Thursday, October 3, 2013

Another Crisis: Real-time Reporting, Retweets, and Restraint

Pheme, Greek Goddess of Twitter
I'm phasing social media and (non-BBC) Internet news back in after conscientiously abstaining from them (for the most part) for the last month. I can't say I missed them terribly, but this is the 21st century and I should be at least somewhat attentive to the culture of my age.

I came back just in time, too. Early this afternoon, the retweets and Facebook updates came rolling right in. Capitol shooting. Gunman at large. Actually, suspect is a woman. Actually, she doesn't have a gun. The only shots were fired by police. But she seems to have been up to something. Yes she was. No she wasn't. Anyway this is all the [conservatives/liberals]'s fault and would never happen if it weren't for [overzealous, trigger happy, possibly racist law enforcement/the general toxicity of American Culture/Obama]. Shut up, you're wrong.

Flashing forward: I was relieved to hear this evening's All Things Considered steering away from minute-by-minute crisis mode reporting and keeping its focus on the continuing circus shit show of American Democracy. I'll be happy to read or listen to a report on the shooting and its aftermath tomorrow, after the journalists have had more time to collect and collocate the facts.

Although the trickle of information and its magnification on Twitter wasn't as panicked, politicized, or irresponsible as the chatter following the Boston Marathon attack, I was still disheartened to see folks backsliding into the same sort of behavior we seemed to collectively agree not to repeat during the next sudden violent crisis. It's possible my recollection is skewed or screwy, but didn't we walk away with the lesson that that it's more sensible not to credulously accept, disseminate, and make conjecture on every particle of new information because a lot of it will be out of context, muddled, unsubstantiated, and very possibly inaccurate?

Right, right; it's the Internet and people will talk. And it's not the Internet's fault, either: Rumor was born at the same time as Communication. I know. But I can still disapprove of the web being used to undermine its essential purpose.

I once met a reference librarian/archivist whose sensibilities toward cataloging were led by the doctrine that no information is better than bad information, which I've since added to my own store of guiding aphorisms. And all I'm saying really is that early, fragmented, reactive, and emotionally-charged information might not be what I'd consider "good."

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