Viral Shares and Likes.I put off writing this post for months, because I found the April news item so profoundly disturbing.  But as I reflect on the past year, now that 2016 has finally come to a close, it strikes me that one detail of this news story metaphorically captures a deep and troubling problem in our technology-fueled, dysfunctional relationship with information.

On February 27, in Columbus, Ohio, 18 year-old Marina Lonina used Twitter’s Periscope app on her phone to live-stream the rape of a 17 year-old high school friend.  The live video lasted at least 10 minutes, with no sign of Lonina doing anything of consequence to help her friend.  It took someone viewing live in another state to notify the authorities.

This is not a post about how crimes are increasingly captured through live streaming apps like Periscope.  Instead, what makes this story so chilling is the explanation for why Lonina didn’t try to stop the rape, while her friend was heard repeatedly saying “Please stop,” and “Please no.”

As reported by the New York Times, “Mr. O’Brien, the prosecutor, said Ms. Lonina had apparently hoped that live-streaming the attack would help to stop it, but that she became enthralled by positive feedback online.”  According to the prosecutor, “She got caught up in the likes.”

It’s easy to dismiss all of this with righteous outrage and disgust.  In the crucial moment, a teenager’s twisted enchantment with real-time, technology-delivered, crowd-sourced approval apparently overwhelmed any sense of decency, or of right and wrong.  Surely this phenomenon has nothing to do with us.

Or does it?

We spent 2016 experiencing a presidential election campaign like none other:

  • The media spent most of the campaign knee-jerk-reacting to a blizzard of unsubstantiated charges and countercharges (usually of the 140 character-variety, and many bot-driven) that fed approval to our beliefs, rather than focusing on actual policy issues.
  • We were collectively mesmerized by rolling disclosures of hacked DNC e-mails, and by rumors about what the next batch might reveal, again, delivering validation to our beliefs (ironically, the physiologist father of classical conditioning theory, Dr. Pavlov, was Russian).  If RNC e-mails had been Wikileaked, the frenzied reflex likely would have been similar.
  • We were gullibly snookered by rampant fake news that aligned with our beliefs.  My Democrat friends may gloat to my Republican friends over Buzzfeed’s reporting that Clinton voters were found less likely than Trump voters to believe fake news, but this misses a broader point. The underlying study also found that more than half of both Clinton supporters and Trump supporters believed that fake news stories in the study were very or somewhat accurate.

In short, regardless of political party, in 2016 we allowed a flood of technology-delivered, inaccurate or inconsequential information to crowd out what could have been sober consideration of whom to elect to the most powerful position in the world.

The siren call of Internet-delivered information also continued to intrude upon our own business and personal lives in 2016.  How many times in an important meeting, or while driving, did we find ourselves inexorably drawn to our devices, for fear of missing out on the latest message/tweet/post?

As it turns out, information governance is like time management – we can’t actually manage time, but we can manage our use of it.  It’s not simply information that we need to govern – it’s us too.  So here’s to 2017 – the new year in which we take back control over how we use information … and hopefully, ourselves.