April 18, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Earlier the FBI released images of the two suspected Boston Marathon bombers — not very shockingly, neither man was on Reddit’s list of likely suspects. Participating Redditors are now focusing on those two men, with explicit instructions not to post any personal information because it would be just awful to falsely accuse any innocent bystanders of being domestic terrorists twice in the same week.
Good job, internet!
April 18, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Yesterday I linked out to this post written by The Atlantic‘s Alexis Madrigal, which handily criticizes the Redditors who think they can solve the Boston Bombing case by, like, looking at some pictures online and figuring out WHO DUNNIT. Given the participants’ years of experience
in law enforcement watching television, what could possibly go wrong?? I mean other than a false accusation or two, a point BoingBoing’s Rob Beschizza just tweeted out, and which some Redditors are currently discussing here (hat tip to Chris for sending me those links). It’s no big deal, to be accused of domestic terrorism because you happened to be wearing a backpack while watching a marathon.
I’ll allow for the possibility that some of the Redditors/anons in question mean well. I’m sure they think they’re doing the FBI a favor; I’m sure these teenagers feel very pleased with themselves. But for god’s sake, these are pseudonymous and anonymous tipsters. Meaning there is no way to parse the well-intentioned from the trolls, who are probably cackling with glee knowing that Fox & Friends, including the always-reliable New York Post, who included the crowdsourced image of Reddit’s prime suspects on their front page, are primed to eat this information right out of their hands.
On the other hand, doing your job carefully is hard, and there are deadlines to meet, and this ad space isn’t going to buy itself, so…
April 17, 2013 § 2 Comments
Contrary to half the articles that have been published on the internet today, no one knows anything about the Boston bombing, not even law enforcement. So here’s an idea, internet, stop what you’re doing, back away from the computer, and go find a park to walk around in. It’s spring outside! Or hey, call someone you haven’t talked to in a while. Call them on the phone! Talk about your feelings, and tell them something kind! Do NOT click on any Gawker articles that feature a picture of a bloody sidewalk. And if you’re Gawker, quit parading around other people’s blood like you own it, you’re disgusting.
Bye for now, I have a dog to go pet!
April 17, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Last night, Motherboard’s Jamie Lee Curtis Taete posted the following list of the most cynical mainstream responses to the Boston bombings. As she writes:
Across the country, while people were trying to make sense of what had happened and wondering what they could do to help, website editors and bloggers asked themselves “how can we get some traffic out of this?”
Below are the six most shameless click-baiting efforts I saw in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. (BTW, I am fully aware of how hypocritical it must seem for me to be aggregating content from other sites for a listicle complaining about sites traffic-whoring in the wake of a tragedy, but eugh, whatever, these posts really annoyed me. If I could turn off the hit counter on this page, I would.)
Her list includes:
- Celebrity clickbait (Joey MacIntyre missed the blast by 5 minutes!)
- Listicle clickbait (29 reasons to love Boston!)
- Celebrity listicle clickbait (10 celebrities from Boston!)
- Travel tip clickbait (people from Boston sometimes go to the Caribbean!)
- Celebrity reaction clickbait (celebrities have feelings about current events!)
I’m not bothering to link to the above articles, all of which are actual things written by humans; for a more complete rundown, see Curtis Taete’s piece here.
All of which links in important and depressing ways to this Guardian post written by Rolf Dobelli, which argues that the news –particularly disaster news– is bad for humans. It makes us sick; it makes us sad; it actually makes us less informed, not more. And yet, against all reason, we continue to consume it — not because it is in our interest to consume this sort of drivel (“consume” used deliberately, here, as a reminder that even in the wake of tragedy, or perhaps more accurately, especially in the wake of tragedy, we are still, ultimately, eyeballs for advertisements) but because it is in the corporate interests of the professional trolls, for whom disaster is little more than a business opportunity.
Normally I avoid talking about media in terms of “consumption,” since that sort of framing implies that the human mind is merely a convenient vessel into which the next marketing ploy may be slopped. I have far too much faith in our ability to remain creative and thoughtful, even in the face of the most cynical corporate content. But disaster coverage is different. Disaster coverage is forced upon us in a way that other forms of media are not. Disaster coverage implicitly equates reading whatever empty, obvious content (you’re telling me that Matt Damon was heartbroken by the bombings???) with caring, and in the process of slapping a price tag on compassion, cheapens the experience of being human. I have a great deal of respect for the experience of being human, and so I have nothing but disdain for this sort of coverage. We deserve better.
April 13, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Authorities in Christiansburg can’t confirm whether or not Neil MacInnis did indeed post his warning to 4chan. Who knows what this means — that they never asked? That MacInnis isn’t talking? The world may never know. Given that we still don’t have any answers, Chris and I have been considering some of the ways that the 4chan thread/PDF might have been faked — which isn’t to say that we think it WAS, just that there remains room for (some) reasonable doubt.
For example the fact that the 4chan/shooter connection didn’t hit Twitter until after the Gawker and Wired articles (which were posted 2.5 hours and 4 hours after the shooting, respectively), and the fact that so much time elapsed between the last post on the 4chan thread (2:55pm EST) and the Wired article featuring the thread (6:51 pm EST). (relevant: at the end of their post on the subject, The Daily Dot noted that it “could not independently verify the post through 4chan or Google results.” — which is exactly right, good on them)
With enough skilled manpower, it wouldn’t have been too difficult to create a thread after the fact, post coordinated responses made by multiple users to seem as if written in real time for a total of one hour (allowing for easy time zone fake-out), save a PDF of the thread (or save as an HTML file for editing before saving as a PDF), dial back all timestamps by the appropriate increment (potentially tedious, but possible within the time frame), then send off to major media outlets.
Again, I’m not saying this did happen, just that it could have — making the subsequent eagerness of the media to shut the case closed in the same moment they open it all the more intriguing. Because why would they NOT acknowledge that amount of precedent? Why would they NOT pursue questions about online accountability and anonymity? Those are the big stories here, but they were shut down before they could even be explored.
Questions of journalistic diligence aside, I’m eager to know what actually happened. If MacInnis DID post the message, the case for online anonymity will lose a great deal of steam. And understandably so — if this is the shit that anons are going to post (and not just post but follow through on, which is what would set this case apart), then…how long do you think authorities will continue to allow these sorts of anonymous forums to flourish? If he did not, this case will call into question the very notion of “online evidence,” since pretty much everything can be doctored, a detail the media is either incapable of addressing, or unwilling to acknowledge. Plus would prove just how easy it is to hijack the news cycle for trollish ends.
In short, the implications of this story might prove to be quite serious — but we can’t know HOW serious, and in what direction that seriousness will flow (aimed at 4chan? aimed at the media? aimed at online anonymity?), until we know what happened in the runup to the shooting. And we can’t know any of that if the journalistic response is essentially to reblog the story, the online equivalent of a rubber stamp.
Update: Chris tested out our theory, and was easily able to make it look like the 4chan thread he was working on was posted in 1995.
April 12, 2013 § Leave a Comment
……because the thing is, upon closer inspection of time frame and tripcodes, the PDF on Wired looks pretty solid. Now I don’t know what to think, maybe it is real. It’s hard to say; these things aren’t easily verifiable, and there’s always a chance of, as the kids in the business say, “ultra-coordinated motherfuckery” in the form of time zone meddling or extensive photoshopping (nearly 4 hours passed between the last post on the now-infamous thread and Wired’s posting of the PDF — plenty of time for shenanigans). For me, the fact that this has happened so many times before, in exactly the same way, on exactly the same platform, every single time, for the last decade, is one hell of a reason for eyebrow raising. Maybe I’m just being paranoid, maybe I’ve spent too much time on the internet. As of press time, I can’t decide.
Anons on 4chan are discussing the story now — many seem similarly incredulous. Some are downright effervescent. Some are trolling other anons by claiming that all the other hoaxes were in fact a hoax, and that they were all true. tl;dr we’re gonna need a bigger boat.
April 12, 2013 § Leave a Comment
It’s possible that the Virginia mall shooter really did post about his plans on 4chan’s /b/ board minutes before the shootings, but there are a whole lot of reasons to approach this sort of thing with a high degree of suspicion. As I wrote in response to the 2012 Clackamas shooting, in which the shooter was also said to have posted about his crimes on /b/ beforehand, this sort of thing has happened before. In fact it happens EVERY time there is a mass shooting, a detail that certainly doesn’t preclude the possibility that one day there really will be a wolf lurking in the bushes, but, again, is a very good reason not to immediately jump to conclusions.
What I think is particularly weird about the coverage on Gawker and Wired is that none of the authors directly acknowledge the 4chan shooter note trend (and it is a trend: here’s another in response to the Sandy Hook shootings and another in response to a residential hostage situation). If the shooter really did post this note, you’d think journalists would lead with “now, we know you’ve heard this story before, over and over again, but this time it’s real,” rather than reporting the story with little qualification and even less evidence, other than an anonymous “reliable source” who apparently saved the thread as a PDF before it disappeared off the site forever. Even weirder was BuzzFeed’s John Herrman‘s decision to highlight the not very surprising detail that there were memes –MEMES!!– in the message. As Herrman notes:
“Also notable, if the post was really made by the shooter: the use of meme-derived language, which was popularized by 4chan, to talk about suicide.”
Why this would be “notable” (as opposed to 4chan business as usual) and why those italics, I can’t really say, but it does have me wondering if we aren’t going to start seeing some strange link forged between memes and violent crime, particularly after the recent Confession Bear doxxing controversy on Reddit.