‘Trial by Fury’: no room for doubt on the Internet

preston2It has probably happened to all of us at one time or another.

You see something really dumb on Facebook or Twitter or some website — something you know is inaccurate — and in the hopes of sorting out the mess, you put a correction in the comments section.

Instead of gratitude, the response is a torrent of anger or worse.

It only takes a few of these encounters for most of us to decide to stay out of online controversies.

In a fascinating new Amazon Kindle Single, “Trial by Fury,” the journalist and novelist Douglas Preston writes about the terrible anger he encountered after he decided to write and talk about the Amanda Knox case because of his own knowledge of Italian justice and the slipshod (to say the least) prosecutor who handled the case, Giuliano Mignini.

Preston had encountered Mignini while researching his bestselling book, “The Monster of prestonFlorence,” on a baffling Italian serial killer case in which young people parked in lover’s lane areas were brutally murdered.

The writer originally went to Italy to research a novel, but became fascinated by the murders and teamed up with an Italian journalist who had covered the case, Mario Spezi.

Mignini was so wedded to his own completely unsubstantiated Satanic cult theory explaining the murders that he fought the two writers and then went so far as to implicate them in the crimes.

Preston was able to leave the country, but Mignini did jail time before the whole absurd situation was resolved. It was Preston’s knowledge of Mignini that caused him to look into the Knox case and write an afterword for the paperback version of “The Monster of Florence” in which he pointed out that the young American would never have been charged with murder in this country due to the lack of any substantial evidence.

When the writer was interviewed by a Seattle reporter about his findings, all hell broke lose on the Internet from those who were convinced that Knox was guilty from the moment the Italian investigators — led by Mignini — zeroed in on her.

“…the comments poured in,” Preston writes. “I was stunned at their ferociousness against Amanda. But what surprised me even more were the blazing personal attacks against me…They claimed that my interest in Amanda was sexual. They said I was mentally ill. They said I was a racist.”

Preston tried to respond to his critics but “Finally, I came to my senses. I couldn’t believe that I had gotten sucked in and become almost as crazy as they were. But it made me wonder: Who are these people? And why would so many people, unconnected with either the victim or the accused, with no skin in the game, devote their time and energy to seeing this girl punished — and to villifying all those who came to her defense?”

In “Trial by Fury” Preston goes on to interview Web experts and sociologists for explanations of this bizarre contemporary phenomemon of becoming so violently passionate about events that have no direct connection to our own lives.


Joe Meyers