The Cycle of Outrage Culture

It's been about a week now of ups and downs with the Ahmed the Clockmaker story. A young 14-year-old took an LED clock assembled inside a small case to school to show his engineering teacher. Fairly innocent, right? Until the clock beeped in English class and the English teacher upon seeing the circuitry decided it looked like a bomb. Fair enough, it looked a bit iffy in that case, but it did have a major design flaw to be a bomb: a critical lack of anything explosive attached to it. Principal got involved, police got involved, a clock became a "hoax bomb" and an excited kid was expelled for four days.

Now here's the truly impressive and interesting part of the modern construct of outrage culture, where news stories get 120 characters to get to the point and where every response is immediate. There's no time or space for facts, and thus only emotional knee-jerk emotions get through. This is not the fault of social media per se, I would rather say that it is more the fault of people demanding snappy headlines in favour of actual news. A story about a Muslim adolescent getting expelled for four days got riled up into a storm by social media, and then escalated by news outlets who are desperately clinging to try and report on the fast fluctuations of social media.

Ahmed got invites to the White House, Universities, Facebook; he received computer parts from Microsoft. The four day detention became a matter of race, equality, human decency, and ultimately a grab of corporations to seem human. I don't fault them, they were trying to stay on top of the upswing of media attention, and the fact that the kid seemed to be oppressed in this case was definitely a plus. Good job looking human. Ahmed made a public speech about wanting to keep on making and thanking people for support. Soon after, a backlash started picking up momentum.

Right now on the imgur frontpage, someone has posted a .gif of someone dismantling an ordinary LED clock and showing that Ahmed's clock was thus a hoax the whole time. It wasn't. It was stated the whole time by news outlets that this was either a LED clock kit that he put together, or a clock that he took apart and put back together, depending on which outlet you read. On social media, this fact never came across on most people. Hell, even Dawkins is questioning the kid's motives now! What is going on in this world?

We need to encourage young kids to make things, experiment, and live a life of questioning both social constructs as well as natural laws. This is the way science works, this is the way our society adapts and evolves. To have an adolescent boy raised up onto a pedestal, worshipped for two days as a hero and then jackhammering down that pillar because he doesn't somehow deserve being a hero for two days, is absurd. He brought a clock to school, we as a collective raised him up into some kind of a symbol. He is not at fault for the cycle of outrage in this case, and everyone now outraged at him for having some ulterior motives should be ashamed of themselves.

People get treated unfairly. Our job is to latch on to that, figure out the source of that problem and change it for the better. When we personalize the problem into a single person, we are only hampering ourselves.