Watching tragedy unfold online ... #blamethebombers

I first heard about the Boston bombings through the internet. It wasn't long before I switched on Sky News[1] but Twitter was my main focus as the awfulness began to emerge. During 9/11 and the 2011 UK riots I was on the radio reporting on the events and being online during these attacks in Boston was a similar feeling, watching the flurry of mad thoughts, comment and unconfirmed reports coming through. As far as I'm concerned it's a useful experience for people in that it demonstrates how no one ever knows "the truth" about any particular event, they just have their impression of it. As a result it makes the experience more realistic, life tends to unfold in a similar confusing manner and no one really knows what's going on.

This is also true for a journalists and was certainly the case as I reported in a local radio studio on the events of 9/11. We had no idea what was going on there and our role soon became to unquestioningly repeat information rather than report it, we certainly were not allowed to let people question it. The London riots were slightly different in that I was actually in the capital taking calls from rioters and policemen. In that instance a picture of what was happening developed through those eyewitness calls. At points it conflicted and as a presenter it's your job to point that out but, unlike my work during 9/11, I felt far more comfortable with the result. I prefer the listener to make up their own mind about a caller, as opposed to me butting in and telling them "the truth" of the matter, particularly if I'm not sure what that is anyway.

If the police say "X", CCTV cameras appear to show "Y" and a caller says "Z", the fullest picture is usually a combination of all three. However it is always upto the individual recieving the information to decide what they believe, in other words it is their personal responsibility to work out who to trust. During the riots, for example, at first we had police officers telling us there was nothing going on and that it was all ok. This appeared to be accepted without question by our rivals on BBC London and I was told by many that for hours we were the only station really covering the violence.
A journalist's job is to get the story and get as close to "the truth" as possible. Despite what people in the media might think, the audience for that story will all react to that "truth" in different ways. They will only ever see what you are saying as one source of information. If a reliable friend of theirs contradicts your "official" report they won't care if you're a "proper journalist" or not, they'll likely trust their alternative source. In truth "official" sources can be wrong, particularly during a breaking news story:

What's interesting about the internet is that it puts thousands of sources at the fingertips of anyone who is interested and as a result you are required to work out for yourself which of them is the most reliable. In this scenario you can't blame "the media" for what you think because you're the one who made the final decision to trust whichever source that catch-all term happens to apply to here. The narrative you followed required a level of consent which was not as obvious in the pre-internet age.

For example, as I watched the footage it wasn't long before I started to think in the following direction:
As I've said in previous articles, the internet allows you to discover people who are literally on the same page as you and a swift search for the keywords "Four Lions" produced:
As the night went on, Frankie Boyle, a prominent tweeter added to the Four Lions angle:
Other tweeters added to the narrative:
This is exactly what would happen on a phone in show and shows how story line and angles develop. As I write I've not seen coverage going with this aspect but in the event the criminals use Islam as an excuse for their deeds the parralels are too strong for it not to become more prominent. In that event there are likely to be idiots who seriously believe the film itself is also partly to blame. This is as absurd as blaming the Koran. The bombers must take responsibility for what they have done, no one else.

Aside from this on my Twitter feed other common narratives emerged, the slightly irritating stating-the-obvious "this happens in other countries all the time" tweeters and then the genuinely annoying "America brought it on themselves" people:
As the night went on the word "Muslims" started reach about #8 on my UK trends feed. However, as I write, there is no firm evidence to suggest the identity of the bombers. There was a strong sense this would be blamed on Tea Party Gun Nuts coming from the conspiracy theory tweeters but as the possibly completely false (at the time of writing) Muslim narrative gathered speed pundits moved in and one in particular made a bit of a fool of himself:
Once located he didn't react well to criticism from me and one of my followers, going on to retweet our little spat to his 8,000 or so readers despite having apparently deleted the "sarcastic" call to mass murder:
On a phone in show it's likely you'd use the profanity delay to get him off air. On the internet, as casualties and fatalities are announced, he's free to call for death and laugh it off as sarcasm. Personally speaking I think the world is a better place as a result, people like this should be allowed to advocate their position as long as others are able to argue back:
In the event that he goes beyond absurd "opinion" and starts issuing more frequent and specific threats perhaps the law should get involved but if someone decides to take action and hurt people, that's their choice not his isn't it? It's a very thin line and rightly not one that is fully covered by "free speech". His tweet (which had been deleted) was in response to the question "ARE YOU ALREADY BLAMING MUSLIMS?" and read: "Yes, they're evil. Lets kill them all". If it had been a named individual I'd say he needed to face criminal charges, as it is I think his stupidity speaks for itself. Particularly when the response to this tragedy from Muslim tweeters became so instantly apparent:
For me this is one of the reasons why it is crucial to #blamethebombers. What they did is their responsibility and no one else's.
Meanwhile other 'pundits' began calling for consequences here in the UK, specifically:
Strangely, "freedom of speech" appeared to be in the air on that particular night. Click on the tweet to read the resulting debate.

Watching an awful tragedy unfold through the internet did seem to make it more intense than just watching sensational news footage on loop. It also made me hopeful that people in the future will be less easy to manipulate as they explore their own angles on breaking news and form their own opinions of what to think about news. That's a nightmare for the establishment who, because of the internet, are literally losing their grip on concensus reality. There's also reasonable grounds for concern as regards sensitive pictures of identifiable injured people being casually retweeted.

However I am not personally concerned about "conspiracy theories" and "misninformation". I believe in the fullness of time the wheat will be seperated from the chaff. Here are a few of the more controversial tweets in that direction which I noticed:

However, the sheer volume of opinion means there were a number of inspirational moments within the tragedy. This one stuck out for me and seems an appropriate way to end the entry:
Nick Margerrison


[1] Sky have an unofficial policy of "print and be damned" and they're better for breaking news in that sense. They'd rather be first with a story and correct later on. Their ticker tape in particular is incredible for 'speculative', by which I mean 'might not be true', news. The BBC on the other hand would rather be reliable than first with news.


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