Monday, 1 December 2008

Moral Panics and Internet Paranoia

I must thank my student Leah for inspiring this post.

She's written on her blog about a video clip she found on YouTube , purportedly showing a Saudi Arabian footballer getting kicked in the head during a match and subsequently dying.

Leah, having been told to be wary of anything she reads online, especially when the text is based on unmoderated audience feedback, went off and dug around for the truth. 

Eventually, she discovered that the chap was fine and went on the play more professional football.

The point I wish to make is this: it's good academic practice to double check secondary sources and seek independent verification of claims. That goes for material read in a journal, for example, just as much as it does for material found online. 

The horrific attacks in Mumbai last week saw proponents of Twitter , the online service that allows users to post quick one-liners about what they're doing from mobile phones, PDAs and the like, to claim that this was the event that saw Twitter come of age as a news tool.

The issue is, of course, that what Twitter delivers isn't news. It's information. We need skilled journalists to make sense of all this data, to craft it into something that makes contextual sense to us, as an audience at one step removed from the drama that is unfolding. 

The immediacy of the web, and the ease with which moving and still images can be flashed around the world, gives the impression that we are right in the thick of the action. The reality, of course, couldn't be further from the truth. What we are witnessing at such times are multiple streams of complex material. This all amounts to a jumbled re-presentation of the actuality. A multi-camera angled jamboree of vision and noise, as it were. 

Searching around online for evidence of others feeling the same way as I do, I was impressed by the writing of technology journalist Om Malik. His posting about Twitter makes sound sense, and is worth a read.

Allen Stern , writing for Information Week, makes some more technical points about how the infrastructure of Twitter makes it hard for the software to work as a news filter. 

The Guardian has an interesting article that looks at how bloggers, and photo sharing site Flickr also provided additional information, as the tragedy in Mumbai unfolded.

So, where does this leave us? Newspapers still have a role to play, as the suppliers of intelligent analysis. Radio provides fast and intimate contact with those involved in events, while TV news can continue to help us make sense of what is becoming an increasingly complex, fragmented, yet seemingly inter-connected world. In between all of that, the range of web-based software communication tools will make inroads into the traditional roles of their predecessors, generating new ways of telling stories, shaping information, and challenging our assumptions about how communication between one and the many, or as is increasingly the case, between the many and the many, takes place. Now, what was it McLuhan said about the medium being the message??

1 comment:

joanna said...

Sounds like you're doing a great job with your students! It's fascinating to read through your thoughts on media etc. It is so relevant in education, but there are so many things out there (i.e. the flip camcorders, facebook, etc. etc.) that I don't bother to keep up with most of it, let alone find or appreciate the good stuff. Solution - read the thoughts of those who know much more!