When events like the recent Virginia tragedy occur, sometimes official channels aren’t the best, nor fastest, means of getting the news. In this day and age where blogging enables everyone to self-publish, sometimes the fastest, first hand accounts of things are actually on the Internet.
Unfortunately, it can also highlight its faults.
Within hours of the tragedy occurring, there was a lot of speculation online as to who the identity of the killer was. According to a news report on Wired, there was a lot of rumour going on that it was the actions of a young “gun nut” in Virginia, who happened to have a blog at LiveJournal.
Over a hundred comments were left on his blog accusing him of the crime, while not a whit of evidence had thus far been presented. The real identity of the killer was released today, and and it wasn’t him.
On the flipside, there was a reason why the author of the blog didn’t disabuse any notions that he *wasn’t* the killer. He was waiting for his adsense registrations to kick in so that he could allegedly donate the profits to charity.
While there is at least one other blogger story that reports some genuine first hand experiences about the tragedy (and is not based on speculation, hearsay, nor potentially exploitive about the tragedy) that was able to give mainstream journalists some real insight that would be otherwise impossible to get, its clear that this event has exposed the real benefits, and risks, to working within the blogosphere and “new media”.
I think most children are taught at an early age to take what they read on the Internet with a grain of salt. And sure, its not just bloggers (and those who read blogs) who make mistakes in reporting the news.
But with tools like Digg, and news aggregators like Techmeme and Buzzfeed (to mention just a few), we, as bloggers, have to be cautious about operating in an environment where rumor, hearsay, and opinion can grow exponentially.
There’s been a movement to get bloggers to be more responsible for the comments (called a “code of conduct”).
Perhaps we should think about reflecting on our own activities as bloggers in contributing to an echochamber — particularly as it occurs to rumors, as was in this situation, where there was no proof of these kinds of allegations.
Of course we cannot police each other, but I think we should do the best we can to fact check things ourselves, and use the immediacy of the medium to our advantage.
Yes, as bloggers, and self-publishers we (the royal “We”) can be closer to events than any official reporter would. And yes, we are also prey to the temptation of reporting things that aren’t quite true in an effort to be “first”.
But we ought also to try and be a check and balance ourselves. We might not always get it right the first time, but we can use the speed and immediacy of the medium we enjoy so much to correct ourselves just as quickly if we make a mistake.
Its easy to pick up on the latest rant in your corner of the blogosphere.
Its easy to be part of the angry mob.
[I know its something I’ve been guilty of from time to time]
But I encourage you all, particularly in times like this, to take a step back and consider every perspective, and put together your posts and comments in as meaningful and constructive way as possible. It elevates the discourse in the blogosphere, and, if you want to be pragmatic, can potentially benefit to you as well.
After all, the blogosphere will flock to you if you’re the first person who can see through the hype and the echochamber if you can intelligently and thoughtfully provide a counter argument — or better yet, proof — that the prevailing attitudes and feelings could in fact be false.