Killing straw men

Paul Carr has written a post for TechCrunch about citizen journalism and social media entitled After Fort Hood, another example of how ‘citizen journalists’ can’t handle the truth. Normally I ignore TechCrunch, but so many people I know were impressed with the post that I had to read it. Sadly, it’s riven with poor logic, straw men and factual inaccuracies.

Paul starts with a straw man:

…after two weeks of me suggesting that social media might not be an unequivocally Good Thing in terms of privacy and human decency, the news has delivered the perfect example to support my view.

The discussion about the impact of social media on people’s privacy, behaviour and ethics has been going on for years, and there have been many, many examples of people using social tools in ways that can only be described as foolish.

This is not, however, a reflection on social tools so much as it is a reflection of human nature: Some of what gets done with social media is good and some is bad. This is not news, nor new.

We do need some proper studies to see just what sort of effect these new social technologies are having, but going off on a moral panic about social tools is neither smart nor helpful.

Carr goes on to say:

And yet, the first news and analysis out of the base didn’t come from the experts. Nor did it come from the 24-hour news media, or even from dedicated military blogs – but rather from the Twitter account of one Tearah Moore, a soldier from Linden, Michigan who is based at Fort Hood, having recently returned from Iraq.

[...] In reality Ms Moore’s was tweeting minute-by-minute reports from inside the hospital where the wounded were being taken for treatment.

It’s no real surprise that people who use Twitter might use it during such an event. And most people who use Tweet have a relatively small community. Moore now has her Twitter stream set to private, but even now she has only 29 followers, so she most likely thought that she was speaking to a small number of people and it turns out that’s pretty much true: If you search for her Twitter ID, you can see that she was retweeted a little bit, but not massively. I know Twitter search isn’t the most reliable, but there are only 8 pages of search results for her ID, starting 8 days ago. That hardly speaks to a huge retweeting.

Furthermore, whilst Twitter lists were used by the media to collect Tweets related to Fort Hood, Moore is on six such lists, which between them have a grand total of 67 followers.

Carr goes on:

That last twitpic link was particularly amazing: it showed a cameraphone image – of a wounded soldier arriving at the hospital on a gurney – taken by Moore from inside the hospital. Unsurprisingly, Moore’s – [sic] coverage was quickly picked up by bloggers and mainstream media outlets alike, something that she actively encouraged by tweeting to friends that they should pass her phone number to the press so she could tell them the truth, rather than the speculative bullshit that was hitting the wires.

Carr claims that the bloggers and mainstream media outlets picked up on her tweets, but I just can’t substantiate that. I have searched Google News and the only mentions of “Tearah Moore” are people reposting or quoting Paul Carr’s article. Searching for “MissTearah” brings up two articles, neither from a mainstream news outlet. One is from a German blog, the other from The Business Insider, which runs her photo.

Further digging does reveal that the Houston Chronicle in Texas ran her photo (no. 52) with the caption “MissTearah submitted this photo to Twitter purporting to be from the emergency room in Killee.” Australia’s Herald Sun does the same but uses the caption “This Twitter image from user misstearah, claims to be from inside a hospital near the shooting.”

Technorati and Icerocket show the same pattern amongst bloggers: A few people are talking about Carr’s post, not Moore’s original Tweets.

When I mentioned this on Twitter, Carr responded:

@Suw I linked the Independent in the post http://bit.ly/37HwCy Here’s NYT and AP trying to ctct: http://bit.ly/3IeG94 http://bit.ly/4DdsEY

The Independent post that Carr links to is actually a post by Jack Riley, a tech writer, that he’s written on his own Independent Minds Livejournal. Independent Minds is the Indie’s user generated content platform, it’s not a part of the Indie’s journalistic output. The other two are links to Tweets by the New York Times and the Associated Press trying to get in touch with Moore, which is what you would expect from journalists who think they may have an eye witness to talk to.

Let’s just look at Tweets from the MSM to Moore (oldest to newest):

@robertwood: @MissTearah give me a call if you can. I’m a reporter and wanted to do an interview. 512.474.5264

@DavidSchechter: @MissTearah Please call WFAA TV in Dallas 214-907-5964

@vietqle: @MissTearah I’m with National Public Radio in DC. We’d like 2 talk w/ people at Ft. Hd. Can you contact me? vle@npr.org or 202.513.3999. Tx.

@waldon_m: @MissTearah please call me at 2022157069 or email mwaldon@ap.org

@waldon_m: @MissTearah i am a reporter with The Associated Press. Please contact ASAP

@waldon_m: @MissTearah please contact the AP 202 641 9807

@waldon_m: @MissTearah please contact The Associated Press if you can 202 641 9807- thank you.

@BBC_HaveYourSay: @MissTearah Hello, it’s James at BBC News in London. I saw your picture from Fort Hood. It would be great to talk to you today. Are u free?

@BBC_HaveYourSay: @MissTearah Thanks for letting us know. We thought the email was suspicious. I’m glad we did not publish your pic. I’m sorry to trouble you.

@xocasgv: @misstearah http://twitpic.com/ohye0 – Hi, this is Xaquin G.V., Graphics Editor at The New York Times, read you witnessed the event. Any cha [sic]

So, six journalists get in touch, with Michael Waldon not appearing to have much luck in getting hold of Moore at all. The brief exchange with @BBC_HaveYourSay is also interesting – make of it what you will. As Moore’s account is private now, there’s no way to see what her response was and thus tricky to interpret that tweet.

But other than the three posts mentioned above that use Moore’s photo, I couldn’t find any other mainstream media news outlet that quotes from or mentions Moore by name, nor do any bloggers that Technorati or Icerocket can find. Equally, the number of retweets are negligible.

Carr’s assertion that her tweets were “quickly picked up by bloggers and mainstream media outlets alike” just isn’t supported by the facts.

Now there is a discussion that could be had about the content of Moore’s Tweets. She did not have access to completely accurate information but from reading through some of the reTweets and the few Tweets that Riley archived, Moore seemed to feel that the information she was getting was coming from relatively reliable sources. She was also Tweeting what she was witnessing, which is information there’s no reason to doubt.

In the middle of a shooting, in a lock-down situation, is it really any wonder that your average eye witness actually isn’t all that well informed about the bigger picture? People caught up in events can tell us what they see and what they hear, but they can’t necessarily fact check right there and then and I feel it’s rather unfair to expect them to.

Carr also talks about a picture Moore took - a blurry image of someone on a gurney further down the corridor:

Rather than offering to help the wounded, or getting the hell out of the way of those trying to do their jobs, Moore actually pointed a cell-phone at a wounded soldier, uploaded it to twitpic and added a caption saying that the victim “got shot in the balls”.

In the caption to her Twitpic, Moore says that she was at the hospital for an appointment. She doesn’t appear to be a member of medical staff, so would have no role to play in that situation. Whether it is reportage or poor taste to take and upload such a picture — given that there is no way to identify anyone in the picture and you can barely see the wounded soldier — is a matter for debate.

(Carr mentions HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which protects patient confidentiality in the US. I’m not clear how HIPAA privacy provisions would apply in this case and would need an expert to advise.)

But to insinuate that it’s pure selfishness and that Moore should have been ‘doing something’ is misrepresenting Moore’s situation.

Carr himself, though, did appear to have a problem with Moore’s conduct, if his tweets are anything to go by:

@paulcarr: By the way, doesn’t @misstearah have a fucking job to do while all these people are dying? Just wondering.

@paulcarr: Looks like @misstearah’s twitter account has been taken down. Only took the army an hour to respond to that particular threat.

@paulcarr: Also, Twitpics from inside the hospital? From a cellphone? Really? Precisely how many moral and legal rules does that break?

Carr then goes on to talk about the Iranian elections:

For all of our talk about “the world watching”, what good did social media actually do for the people of Iran? Did the footage out of the country actually change the outcome of the elections? No. Despite a slew of YouTube videos and a couple of thousand foreign Twitter users turning their avatar green and pretending to be in Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is still in power. It’s astonishing, really.

What is astonishing is Carr’s arrogance. Whilst the election wasn’t swayed, it is wrong to think that the social media action around the elections achieved nothing. I’d like to hear from Iranians on this, but I would imagine that just knowing the world was listening, that people out there cared, that normal Iranians could be heard outside of their own country would be an empowering experience. We might not know for some years what the full effect was, but to write it all off because the election wasn’t swayed is just shortsightedness.

Carr goes on:

And so it was at Fort Hood. For all the sound and fury, citizen journalism once again did nothing but spread misinformation at a time when thousands people with family at the base would have been freaking out already, and breach the privacy of those who had been killed or wounded. We learned not a single new fact, nor was a single life saved.

Another straw man. Eye witness reports have never been focused on saving lives, but on reporting what someone’s experiences. And as for misinformation and breaching privacy, the mainstream media is just as good at spreading that as anyone else, if not better.

A further straw man is Carr’s complaint that social media is making “our humanity [...] leak[...] away”. It’s a meaningless statement, on a par with the anti-electricity rhetoric from the late 19th Century. Ethics are not tool-specific, they don’t change from technology to technology. If that were so, all the positive, constrictive, humanity-affirming actions that are taken through social media would simply not be possible.

Finally, Carr mentions the video of Neda Agha Soltan’s final moments:

Even if you’ve seen the footage before, you should watch it again. But this time bear in mind the following: the cameraman was not a professional reporter, but rather an ordinary person, just like the victim. And what did he do when he saw a young girl bleeding to death? Did he run for help, or try to assist in stemming the bleeding? No he didn’t.

Instead he pointed his camera at her and recorded her suffering, moving in closer to her face for her agonising final seconds. For all of our talk of citizen journalism, and getting the truth out, the last thing that terrified girl saw before she closed her eyes for the final time was some guy pointing a cameraphone at her. “Look at me, looking at her, looking back at me.”

This is totally disingenuous. Neda was on her way to a protest in Tehran and was shot in the heart when she got out of the car to get some air (the car’s air conditioning wasn’t working well). Several people attended to Neda, including Dr Arash Hejazi, who said this about the incident:

A young woman who was standing aside with her father [sic, later identified as her music teacher] watching the protests was shot by a Basij member hiding on the rooftop of a civilian house. He had clear shot at the girl and could not miss her. However, he aimed straight her heart. I am a doctor, so I rushed to try to save her. But the impact of the gunshot was so fierce that the bullet had blasted inside the victim’s chest, and she died in less than two minutes.

Carr’s assertion that the people who videoed Neda’s death should have been doing something is absurd. Others were already doing what they could and it doesn’t sound like there was anything more that could be done.

However harrowing it is to watch a young woman die, there are times when such scenes have to be captured and relayed to the world, to illustrate the appalling conditions and repression that people are suffering. Had she died unrecorded, it’s likely that no one outside of Iran, possibly outside of her immediate community, would have heard of her murder. Instead, she became seen as a symbol of the Iranian protests, even as a martyr.

I was at a panel discussion about social media in repressive regimes a while back with Kevin, and an Egyptian blogger told of how even his friends and family did not want to believe that the police were abusing prisoners until a video of such abuse ended up on YouTube. We might not like it, but unfortunately it can be an important not just in rallying protestors but also as documentary evidence to persuade others.

There is even now a graduate scholarship at the University of Oxford named after Neda so there is hope that, both in Iran and outside, her death was not meaningless.

The key thing that Carr forgets is that what is unacceptable in our relatively safe societies may be necessary in oppressive regimes. Tools we use for play here can be used for survival elsewhere.

More fundamental questions, about whether or not it is right for journalists to stand back and record events instead of intervening to try to save people’s lives is a discussion that has been ongoing for decades. I don’t think that it’s one that’s going to be solved any time soon, either, as there are compelling arguments for and against.

What we should do as individuals, though, when we are confronted by such events is a question worth examining, by each of us and in the frame of our own capabilities. I think most people would try to help and wouldn’t even think about taking photos or video; others would try to help and then think about recording events when the helping is done; and yet others simply won’t be able to help and will only be able to record. Should we criticise and demonise those who record the events around them in a way we don’t approve? Or is it a question for individuals to decide for themselves?

Paul Carr’s main point appears to be that citizen journalists can’t get stuff right, so they should shut up, and those that record events instead of helping to save lives should be ripped a new one. Yet his main assertions are unsupported by the facts, his interpretation riddled with holes and his straw men pathetically easy to demolish.

There are interesting debates to be had about technology, social media, citizen journalism and eye witness accounts, but sadly Carr’s post touches on none of them in any meaningful way. I am befuddled as to why people on Twitter are seizing on it as breaking new ground, as it simply doesn’t.

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28 Responses

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  1. Citizen journalism: I’ll take it, flaws and all

    [...] even if we have to put up with errors and misunderstandings along the way. Suw Charman-Anderson has a good post on the topic as well, and feels Carr is attacking a straw man of his own creation. David Quigg has [...]

  2. Howard Owens
    Howard Owens at |

    My response to Carr’s piece seems to be quite different than most other people’s — to me, it’s a reminder for journalists to redouble their role as ethicists . It’s no longer enough for journalist to abide by their own code of ethics, they must educate the public on news ethics, avoid falling into their own ethical lapses related to new technology, and guide “citizen journalists” along the way.

    I didn’t see Carr as calling for an end to CitJ, but as a reminder that not everything with democratic media technology is an unalloyed good. We need some guidelines and thought into how these tools are used, when and where. There needs to be a greater ethical awareness among the public at large, and it’s the professional journalists role to help with that process.

  3. Jillian C. York
    Jillian C. York at |

    I’m both with Carr and against him on this one. He made a couple of excellent points regarding Twitter armchair activism, and as a researcher in that field, I can say that in some cases, changing one’s profile to “Tehran” caused more trouble than it was worth (it was worth virtually nothing; Iranians were hyper-aware of what was going on and knew to remove their own locations were they in trouble. Twitter was filtered in-country anyway). The rest of it though, however, was best said in this post…Particularly the points about social media being used in “repressive” (I really don’t like that term, it’s very western-centric) countries for the greater good; there are a number of examples – yours from Egypt, the Moroccan Targuist sniper, etc – that back up the sheer usefulness of citizen journalism in cases like this. Look at Ushahidi, look at SMEX Beirut. Citizen journalism MATTERS.

    That said, in the case of Fort Hood, the responsibility should be on the mainstream media sources that don’t bother checking their facts, not the Twitter users simply trying to help.

  4. cyberdoyle
    cyberdoyle at |

    Great post, well researched and written, well done. Kudos.

  5. When “we are the media,” how does it change us or society? « digiphile

    [...] Charman-Anderson pointed out in her detailed critique and debunking of Carr’s post, “Killing Strawmen,” (which I won’t repeat here), there was a doctor on-site, who was unable to do [...]

  6. Eric Andersen
    Eric Andersen at |

    Excellent analysis, Suw! It’s so encouraging to see clear, rational skepticism break through the hype of today’s media overload (social or otherwise).

    One quick comment on lists, you mention only 67 total followers of Fort Hood lists, but I suspect many other were “following” them by simply viewing the list pages, bookmarking them, etc. Following a list doesn’t seem to mean much until third-party clients start supporting them, so any conclusion based on how many are following a list (whether many or few) can’t fully be supported.

  7. pericat
    pericat at |

    Excellent rebuttal. I have been present at more than one catastrophic event, if not newsworthy, and while I did what I could to directly assist, what I could do is actually not much. I’m not trained for better than the equivalent of setting out traffic cones and offering tea to those in shock. Sometimes, oftentimes, all you can do is witness. ‘This is what I saw. This is what I heard. This is how it felt.’ It’s a bit much for someone far away to critique that response for not being more, I dunno, polished?

  8. Norbert Mayer-Wittmann
    Norbert Mayer-Wittmann at |

    Dear Suw,

    I appreciate you thoughtful analysis of Mr. Carr’s “straw man” depiction of the situation. I also have some questions about your depiction of Mr. Carr’s “mistakes”:

    The discussion about the impact of social media on people’s privacy, behaviour and ethics has been going on for years, and there have been many, many examples of people using social tools in ways that can only be described as foolish.
    This is not, however, a reflection on social tools so much as it is a reflection of human nature: Some of what gets done with social media is good and some is bad. This is not news, nor new.
    We do need some proper studies to see just what sort of effect these new social technologies are having, but going off on a moral panic about social tools is neither smart nor helpful.

    Apart from the value judgement of whether thinking about “social tools” is either smart or helpful, I would hope that you would provide links (the web’s equivalent of footnotes) to help the reader understand the weight of you argument — but such links are missing.

    I realize that because I have followed a link from Jay Rosen to this article, I am not exactly getting a “bird’s eye” view of your blog from viewing this page alone. But I guess for many readers, this page is the first page they will see, and may very well be the only impression they have of your blog.

    In this vein, my first impression is that you are upset about what you refer to as “straw man” arguments, but that you do not really provide any substantive solution to the problems and issues Mr. Carr draw attention to.

    So my question is: What is your aim — what is the point of this post?

    I agree with you that destructive criticism is not really smart or helpful. In the spirit of constructive criticism, what do you suggest as a way forward that is less “foolish” (and more smart, helpful, or even just more reasonable) than what people have done in the past? What is the takeaway? What should be done to avoid repeating past mistakes?

    Thanks for your help in trying to provide guidance regarding such issues!

    :) nmw

  9. Breakfast briefing: MySpace’s expensive, empty digs - and iPhone worms @ Technology News

    [...] we all carry a responsibility to share accurate information. Still, it’s engendered some interesting and eloquent responses. Worth [...]

  10. Breakfast briefing: MySpace’s expensive, empty digs – and iPhone worms | CompareMobiles.com

    [...] we all carry a responsibility to share accurate information. Still, it’s engendered some interesting and eloquent responses. Worth [...]

  11. Kevin Anderson
    Kevin Anderson at |

    To add to Suw’s post,

    I think crediting Paul Carr with somehow kicking off a much-needed corrective debate on whether citizen journalism is an unalloyed good ignores much of the history of this decade. We have this debate in some shape or form after every major news event where citizen journalism plays a major role. We’ve had this debate in many guises looking at the symbiotic role of citizen journalism and mainstream media, the challenges of sourcing citizen journalism content whether you’re a member of the public or working in a newsroom and the added complexity in terms of information for journalists and the public.

    We started to see citizen journalism and blogging around the 11 September 2001 attacks, although it was a group of early adopters and didn’t have the impact outside of that group that subsequent events would. We had the debate after the 7/7/2005 bombings here in London. We had this discussion after a fire at a massive petrol storage fire north of London at Buncefield. Two guys put themselves in harms way to get video of the fire. We had the discussion after the Virginia Tech shootings especially in terms of the mainstream media’s use of information on Facebook profiles and LiveJournal entries, enter the term ‘digital doorstepping’. Burmese protests, protests in Iran, etc We just had this debate again with the camera phone video of the beating death of a teen in Chicago just a few weeks ago. (Listen to NPR’s On the Media for an excellent interview with a news director in Chicago on the decision making process to run the video.) Carr is travelling, with much less grace and much more invective, a path well travelled by many before him.

    In terms of providing a good counter-the-social-media hype point of view, Evgeny Morozov has been doing an excellent job of this with respect to the impact of social media and authoritarian regimes. I think that anyone who covers or researches the impact of new communication technology realises that Facebook and Twitter campaigns can only do so much. And again, this was a discussion that was had during the recent events in Iran.

    Howard, should journalists take on the role of training citizen journalists ethics? That’s debatable. Most people are caught up in an event and carry on with their lives. General media literacy might have a positive effect, not just those unlucky enough to be caught up in tragic event like Fort Hood. However, is that journalists role or a role for the education system? I think probably the latter.

  12. Matt Peckham
    Matt Peckham at |

    Hi Suw,

    Your rebuttal is excellent and insightful. The bit at the beginning about singling out TechCrunch to ignore \alone,\ however, seems petty and unnecessary, especially as you imply disdain for the site, but don’t explain why.

    Best,
    Matt

  13. Tweeting our moral compass — Danny Whatmough.com

    [...] Charman-Anderson has written an interesting reply in which she pulls Carr up on some rather glaring factual [...]

  14. broadstuff
    broadstuff at |

    Of Straw Men and Hollow Men…

    Its not often you get to start a blog post with a spot of classic poetry, but here is TS Eliot’s The Hollow Men:

    We are the hollow men
    We are the stuffed men
    Leaning together
    Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
    Our dried voices, when
    We whisper…

  15. Terry Heaton
    Terry Heaton at |

    Excellent piece, Suw, and I couldn’t agree more with Howard Owens’ call for professional journalists to lead the effort at teaching the amateurs. The reality of the personal media revolution is that everybody’s a media company today, and until we start teaching fundamental journalism and ethics in our elementary, middle and high schools, somebody has to take the lead in the communities we serve. That role, as Howard notes, belongs to the pros.

  16. Paul Carr’s piece is rubbish (and disgusting) « News, Software and All you need

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  17. This week in media musings: Fort Hood, citizen journalism and Twitter lists | Mark Coddington

    [...] designed to bring in traffic by making an inflammatory argument. British blogger Suw Charman-Anderson gives it a much more thorough debunking, raising questions about just about every fact or argument [...]

  18. Howard Owens
    Howard Owens at |

    I didn’t mean to imply any sort of “kicking off.”

    This is, yes, Kevin, a debate that isn’t new, in some respects, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth renewing. Further, my point is I don’t see many people talking about a _constructive_ role for journalists in this ecosystem. I see a lot tut-tutting on both sides, but not a lot of positive suggestions about accepting reality and saying, “now what do we (or I) do about it.”

    To suggest that education can only come at the point of a tragic event such as Ft. Hood is it’s own straw man.

    And an other logical fallacy — a false choice — is to suggest that it is the responsibility of the education system rather than journalists. I’d say, it’s both.

    Somebody has to start the process of raising awareness and constantly talking about. And besides, what to about the people who have already passed through the education system?

  19. Fort Hood, citizen journalism and journalists as ethicists | DAILYMAIL

    [...] a rebuttal on Strange Attractor, Suw Charman-Anderson suggests that these issues have been challengi…: “The discussion about the impact of social media on people’s privacy, behaviour and [...]

  20. Technology News RSS Feed » Blog Archiv » Breakfast briefing: MySpace’s expensive, empty digs – and iPhone worms

    [...] we all carry a responsibility to share accurate information. Still, it’s engendered some interesting and eloquent responses. Worth [...]

  21. Kevin Anderson
    Kevin Anderson at |

    Howard,

    I didn’t mean to imply that it was only large news events or tragedies that spur another chapter in this debate so let’s set that straw man aside for minute. It wasn’t the intention in my comment so poof it goes.

    In terms of what role professional journalists play in this eco-system, I think there are people talking about this such as the folks at Publish2. However, this probably will spur me on to a post that I’ve been meaning to write for quite a while, the role of the social media journalist or social media in journalism.

    In terms of teaching media literary, I’d agree that it’s important. I’d like journalists to talk more about our ethics and our process. Apart from that, what role do you see journalists playing in this process? (I’m genuinely asking, not just challenging you, just in case that is lost in the medium.)

  22. Praet
    Praet at |

    Has the angle that Carr himself was using a tragedy to further a point of view he already had, a point of view that as a professional writer is in his financial interest, been explored? Because a blurry picture that doesn’t violate HIPAA and the raw reactions of a soldier are newsworthy only as a witness to what was happening and not much more. Carr’s point seems to be that the witness shouldn’t speak. Or more crazily that a non-medical person should jump amongst medical personnel and “help out”, the most assinine assertion.

    Should she have waited until a media person, a professional, was there to synthesize her opinion for us? Why? What purpose would this serve?

    Would most reading tweets about a disaster assume a certain level of inaccuracy. I would assume so. Would they expect more from a professional writer from a reputable source (not talking about TechCrunch)? I hope so.

    And the moron who wrote something like “I’m already freaking out, this isn’t helping” is essentially saying more information isn’t helpful. Well freak out somewhere else, and let the rest of us get more information about what’s happening and why, from a variety of sources, including a soldier on the scene.

    Thank goodness for Twitter.

  23. Ian Betteridge
    Ian Betteridge at |

    Rather than attempt to tell you why I didn’t rate your rebuttal on Twitter, I thought it would be better to actually comment. So here I am, days late :) There’s going to be quite a lot of quoting, so you’ll have to bear with me…

    “Paul starts with a straw man…”

    That’s not a straw man. Sorry. It would be a straw man if Carr had said “only I have been claiming that social media…”, thus implying that everyone else thought it was great, and he (and he alone) was a naysayer. You can’t make a straw man out of a reference to what you’ve said, with no reference to anyone else’s actions.

    “This is not, however, a reflection on social tools so much as it is a reflection of human nature: Some of what gets done with social media is good and some is bad. This is not news, nor new.”

    And neither is he claiming it to be. What he IS claiming is that this is a perfect example which supports his view.

    “We do need some proper studies to see just what sort of effect these new social technologies are having, but going off on a moral panic about social tools is neither smart nor helpful.”

    Where, exactly, is the moral panic?

    “but even now she has only 29 followers, so she most likely thought that she was speaking to a small number of people and it turns out that’s pretty much true”

    And yet, as you point out, reporters found her comments and attempted to contact her. Which is what you’d expect, even with a low number of followers.

    “So, six journalists get in touch, with Michael Waldon not appearing to have much luck in getting hold of Moore at all.”

    Which, I think, actually bares out Carr’s point well. Six journalists *from very very large* organisations tracked her down and got in touch – five, it appears, successfully. And this is someone who’s followed by a TINY number of people!

    “But to insinuate that it’s pure selfishness and that Moore should have been ‘doing something’ is misrepresenting Moore’s situation.”

    Straw man. Carr said “helping *or getting out of the way*”. By taking out the “getting out of the way” bit, you’re deliberately reducing his argument. I’d argue that if you’re a patient there, in those circumstances, getting out of the way is the only thing you should be doing. Furthermore, he doesn’t insinuate anything: He calls it selfish (“In the actions of Tearah Moore at Fort Hood, we have the perfect example of both kinds of selfishness”). By claiming he is “insinuating” you’re attempting to present his argument as snarky, snidy comment when in fact he’s quite clearly stating something – no insinuation required.

    “In the middle of a shooting, in a lock-down situation, is it really any wonder that your average eye witness actually isn’t all that well informed about the bigger picture? People caught up in events can tell us what they see and what they hear, but they can’t necessarily fact check right there and then and I feel it’s rather unfair to expect them to.”

    Which misses the point. Carr’s point isn’t that Moore was to be blamed for being wrong, but that media outlets who reported her as if she were a witness rather than a third-hand source were wrong. Hence: “Moore’s eye-witness reports weren’t worth the bits they were written on. They had no value whatsoever, except as entertainment and tragi-porn.”

    “A further straw man is Carr’s complaint that social media is making “our humanity [...] leak[...] away”.”

    It would be a straw man, if he’d actually said that. He didn’t. He said:

    “And that’s precisely the problem: none of us think we’re being selfish or egotistic when we tweet something, or post a video on YouTube or check-in using someone’s address on Foursquare. It’s just what we do now, no matter whether we’re heading out for dinner or witnessing a massacre on an Army base. Like Lord of the Flies, or the Stanford Prison Experiment, as long as we’re all losing our perspective at the same time – which, as a generation growing up with social media we are – then we don’t realise that our humanity is leaking away until its too late.”

    That isn’t saying “social media is robbing us of our humanity”, it’s saying that *the way we use social media” is doing so. There’s a massive difference, so I’m afraid that your claim he’s creating a straw man is, well, a straw man.

    I could go on, but I’ll leave it with this:

    “Paul Carr’s main point appears to be that citizen journalists can’t get stuff right, so they should shut up, and those that record events instead of helping to save lives should be ripped a new one.”

    I’m afraid that’s utterly, completely, misrepresenting Carr’s point. He sums it up nicely himself: “As I’ve already said – and I’m even starting to bore myself now – the answer isn’t censorship (which won’t work), but rather in our social evolution catching up with the state of technology.”

    That’s the core of his argument, and it’s correct. With all technology, from cars to guns to computers, we learn to use them in a moral way as we go along. We make up what is “acceptable” on the hoof, and and only learn what is acceptable by people doing what *isn’t* acceptable – and everyone else going “no, that’s wrong”. Social media is no different.

    You say “some of what gets done with social media is good and some is bad.” And that’s completely correct. But at the moment, as a society, we haven’t had opportunity to understand fully what “good” and “bad” look like when using social media. And we won’t, until the point where something someone does with it fills us with enough revulsion to say “that far and no more”.

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