I had planned to do something fun this AM, but a post at NLS got me onto a different path, but one well trod. Yep, this AM I am all about the ethical use of the internet.
NLS notes that a GOP campaign operative and long time Alton Foley writes that during the Virginia Tech massacre students just got up, lined up against a wall, and waited to be shot. Ben goes on to take Foley’s state senate candidate to task for hiring such a person.
Given that I had heard no such claim before, I sent to Alton’s joint to see his post. Alton goes on to say he knows he will be called “reprehensible” for broaching the subject, and links to the site Media Matters, where it is noted that several commentators asked why students did not rush the gunman. However, the discussion seems to be driven in great part by postings by Neil Boortz, of whom I was blissfully unaware until a few minutes ago.
In his April 17 program notes, cited in the Media Matters piece, Boortz asks:
How in the hell do you line students up against a wall (if that’s the way it played out) and start picking them off one by one without the students turning on you? You have a choice.
Special Emphasis–“if that’s the way it played out”? A whole attack on murdered students based on factless speculation?
Now we get to the root of all this, and of something that is so dangerous about blogs…because they are only as valid as the author’s integrity allows them to be.
Boortz’s first comment, and one that has pushed others, was speculation…and wild, irresponsible speculation at that. I have neither seen nor heard of any report that said students willingly lined up for execution. His irresponsible speculation was yanked out of the muck within a day of the incident, without complete documentation of what truly happened and in complete disregard for the facts that were in hand…and many jumped onto his speculation without considering anything like…oh, say…facts.
The facts are that there was bravery to spare the terrible morning in Blacksburg, and it has been recounted at length in a variety of media outlets. Did the students rise up en masse and attack Cho? Apparently not. On the other hand, given that the very human instinct to freeze and and assess when confronted with danger, I don’t think the lack of such an attack is proof of the wussification of America. Of course, given the vitriol spewed, I ponder what would Boortz and Malkin and the rest have done in a similar situation.
But that is fodder for another feeding time. My concern, and what i think really reprehensible here, is that so many folks accepted he Boortzian speculation as fact without checking the facts themselves…and then, long after the truth was evident, did not go back and and state they were wrong in the first place. Alton wrote:
But these reports of students willingly lining up against a wall disturb me. They should disturb you as well.
What disturbs me is a rush to judgement. What disturbs me is accepting fact as speculation. Of course the irony here is that Alton blindly accepted Boortz’s claims seems without checking facts seems to be as docile and as sheeplike as that he accused the VT students of doing.
But that is the nature of the blogosphere. Posts are only bounded by the integrity and industriousness of the blogger. If a blogger decides to write things that are not true, there will be some folks who will say “it must be true, it’s on the internet”, and accept a falsehood as truth. Boortz threw out some trash, and then others eagerly jumped on to claim it as their own.
The ability to quickly transmit news and opinion over the internet, as well as conduct commerce, is an electronic miracle. This from a man who was on the technology cutting edge in college because he had an electronic typewriter with an erasing tape feature.
But the miracle brings responsibilities as well as benefits.
It is the luxury of blogs to speculate, but speculation needs to identified as such. Bloggers, and other writers, need to be sure of their facts. They need to be sure of their sources. And, if they bite on the wrong hook, they need to ‘fess up in the same forum in which they offered the misstatement. To not do so is truly irresponsible and wrong.
And that is why I take issue with Alton’s post, and consider it an example of the dangers of the blogosphere.
I have no problem with him taking a controversial position. Free speech gives him that right, and any community is kept intellectually strong through vigorous debate of topics pleasant or not.
I have a big problem with him taking a controversial position that is based in no fact at all, for blindly following speculation without researching the facts, and then…some months later…still not coming back and correcting the original post.
That is a danger of the blogosphere, and that is why I find Alton’s post reprehensible.