Edward Snowden and Justin Bieber share a number of similarities: they are both famous, polarizing and on the TSA’s radar as potentially troublesome globetrotters. Whether through pro-active efforts to make themselves heard, or because they are influential household names playing a role in shaping the future of society, they both exist ubiquitously across news media. Articles that feature either of their names regularly rank as the most read, most shared, and most commented across all categories.
This week Bieber is in the news because of a murkily detailed confrontation with Orland Bloom, during which Bloom might have punched Bieber in the face. Snowden, on the other hand, is in the news because of a recently released report that claims to have incontrovertible evidence that his whistleblowing has directly impacted Al-Qaeda’s methods of encrypting data.
Whether or not Bieber was punched, how hard he was punched, or who started the confrontation that led to the punching is less interesting than the immediately viral growth of this pseudo-story. While “Beliebers” – defined by the Urban Dictionary as huge Justin Bieber fans – almost universally take the side of their eponymous namesake, the majority of global citizens that view Bieber as something other than the second coming of Christ have sided with Bloom. Herein lies the interest.
What has caused this story to go viral is in large part related to the inherent quality of any story that forces readers to choose sides. Choosing sides naturally builds an emotional connection between the reader and the story. Now the reader has a team. Now the reader has a vested interest. Now the reader wants to follow future developments and ensure victory for their patron. This same dynamic is core to yet another similarity between Bieber and Snowden. They are both magnets for emotionally driven team-picking.
What Snowden did was unquestionably illegal. Many people argue that the more pertinent question, however, is: was it immoral? Al Gore opined on the issue during an interview with Pando Daily’s Sarah Lacy during the Southland Tech Conference in Nashville. After first noting that it was overly simplistic to look at the data leak in black and white terms, Gore took off the paranoid political hat donned during his campaign for the presidency and offered a beautifully apolitical opinion. The constitutional breaches so pervasive throughout the U.S. Government’s “snooping activities” were an incomparably larger issue than whether or not Edward Snowden effectively exhausted all legal channels within the CIA’s organizational structure to report what he felt were illegal activities.
Snowden, like Bieber, forces people to choose a side. Some argue that breaking the law is universally “bad,” therefore, Snowden is a guilty traitor. Others argue that laws themselves can be innately immoral, and reference examples of extremist Sharia laws that result in women being stoned or raped if they marry for love rather than acquiesce to their parent’s arranged marriages. What is not arguable, however, is the strong evolution-driven pull to form an opinion on what should happen to Snowden. This emotional investment, this forced team-picking, is one of the primary factors that drives virality across any news piece talking about Snowden. It seems then, that Edward Snowden and Justin Bieber do share a collage of similarities.
Opinion by Benjamin A. Buchanan