Last year at this time, I was grabbing a quiet evening in front of the TV, catching up on mail and bantering with friends on a couple of social media networks. Both of my sons were out, and one would be picking up the other no doubt long after I’d gone to sleep.
While not a huge participant of social media on any kind of steady basis, I find Twitter can be useful if you have a healthy feed of things that interest you. For me, that’s a lot of news organizations, and I can grab headlines at a glance from around the world.
On that evening last year, something else quickly invaded the stream. People were posting on Twitter where Ontario RIDE (Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere) random checkpoints were located. Others were posting where other provinces had similar programs set up.
On Twitter, if you want a subject to travel farther, faster – to make it trend – you develop a hashtag for it. That “#” symbol, as in #RIDE, for instance, made it easier for drinkers to avoid the locations that might see their licence suspended for 24 hours. (In Ontario, drivers with a BAC of 0.05 to 0.08 receive an immediate suspension.) Another tag simply read #avoidifhammered. Nothing wrecks a night of drinking and slapping yourself behind the wheel like getting busted for it, so I’m sure it was handy to be able to just whip out your phone and plot your way home. Why do I reprint those hashtags here? Because last year, they were quickly co-opted by vigilantes from the other side, who flooded each tag as it was discovered with their own messages.
As those who were posting locations were steadily outed (this is the internet, after all; you can run, but do you seriously think you can hide?), some turtled back under their rocks, but others proudly declared they were only aiding people in avoiding traffic tie ups. I find that a darling explanation and I applaud that all the goodwill t’ward men stuff lasted past the cranberry sauce and fruitcake.
I’m invariably a live and live type, but the dark side of this troubles me a great deal. There’s a payoff somewhere in there for people who do this. As a kid, I used to think those men yelling “anyone selling tickets?” outside a stadium were looking for people selling tickets. Of course I soon discovered they were scalpers, and they were the ones selling tickets for crazy prices. They were hollering lies, but they were doing it for money. For those hollering checkpoints, what’s the currency? Getting even with the cops? I’d rather cops pull someone over than scrape someone up.
What’s the payoff for people helping drunks to drive? Do satisfied customers deposit $20 to some Pen Pal account? In my area, the RIDE programs post their stats after the holidays. Will these angels of anarchy do the same? Will I be able to see a telethon-like listing of how many drunks were assisted home safe into their jammies, car in the driveway instead of an impound?
I think of unaware kids strapped into cars with parents who are sure they’re just fine. I think of passengers trapped with a driver they are too intimidated by to argue with. I think of my sons out there, and all the other parents who join me waiting for that car to finally pull in. Being too precious, you think? I had a boyfriend killed by a drunk over 30 years ago. Watching my kids cycle through that age just refreshes it all.
As I write this, the RIDE program has started, though I haven’t seen the anti-RIDE Twitter program kick in. I’m sure it will; this is Canada and you’re free to pretty much say what you want, when you want. I value this freedom very much, actually. I will even defend your right to reach down, way down, to scratch the underbelly of whatever immoral itch it is you have to counter public safety and common decency – because you have the right to.
But do me a favour: if you’re so adamant that what you’re doing is right, then put your name on it. Own that decision you’re making that might cost someone a life. Don’t hide behind an avatar or cut and run if you get outed. Hell, don’t bother waiting to be outed. Be bold and brave and declare yourself a proud proponent of helping out your fellow man; I just want to be able to thank you, in the same spirit, for any drunks that slip the net and hurt or kill somebody.
All you’re doing is assisting people in avoiding traffic tie ups, right?