Opinion

Farah Stockman

Dylann Roof’s black Facebook friends

We’re still trying to comprehend a twisted mind that thought up something as evil as gunning down innocent people in a church. But here’s a glimpse into his psyche: Dylann Roof – the suspect – seemed to have had two kinds of “friends” on Facebook: cute high school girls who didn’t give him the time of day, and black guys who aspire to be hip-hop artists.

His Facebook page has since been removed. But before it was taken down, I combed through the list of 81 “friends” to see if anyone could tell me anything about him. I couldn’t help but notice that Roof had a penchant for befriending black people who post over-the-top photos: One of his “friends” was a self-described rapper with a mouth full of gold teeth and a stack of $100 bills. Another worked at “X-Rated Mafia Records.” A third was a young black woman who posted numerous pictures of male genitalia, accompanied by belittling comments.

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I can only imagine what a racist mind makes of those photographs, and the intimate chatter that strangers can witness — out of context — from afar. It’s a cautionary tale of how virulent racism can feed itself in the era of social media.

We think of the Internet as something that’s supposed to connect us, across continents and cultural barriers. And yet, the disembodied snippets of the daily lives of strangers can also fuel the opposite. A virulent racist can mine Facebook for confirmation of the most damaging stereotypes. Befriending the wrong person online is like letting the Klu Klux Klan read your diary, or rifle through your underwear drawer while you’re at work.

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His Facebook page gave the impression that he’s a voyeur who likes to look in on the lives of black people he barely knows.

“Can everyone stop messaging me about Dylann Roof?” wrote one black former classmate. “I don’t know the kid. Yea, he went to school with me so did 4,000 other kids.”

Of 81 people, I could only find one who acknowledged knowing Roof at all.

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“I don’t know where Dylann is so please save yourself the time and don’t ask,” wrote one black former classmate, before Roof’s capture. “If you see him . . . don’t take it into your own hands n mess ur life up too . . . just call the authorities . . . its obvious lives do not matter to him.”

But if there’s anything redeeming about the disconnected way we can peek at the inner world of strangers online, it’s this message, sent to Roof’s Facebook page by a black Christian man from Baltimore, who implored him to turn to God.

“I don’t look at you with the eyes of hatred, or judge you by your appearance or race, but I look at you as a human being that made a horrible decision to take the lives of 9 living & breathing people,” he wrote. “Children do not grow up with hatred in their hearts. In this world we are born color blind. Somewhere along the line, you were taught to hate people that are not like you, and that is truly tragic.”

Farah Stockman can be reached at fstockman@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fstockman.
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