Rethinking our Twitter Twitchy Actions

Cleaning up after the bird

Very interesting piece by Sam Bibble at Gawker on Justine Sacco. Sacco was the PR person who tweeted a bit of satire that blew up in her face, and almost destroyed her career.

The problem with Twitter is every post lacks context. You don’t know the person to know if they’re joking. You haven’t seen the build-up to know if the post is ironic, satirical, or a true belief. And it’s so damn easy to retweet the actions and reactions, and to get caught up in the rush to condemn. That’s the bad, the very horrid part of Twitter.

At the same time, Twitter can be damn useful. Anyone who closely follows the Ferguson events will tell you that you can find more up-to-date information in Twitter than any in any news site. We can find a lot of racist crap, true, but we also found livestream links, breaking news, and even thoughtful insight, 140 characters at a time.

Bibble’s advice for weathering a Twitter storm is good—don’t engage, you’ll only had fuel to the fire. But maybe we should seriously re-think our twitchy actions. There are two kinds of outrageous tweets at the core of these storms. The first is the satirical tweet, taken out of context; if we retweet these, we can be harming an innocent person. The second type of outrageous tweet is from those who want attention; if we retweet what they post, all we’re doing is giving them the attention they want.

I watched this happen with person claiming to be a journalist, who tried to write himself into Ferguson’s history and failed. Every new and outrageous tweet of his that got caught up and magnified resulted in him getting at least a hundred new followers. In our outraged reaction, we gave him exactly what he wanted, and now he’s been featured in publications such as the New York Times, Slate, and the Washington Post. We didn’t create the monster, but we sure gave it juice.

Ferguson: Media, You are Hurting Us

screenshot of Jon Stewart on Crossfire

The story read that the FBI had arrested two New Black Panther members for buying explosives to bomb Ferguson protests. Not long after, though, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch posted a story that what really happened is the FBI arrested two men for providing false information when buying guns. And that New Black Panther association? Well, that’s implied because a “police source” made the connection. Not the men. Not officially from the FBI. A “police source”.

One of the many sources who have added to the confusion and alarm associated with the Ferguson protests. The same sources that both Twitter users and mainstream press reporters have quoted without fact or verification. There is some excuse for the Twitter users: it’s not their job to fact check what they retweet. The same cannot be said for the media, who have done a piss poor job of covering Ferguson.

Even today, the Chicago Tribune and Washington Post have stories about a $5,000 bounty placed on Darren Wilson’s head by a black militant group. The only problem is, it’s all fake, a fraud. There is no black militant group. There is no $5,000 bounty. It’s all one anonymous Twitter user making the claim among a set of overly fantastic and conflicting claims, in an account that demonstrates glaringly obvious disconnects in linguistic styles. A Twitter account for a group that has absolutely no hint of existence outside of Twitter. Even photos purportedly showing the Twitter user’s hands holding a box of ammo, with dark implications of future mayhem, generated little but doubt from other Twitter users primarily because the hands looked remarkably white, and what most people missed, remarkably feminine. So much for discussions about “fellow warriors”.

(The only other reference to the group was a pulled Go Fund Me page.)

It was all fake, yet these stalwarts of the press, these icons, dutifully copied each other without any of their journalists once going, “Hey. Maybe we should fact check this or something.”

CNN writes last week about a Grand Jury decision on Friday, and it wasn’t because they had inside information, as the implication might be. No, it was nothing more than a guess. So we end up having a press conference and all sorts of stories on Saturday about no Grand Jury decision happened on Friday. That’s the same as saying, “We didn’t get hit by an asteroid this weekend”, or, “There’s a lot of snow in Buffalo”.

How much confusion has been generated by dutifully quoting Chief Jackson from Ferguson, as he makes assertions in the AM, only to add “clarifications” later that day or the next? By the time the media report the clarifications it’s already too late: the seeds of doubt are sown, and mismatched stories get flung about in Twitter, like stones fired from slingshots.

All these stories do is add to the tension and distrust. They generate unnecessary suspicion, and add fuel to an already volatile situation. It is like members of the media have gotten together over a beer somewhere and said to each other, “You know, riots in Ferguson would be good for ratings. What can we do to make it happen?”

What did Jon Stewart say on Crossfire years ago? Before his appearance on the show signaled its impending doom?

Stop, stop, stop, stop hurting America.

Media, you are hurting us.

Give onto Harvard that which is Harvard’s

According to the Wikipedia article on citizen journalism:

Citizen journalism usually involves empowering ordinary citizens — including traditionally marginalized members of society — to engage in activities that were previously the domain of professional reporters. “Doing citizen journalism right means crafting a crew of correspondents who are typically excluded from or misrepresented by local television news: low-income women, minorities and youth — the very demographic and lifestyle groups who have little access to the media and that advertisers don’t want,” says Robert Huesca, an associate professor of communication at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.

The phrase, Citizen journalism usually involves empowering ordinary citizens is, I think the key to this statement. I doubt there’s a one of the those in the forefront of the new citizen or ‘grassroots’ journalism efforts in weblogging that wouldn’t agree with this, and most likely enthusiastically. Yet it is the demographics shared among these supporters that casts doubt on the nature of our new journalistic corp. One only has to look at those representing weblogging at the Harvard conference on Blogging, Journalism, and Credibility to see the truth in this. Of those who have been weblogging for any appreciable time, most, if not all, are white, affluent, generally male, and usually middle-aged. In addition, all but two, as far as I can see, have been or are professional writers and/or journalists.

Additionally, rather than help to empower those who have little voice, the majority of these people of the new ‘citizen journalism’ tend to link to each other more frequently than they do the misrepresented among the rest of the weblogging population. A search of Jeff Jarvis’ weblog finds mention of David Weinberger 964 times, while a search of David’s site shows a mention of Jay Rosen 81 times, while a search of Jay Rosen’s site… well we could go one. Even with Dan Gillmor’s new weblog, which just started in January, I found seven references to Dave Winer.

This perpetuation of a specific norm among participants isn’t unusual, though. I remember from my own studies in sociology that we are most comfortable with those whom we share the greatest number of important characteristics, such as economic status, color, nationality, and religion. So it’s not surprising that white males from a similar socio-economic background read and hence link to those who are similar. When discussions about the imbalance of sex in regards to exposure is raised in weblogging, and the men say, “But this is an equal environment, and I don’t let sex impact on who I read and why”, this is probably very honest: the men don’t let sex impact on them. Consciously. But who better understands and knows how to write for the white, middle or upper class, intellectual mind than a member of the same group?

This understanding of the inherent pull of ‘like to like’ is really what forms the basis of affirmative action. It isn’t that we think everyone is an active bigot or racist or sexist; it’s that people tend to view those who share a sameness more comfortably over those who do not. In our professional or social lives, which can include weblogging (and that’s fascinating when you think about the virtual nature of this environment), comfort extends to more favorable impressions, and hence can influence hiring, linking, as well as other positive social actions. It takes an effort, an actual breaking away of natural preference, to cure this bias in our viewpoints. Even with increased exposure to the other sex or other races or religion, the tendency to ‘like’ remains.

Within professional journalism, editors and publishers are aware of the influence of ‘like to like’ and have made efforts to bring in at least token representatives of the underrepresented–for economic reasons if not for reasons of fair representation. For instance, if a journal on Linux has 97% male readership, while 20% of Linux users are women, and it wants to increase the number of readers, it wouldn’t be unusual for a publication in this position to seek out women and get their viewpoint on the issue; or even actively recruit more women in editorial or writing positions. Why? Because all things being equal, there could be more bang for the buck going after a ‘group’ of people, rather than the ragtag among those non-participants in the dominant group.

So it’s not surprising, though perhaps is ironic, to see that there is actually better representation of women and blacks and other racial minorities in the professional journalist circles than there is in the so-called ‘citizen journalistic’ ranks of weblogging, because there is no economic or social incentive for the citizen journalists to look outside of their ranks. At least, not at the moment.

An odd thing about all of this is that the practice of ‘like to like’ is so entrenched in business and journalism that it also forms part of the sphere of comfort even to those who are adversely impacted by the effect. For instance, women grow up to see primarily white, male journalists, politicians, and business and community leaders. Though some women may applaud seeing women in any of these roles, others may actually be made uncomfortable–it upsets what is known and what the women have reaffirmed about the role they perceive for themselves in their environment. Because of this, you’ll find women among those who speak out against affirmative action or acts such as the ERA. Or, since we’re discussing weblogging, who speak out against those who make an issue of the lack of representation of women in most weblogging and other like events.

(Based on this perception of role conflict, when women do appear as journalists, they tend to be co-anchors rather than lead anchors; and cover more social rather than political or economic events. However, as my favorite sports reporter and weather forecaster demonstrate — times, they are a changing.)

To return to the conference: ultimately, it is primarily a celebration of ‘like to like’ even though ostensibly it is bringing together ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’. However, this type of seemingly ‘open but not’ event isn’t unusual for Harvard; it is a bastion of ‘like to like’, as witness stories in the recent past of wealth influencing grades and admission, as well as claims of discrimination in hiring practices. I’ve always found Harvard to be mildly fascinating with its ability to get away with the most outrageous ‘good ole boy’ club practices, as demonstrated so beautifully with the current flap from a recent conference having to do with lack of women in the sciences and engineering. In this case, the President of Harvard told to be ‘provocative’, does make a mistake that could have negative reprecussions–not so much by encouraging the myth that women are inherently not as good with math and science, but by ignoring the many studies, which have proven this to be false. You are allowed bias at Harvard, but not public ignorance.

As for Blogging, Journalism, and Credibility, what comes out of the conference, this position paper that has been touted, will be heralded as an important document by some, of mild interest by others, and with indifference by the majority of webloggers. Why the latter, especially considering that it represents many who are dominant within this environment?

The reason, in my opinion, is because the conference is so specific as to audience that even those who support the status quo won’t be able to find a common point of reference. Though we may be comfortable with the dominance of white, affluent, males, we are less so with the sheer, rather overwhelming scope of dispassionate intellectualism inherent in the roster. There are, literally, too many 5+ percenters in the crowd. We can’t identify, except for perhaps feeling as if we’re being placed into an inferior position, i.e. “this here group of really smart people are going to tell all of us how we’re supposed to do things, and it pissed me off.”

Case in point: Zephyr Teachout has received much press about her recent writings on the (failed) Howard Dean campaign. I have no problem with what she wrote on her experiences and perceptions of what happened during the (failed) Dean campaign, because a) I wasn’t there, and b) it’s old news. However, I am interested in one statement she made in her FAQ:

I started this blog recently because of an upcoming conference on blogging, journalism, and credibility at Harvard’s Berkman Center. I wanted to write about my own experience, to illustrate some of the thornier issues that come up with conflicts of interest, consulting and blogging. My continued purpose is to engage in the broader debate about how to build a credible medium.

This is where I take issue with Zephyr: she comes into this environment via a political weblog originated during a political campaign–an exception, not the norm for this environment–with no prior exposure to weblogging before, or frankly after, and then she wants to tell us all how we should do what it is we do. Frankly, in my opinion–writing as one of the outsiders who really make up the majority of the webloggers, though we don’t know it yet and lord help the rest of you ‘insiders’ when we do–Zephyr doesn’t know blogging from beans.

If one were to extrapolate from Zephyr to the rest of the attendees, one could say the same about all of them: even the other webloggers, who are, perhaps, too caught up in the mystic of being the new ‘journalism’ to remember that rebels move against the flow, not with it.

On which note, I conclude this first, and last, post on Harvard’s Blogging, Journalism, and Credibility.

Archived, with comments, at the Wayback Machine


Dug out from a storm this week and the winds are still blowing, and the lighting still lighting up the sky and none of this has anything to do with the weather. Well, there was a storm earlier, which blew down the tree across from us. Lots of trees down online, too.

I emerged from various uninteresting things and went online this morning and found all these moods today. For instance, there’s an anti-intellectual/postmodern thing going on, links pulled together by AKMA, who attaches his own take on the discussion.

I don’t know enough about postmodernism to be hostile about it, one way or another. I used to be insecure about this — now I’m glad. Ignorance really is bliss.

Jeneane’s leading the charge against the Jupiter Biz Blog conference — too many people attending too many conferences, and all of them are blogging about them, but what’s worse is their blogging about each other blogging about each other and I’m getting dizzy.

One more person writes “What’s a weblog” and I’m going to lose my cookies.

I found out I can’t use Plesk to manage accounts on the new co-op server because it’s dependent on MySQL 3.23, and we’ll be using MySQL 4.x. That’s okay, though, because we should use open source solutions like Webmin instead. Speaking of open source, from Ken’s posting today, sounds like there have been a few trees down out in the Apache world.

Tom Shugart doesn’t think much of the heartland or people with weight problems:

Each time I find myself back in the heartland, it seems to get worse. The food seems to get more and more tasteless and toxic, and the inhabitants more and more rotund. How can the food be so bad—and so bad for you, I wonder, in the middle of one of the richest agricultural areas in the world?

True, the small towns don’t always have the fancy cuisine, though you look about a bit and you might be surprised; and the people are just plain folks — many of them making little money because of unemployment, so they fill their diet with potatoes and pasta and Big Macs — cheap food but starchy and fattening. As Tom noted.

But one thing I’ll say about the Midwest, which also includes my beautiful new home, Missouri: I’ve never noticed a lack of courtesy in the people — something I found in short supply in California. Generosity, too, as several of us prepare for this weekend’s Race for the Cure, thinking how best to waddle around the 5K course.

I just had an exchange of emails with News is Free about linking directly to my photographs — that whirring sound you hear is my bandwidth being sucked dry.

Me: Don’t scrape my pages.
Them: Your RSS feed is hard to find.
Me: Autodiscovery.
Them: Human beings and handy little orange XML button.
Me: Your personal requirement does not make my courtesy into an imperative. Don’t like little orange button.

So, who is not in a pissy mood? Speak up.

At least nature always comes through: the fireflies made their debut last night. No photos — they’re camera shy. I’d send you all a bouquet of fireflies to cheer you up, but they don’t like the tiny little leashes and keep tearing off the bows. And FedEx said no way.

Archived with comments at Wayback Machine

We just hate being contacted

The discussion about copyright, generally, and Creative Commons, specifically is continuing elsewhere, and I’m extremely pleased to see others speak out with their concerns, opinions, and questions.

In particular, I loved what Phil Ringnalda wrote today:

What strikes me as uproariously funny about the rush to CC license weblogs, though, is that probably the most useful feature of licensing something that you don’t mind having people use is the way that they don’t have to ask your permission before they use it. And you know how we all hate having people contact us, with our dozens of comment links and TrackBack URLS and semi-obfuscated email addresses and we-hope-it’s-spam-proof contact forms. I can’t think of anything more horrifying to a weblogger than to have someone contact them out of the blue and say “I liked something you did so well that I would like to use it myself, may I?” Why, I myself have twice had people ask if they could borrow a couple of sentences I wrote, and both times I found it a horrible imposition to have to reply, since I was entirely too busy dancing around the room shouting “someone actually asked to use those two sentences.

At this stage in the Practical RDF book, I needed the laugh this gave me. More importantly though, is that Phil made some excellent points in this posting and in the next one he wrote, where he commented on the confusing and conflicting copyright notices currently on Donna Wentworth’s Corante weblog, Copyfight.

It’s interesting but in regards to this issue, each of seems to have a different focus. Jonathon’s focus in his last posting related to this topic was about his proprietary view of his creative works. AKMA’s is on the length of copyright terms; while my focus, at this time, (and it looks as if Phil’s focus is the same as mine) tends to be on Creative Commons and my concern about people not fully understanding what this means to ‘give away’ what you write in your weblog.

It’s true that no one is forcing any of us to waive all or part of our copyright. But it does seem as if there is a great rush to plunk that CC graphic on one’s weblog, without a clear understanding of the effect of doing so. Unfortunately, there’s been less discussion about the negative impacts of a CC license than there are the glorious positive impacts. This is going to bite some weblogger in the butt someday.

For instance, did you know that you can copy a weblog that’s been donated to the public domain in its entirety, including look and feel, and all content, without having to give attribution? And that you can even charge for this writing?

Quick! Guess who wrote the following:

Bin Laden’s genius is inventing a new form of chess, one where countries are not sides in the contest but squares on the board. As in the game of chess, one must be willing to make unexpected sacrifices, and to know the opponent’s possible moves at least as well as you know your own. As for the rest of the rules, we can only guess. Obviously Muslim countries are all over the board, with Saudi Arabia, home of Mecca, at the center.

It is also obvious that bin Laden knows how to play our side at least as well as he plays his own. Why else would his pawns have been able to hijack four large passenger aircraft in one day and turn them into enormous missle bombs against American landmarks — all with horrifying efficiency?

It is finally safe to assume that right now he has a good idea what we’ll do next. And even if he doesn’t know what his side will do, he does know we won’t expect it.

So: if we kill him, will we have checkmate? Or will his side merely have sacrificed its queen?

Perhaps it will help if we give this game a more appropriate and realistic name — one closer to what bin Laden has in mind.

Let’s call it World War III.

To all intents and purposes, I don’t have to tell you who wrote this. So I won’t. Guess.

Legally I can put this into my weblog, take credit for the words by not attributing the words to another, plunk my own copyright on it, and I can freeze the use of these words where the original author can’t. All I have to do is change a few of the words, just enough to make it a derivation of the original, and therefore an ‘original’ creative work by me.

Is this legal? How do I know, I’m not a lawyer, but we’re being asked to assume some of the responsibilities of being lawyers in order to understand the impacts of the Creative Commons licenses on our weblogs, and other creative works.

Now you tell me that this isn’t a concept and a license and a movement that doesn’t have potential problems. And if you don’t see it then you go right ahead, put that weblog of yours into the public domain. And if you do, then can you send me a link to your weblog? I might need material for my own weblog in the future.

Archived with comments at the Wayback Machine