Anti-social distancing: The darker side of a remote world, from execution orders to digital governance
The coronavirus pandemic has dragged the world kicking and screaming into an unprecedented era of social distancing, with videoconferencing only thing connecting us. But it too has entered some pretty macabre territory of late.
As governments the world over seek to curb the spread of the coronavirus, asking (mostly) compliant citizens to stay in their homes, wash their hands religiously and wear masks (or not, depending on the latest guidelines issued in a given week), the videoconferencing market has exploded, with one platform emerging as the leading force – Zoom.
Zoom now dominates the world of remote work, distance education and socializing.
However, like Facebook and Twitter before it, Zoom has found itself in uncharted waters, facilitating operations within society that its founders couldn’t possibly have predicted.
Execution ordered via zoom
A 37-year-old Malaysian man was sentenced to death in Singapore for his role in a heroin deal back in 2011, marking the first time capital punishment was handed down remotely, in a grim sign of the times.
The accused's lawyer, Peter Fernando, did not object to the use of video-conferencing to deliver the verdict, as no other legal arguments remained to be made and it was merely a formality, which was clearly audible.
Meanwhile a court in Texas is due to hold the first remote jury trial via Zoom. The case is an insurance dispute where the judge has already live-streamed the jury selection process via YouTube.
The jury will hear an abbreviated version of the case, before delivering a non-binding verdict in the lawsuit against State Farm for not paying out for property damage incurred during a 2017 storm.
Although this will be the first jury trial to take place via a videoconferencing platform, civil cases have been heard elsewhere in the US using Zoom.
Rule by remote
Politicians were among the first to be forced to distance themselves from each other. Everyone from the G7, to the British Parliament, to the Argentinian Congress has taken to conducting state business via video conferencing, facing a plethora of technical glitches and security breaches.
G7 held online, unprecedented but unsurprisingly amid a pandemic pic.twitter.com/PnCoLAe9Wx— Alvin Lum (@alvinllum) March 16, 2020
A taste of what we're in for tomorrow. https://t.co/IrdUYFzN9h— Rachel Aiello (@rachaiello) April 27, 2020
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson published his cabinet’s Zoom ID number online for all to see, while the South African parliament was ‘zoombombed’ by an unscrupulous hacker who made racially and sexually abusive comments while flashing various pornographic images, forcing the meeting to be postponed.Also on rt.com Sticky situation: S. African virtual parliament session Zoom-bombed with PORN
Too much information
However, it doesn’t always take a malicious actor to disrupt top-level digital proceedings. It can be simple acts of carelessness, as was the case in a meeting chaired by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro with several high-ranking business leaders, one of whom decided to shower during the teleconference but neglected to switch off his camera.
Indeed, many world leaders have struggled with ambient noise courtesy of a disgruntled cat or failed to grasp the basic functionality of their laptop’s microphone – not the best way to win the confidence of an anxious public.
Melhor imagem do dia. Votação remota do estado de calamidade, no Senado. Mostra o uso inteligente da tecnologia para a democracia; mostra que o Congresso pode seguir trabalhando em temas centrais e que é possível produzir consensos em meio à crise pic.twitter.com/6IMfGUCzMG— Fernando Schüler (@fernandoschuler) March 20, 2020
Life, Love and Death via Zoom
As Zoom ostensibly makes remote living easier during the pandemic, it also makes modern life more isolated, impersonal and atomized than ever before, regardless of tech companies’ claims to the contrary. From weddings attended remotely to socially distanced, half-empty funerals, with the majority of family and friends prevented from attending by government-mandated lockdowns, their only recourse is to log in and share some digital condolences.
In a world that was already witnessing vast divides along social, economic and political lines, the boundaries between us have been expanded even further and seemingly to the detriment of our mental health and social wellbeing through government-mandated isolation, which has been accepted as the grim “new normal.” Many even fear a spike in suicide rates, but the (digital) jury is still out on whether the ghoulish predictions will come true.
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