Twitter, YouTube, Frontier Justice

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21st Century Frontier Justice

This article was first published as You Tube:Frontier Justice on

I wrote this article for Technorati just before the Weiner story gushed onto the news scene.  This Technorati piece chronicled the instantaneous backlash against Delta Airlines which occurred when they charged American soldiers returning from Afghanistan ridiculous fees for extra luggage.  The justice against the dubious policies of Delta came swiftly because of the immediacy of YouTube. Just weeks before the Weiner thing blew up, stories erupted about the Democrat strategy of using Twitter to activate their base for 2012.  Ironically Twitter became a great Republican strategy, thanks to Weiner and his illicit tweets.  But we all asked ourselves, “What the heck was he thinking.”  It is axiomatic that “if it gets into cyberspace, it will be seen.”  Pictures and videos of reactions to rigorous airline policies, bad behavior, and yes, Weiner’s weiner, will inevitably end up on the front pages of blogs and newspapers everywhere. Republicans (and several women) got their frontier justice when Weiner had to tuck tail and run.  Videos and pictures are irrefutable evidence.  If they’re faked, it will be found out.  Time to behave, be a good citizen, abide the law, and keep your fly closed.

YouTube and other video media have become unlikely players in the 21st Century version of Frontier Justice. They are a swift, effective, and sometimes lethal, form of retribution. Earlier this week a group of American soldiers returning from their service in Afghanistan were charged extra baggage fees of $2800 by Delta Airlines. Tech-savvy young servicemen and women vented their complaints once on board the flight and quickly posted the video venting on YouTube. Within a day the video went “viral”, and within the next 24 hours Delta Airlines, feeling the sting of public backlash, issued an apology to the GIs and has reportedly changed their baggage fees policy for American troops.

Despite Delta’s relatively quick corporate response in favor of the soldiers, a great deal of damage had already been done to their image, and very likely, their bottom line.  Two Army Staff Sergeants, Robert O’Hair and Fred Hilliker, recounted the hardships of their flight home from Afghanistan. They had already endured an 18-hour layover.  In a stroke of counter-PR genius O’Hair spoke of how the contents of his extra baggage, assorted weaponry, were used in Afghanistan to protect the civilians in that country as well as himself and his buddies.  On the video Hilliker added that he loves America. But of Delta Airlines he said sardonically, “Good business model, Delta. Thank you. We’re actually happy to be back to America. God bless America. Not happy, not happy at all. Appreciate it. Thank you.”

These remarks, emotional but restrained, pointed but civil, could not have been more effective had they been scripted by the world’s best marketing and PR firms. This is the power of personal video, taken during or directly following an event of interest or injury, to draw the public in, personally, with passion, and the desire to advocate for those who have been wronged: Frontier Justice.

YouTube and other video media have been the smoking guns in countless cases where personal harm or embarrassment has been incurred through irresponsible or destructive behavior.  More significantly, it has been the catalyst for change in corporate and government behavior.  The backlash against ACORN happened as a result of videos uploaded by James O’Keefe, a self-styled investigator who uncovered widespread corruption and misuse of public funds.  Acorn was shortly thereafter defunded by the United States Congress, and fell into disrepute.

The immediacy of YouTube and other video media creates a perfect venue for those who lack the patience for the cumbersome and protracted processes of the legal system. Not since the Frontier Justice of the Old West has there been a form of redress so swift, so effective, and often, so satisfying as making public the video evidence of bad, or misguided people and corporations, doing bad things.

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