s where the posts stopped. Quickly scrambling the Internet, I found a developing news story stating that there were reports of “suspicious” behavior on a plane that had landed at Detroit Metro and passengers were being removed. So at 2:55 p.m. I commented on Shoshana’s page:

hoping you are among them

But I had this sinking feeling she wasn’t.  Perhaps it was because she hadn’t updated her status in quite some time. Perhaps it was because she hadn’t responded to the hundreds of concerned comments pouring in from her friends on her Facebook page. It was a  social media cliffhanger …

Soshana’s husband posted an update on Facebook around 7 p.m.:

Dudes, Shosh was racially profiled and arrested. Dragged off the plane in handcuffs and taken to a cell. Her crime? The color of her skin. 

And that’s how I learned through social media that one of the most peaceful, friendly people I know — a mother, wife, friend, journalist and American citizen — was stripped of her personal liberties and freedoms, simply because her half-Arab (half-Jewish) skin color lumped her among the “suspicious.”

Today Shoshana described her ordeal on her personal blog. She explained how she and two Indian passengers were handcuffed by heavily armed officers, dragged from Frontier Airlines Flight 623, then spent the next few hours locked up, strip searched, and questioned by Homeland Security.

The link (Some real Shock and Awe: Racially profiled and cuffed in Detroit) quickly spread like wildfire on Facebook and Twitter, through IM, and onto other blogs, with friends, family, friends of friends, and strangers posting and reposting it. And around 6p.m. tonight, an editor at The Las Vegas Sun texted me that an AP story on the incident, (which Shoshana links to in her blog), was the No. 2 Top Read Story on their website, behind a story on Ellen DeGeneres.

With the help of social media, Shoshana’s story went viral!

So after a day-and-a-half engrossed in each step of my pal’s ordeal through the world of social media, I did something totally uncanny. I logged out of Facebook, turned off my computer, took a break from texting, and picked up the telephone.

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Web 3.0

Posted by S.

Change is afoot. We are gradually heading into a media-centric society. Though we are well into the information age and the digital age, we have not yet transformed completely into dutiful robots, tuned in only to our hand-held devices.

Chang is a-coming, however. Watch for social networking feeds and status updates to appear in Google searches. Watch for changes in the way Facebook and Twitter are used. Watch out to not lose yourself in the midst of the uploading, downloading, posting, updating and texting. There may be more to life than pixels. Maybe. Maybe not.

It could be the revolution we’ve all been waiting for.

On a fictional wall in cyber space

I enjoyed Shoshana’s post on Stories from the Heartland about “Christmas Card” friends (you know, the ones who you only correspond with via holiday cards). It’s strange and a bit sad to admit how many people in my life have become relegated to an annual address label and postage stamp.

I suppose sending a card takes at least a little more effort than merely approving a Facebook friend request and posting some random, whimiscal and/or witty nonsense on a fictional wall in cyber space. On Facebook, I am friends with my first childhood crush, my high school nemesis and my college roommate. I am also friends with three hotels, a slew of Las Vegas-based PR folk whom I only know by name, an Indian restaurant and The Simpsons (as in the animated FOX series).  Is it just me, or has the definition of “friend” becoming watered down in this age of social networking?

In reality, I only count a handful of people among my closest friends, (that’s not including family). Sometimes I make the hasty mistake of counting the fingers on my second hand, but it usually doesn’t take long before those fingers fold back down into a hypothetical fist.

Facebook is a non-commital — a.k.a. lazy — way to keep in touch with people, not to be confused with actual face-to-face relationships. It is really not that different from the concept of selling yourself during real-life networking or at a high school reunion. On Facebook, as in life, we only show other people what we want them to see (and in some cases, that’s TMI). But on Facebook, you have the convenience of a “delete” button and the option not to post — a filter we don’t always have on a day to day basis. Don’t even get me started on the voyeuristic side of Facebook …

Not to say that it isn’t worthwhile, fun and occasionally a good way to pass time. I’ve certainly had my share of good Scrabble challenges and some enjoyable conversations. Also, having skipped my 10 year high school reunion,  Facebook has happily helped me to reunite, reconnect and reconcile with certain ghosts from the past I never thought I’d hear from again.

I think of it sort of like therapy, only much cheaper.

Jackson dies, internet wins

The results are in on our Michael Jackson poll with the majority of our readers learning about the pop star’s death online.

Forthy-three percent of voters learned the news through an internet news source such as TMZ, or Yahoo! This is followed by 29 percent who heard the news through other outlets (including television and instant messenger). Finally, Facebook and Twitter were tied at 14 percent.

Other than voters who chose television, pretty much everyone heard the news online. Not one person in our poll read it in the newspaper or heard it on the radio.

If Jackson had died in the middle of the night, would the results be different? What about in other countries? We did receive a tweet from a chap in Melbourne, Australia who, because of the time difference, woke up to hear about  MJ’s death on the morning news.

Since the Gloved One’s passing took place in the middle of the American work day, when the majority of American workers were sitting in front of a computer,  it seems only natural that most Americans would hear about it online. This is particularly true given the immediacy of the internet, and the ease of texting, e-mailing and sharing links.

So what does that say about newspapers? How can they keep up and stay relevant when the internet always beats them to the punch? If newspapers don’t adapt to this reality and find new, more in depth ways to present information, they will sadly continue down the path to extinction they are already on.