The Daily Beast Investigation of Joy Reid’s Claims

The Daily Beast investigated the claims of Joy Reid’s ‘cyber expert’ and found that most could not be substantiated. I, myself, am less than enamored with Jonathan Nichol’s claims. For being an expert, he doesn’t seem to know very much.

And therein lies, I suspect, the seeds of this whole event: lots of writing over the years, memory, and bad tech advice.

At the end of the Daily Beast writeup, Kevin Poulson wrote:

If she wasn’t hacked, it doesn’t necessarily follow that Reid is lying. Her decision to hire a security consultant to investigate the posts, and a lawyer to demand the access logs for her blog account, suggests she genuinely believes at least some of the posts were planted. After 12 years and tens of thousands of written words, Reid simply may not remember.

It’s possible that in the end Reid will discover her adversary isn’t a determined hacker, but a far more dogged foe: The Joy-Ann Reid of years past, writing in a voice she can no longer recognize as her own.

I’ll have more to say in a later piece on what it means to be a writer putting yourself online, especially over the years. For now, I think that the Daily Beast has an accurate read on what’s happened.

I’ve had considerable pushback on Twitter related to my writing about Reid, the Wayback Machine, and authenticity. What I find ironic is that so many who condemn Reid the loudest post anonymously on Twitter. They want to hold Reid accountable for her past writing, while they, themselves, hide behind a bush.

In the meantime, Library of Congress has a backup of some (not all) of Reid’s past posts. BernieBros and the far right gleefully pick and choose snippets they can post in the most damning light, but if you want to know the Reid of long ago, you need to read all of her writing. Then maybe you’ll drop that stone you hold so easily in your hand.

 

The Joy Reid Saga: The Wayback Machine cannot guarantee authenticity

Recently, Mediaite posted screen shots captured by a Twitter user who goes by the name of Not a Bot that seemingly showed several homophobic comments made on a now defunct weblog by MSNBC’s Joy Ann Reid. Reid replied that her weblog had been hacked and several articles modified by unknown parties. The media has responded by digging up an apology Reid made late last year about homophobic comments she had made in the past, which seemingly contradicts her claim of being hacked.

These are all statements made by individuals and organizations and easily verified to be true. We can even say the statements made are authentic, because none of the individuals involved have repudiated anything that’s been said.

The same cannot be said for the actual Wayback Machine archives.

The Wayback Machine is an invaluable historical record of the web. Through it, I’ve been able to recover past writings lost because of all the many changes I’ve made to my web site. It’s a wonderful way of exploring the web’s history.

However, the Wayback Machine is not, and never has been, a definitive source of the authenticity of what it captures on the web. It has access to a web page at a specific location at a specific time…but no special privilege that allows it to determine the authenticity of the author of the content in the page.

As noted by Chris Butler at the Internet Archives, home organization for the Wayback Machine:

When we reviewed the archives, we found nothing to indicate tampering or hacking of the Wayback Machine versions. At least some of the examples of allegedly fraudulent posts provided to us had been archived at different dates and by different entities.

Pages archived at different dates and by different entities... This statement is key to understanding the difference between Wayback Machine’s archival functionality as separate from the media’s assumption of Wayback Machine as Super Authenticator, able to leap tall metadata with a single bound!

(Do play a musical flourish in your mind when you read that last sentence.)

To demonstrate this key difference between archival tool and authenticator, take a look at one of my web pages found at the Archive.  The page is dated September 1, 2015, but was first archived by the Wayback Machine on October 12, 2015. Click the right arrow located in the Wayback Machine’s header at the top page. You’ll see that the article text remains the same through several snapshots. However, if you click the arrow long enough, you’ll get to the March 20, 2016 snapshot, where you can see that the page’s text is now different.

I made the change to the text, and also added the date when I made the change. Honest, cross my heart and hope to die: I made the change.

However, it would have been a simple thing for someone to hack into my weblog account and modify this page at a later time,  which would then be captured at some future time on the Wayback Machine…and I would have no idea that the page had been modified, and you would have had no idea whether I was the author of the changed content, or someone else. All we know for a fact is that the Wayback Machine made a snapshot of the page that looked one way at one time, and different at another time.

The assumption of authenticity is the error made by the original Twitter ‘sleuth’. This is the error made by Mediaite. This is the same error made by most of media reporting on this story: that appearance of the content in a snapshot at the Wayback Machine is what was actually originally posted by a specific person. That the Wayback Machine’s content is authentic.

That Reid apologized for some homophobic comments is an authentic statement because she hasn’t denied making this statement. And if you look at one of the screenshots one can see the type of statement that Reid possibly could have made leading to this apologize. For instance, one of the pages shows Reid defending President Obama when he was attacked by the gay community before he embraced gay marriage.  I wouldn’t be surprised by this, and could easily see Reid writing what she did at the time.

However, an odd addendum at the end of the page contains a link to a HuffPo piece that goes farther in defense of those against gay marriage.  This link and the text that followed could have been written by Reid, or could have easily been inserted at a later time and we would have no way of knowing if Reid added the text or someone else. We have no way of knowing whether she wrote any of the weblog post other than we might not be surprised that Reid would defend our nation’s first black President against gays unhappy with his views at the time.

So yes, Reid could be apologizing for past content, while at the same time  denouncing as fake some or all of the content discovered by Twitter sleuth. There is no contradiction other than that in the minds of pundits seeking to find such, or journalists told to quickly put out a 1000 words on the topic.

Politically, we all evolve over time. Heck, I once voted for Ronald Reagan. Our views of gay marriage have evolved as we’ve come to truly embrace the need to protect everyone’s rights to equality regardless of our religion, our culture, and our upbringing. What should matter is what people do now to support LGBTQ rights.

On April 11th, 2018 the LBGTQ rights organization PFLAG announced it was honoring Joy Reid at their 45th anniversary celebration. In the announcement, they wrote:

“Ms. Reid has been a leader speaking out for marginalized communities, long before this challenging—and sometimes devastating—sociopolitical moment,” said PFLAG National board president Jean Hodges. “She has been a loud voice for women, people of color, and immigrants, and when the New York Times recently referred to her as a ‘heroine of the resistance,’ we couldn’t have agreed more!”

We have to assume that PFLAG chose Reid because of her activities and reporting over the last several years. We also have to assume that they found such activities supportive enough, and her voice on these issues important enough, to honor her on their 45th anniversary.

After the recent fooflah, PFLAG rescinded the invitation to Reid and deleted the web page making the announcement. However, I was able to recover the announcement page…in the Wayback Machine.

Of course, the organization has the right to challenge the authenticity of the page I posted a link to. After all, it is the Wayback Machine. All we can know is that this is a capture of a web page that existed at a specific point in time. We can’t really determine if the folks at PFLAG actually wrote the contents of the page. Or if the contents were altered by other parties at a later time.

But then, we can also challenge the authenticity of PFLAG’s decision to so quickly rip away the honor given to Reid for her activity in recent years just because of a controversy over Twitter sleuthing of archive pages from an old, defunct weblog.

Follow-up

The Daily Beast’s Investigation of Joy Reid’s claims

 

 

 

 

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