Wednesday, November 11, 2009

you can't HANDLE the truth...

In the wake of the Ft. Hood shootings last week, Tech Crunch columnist Paul Carr addressed the issue of citizen journalism with regard to the first reports of the massacre -- tweets from the Twitter account of one Tearah Moore, a soldier from Linden, Michigan who is based at Fort Hood, having recently returned from Iraq.

To read the whole account, go to the link above. But the upshot is that the tweets were bullshit. Moore was actually tweeting from the hospital -- rather than the room where the massacre took place.

He uses this as an example of his point that first, citizen journalism -- isn't. And that the real-time web is turning us all into egotists. He writes:

In the actions of Tearah Moore at Fort Hood, we have the perfect example of both kinds of selfishness.

There surely can’t be a human being left in the civilised world who doesn’t know that cellphones must be switched off in hospitals, and yet not only did Moore leave hers on but she actually used it to photograph patients, and broadcast the images to the world. Just think about that for a second. 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”.

Her behaviour had nothing to do with getting the word out; it wasn’t about preventing harm to others, but rather a simple case of – as I said two weeks ago – “look at me looking at this.”

and ...

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.

What’s most alarming about Moore’s behaviour is that she probably thought she was doing the right thing. Certainly, looking at her MySpace page and her Twitter account (before the army finally forced her to lock it down) we see the portrait of a patriot. Someone who clearly cares a great deal about others, and who – despite the rhetorical question “remind me why I joined the army again” on her profile – is proud to serve her country. In tweeting from the scene, and calling out the media for not reporting the rumours from inside the base, I’m sure she genuinely believed she was helping get the real truth out, and making an actual difference.

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.

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. We need to get back to a point as a society where – without thinking – we put our humanity before our ego.
And that we should realize that not everyone with a cellphone, despite the best intentions, is trained to be a journalist. The debate -- between Carr and Jeff Jarvis, a longtime advocate of citizen journalism -- continued Monday on New York's NPR station WNAC. By all accounts, Carr won. Go here to listen to the podcast. bk

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