Blog Post

Is Fort Hood an example of citizen journalism gone wrong?

Paul Carr suggests that "social media might not be an unequivocally Good Thing in terms of privacy and human decency" in "NSFW: After Fort Hood, another example of how citizen journalists cant handle the truth" 

Carr discusses the mis-information the public and the media received during the attack on Ft. Hood citing the Twitter account of Terah Moore, a soldier based at Fort Hood, as a perfect example. He thinks that real time reports of events or citizen journalism is making us egotistical, "How we're increasingly seeing people at the scene of major accidents grabbing their cell phones to capture the dramatic events and share them with their friends, rather than calling 911".

Carr proves his point by talking about this summer's Iran elections and the death of Neda Agha Soltan. He argues that, as with the death of Soltan, people watch and report what happens instead of trying to help the people involved.

Perhaps the most engaging and persuasive part of his argument comes towards the end, "And that's precisely the problem: none of us think we're being selfish or egotistic when we tweet something, or post a video on YouTube or check-in using someones address on Foursquare. It's just what we do now, no matter whether were heading out for dinner or witnessing a massacre on an Army base".

Are we egotistical in becoming a part of the media ? Is it selfish to try to upload the next big video or get thousands to follow your tweets?

Carr makes a good point when he reminds his audience that the cameraman that zoomed in on Soltan wasn't a trained professional but an ordinary person, a citizen just like Soltan. Obviously we come to expect coldness from our cameramen and reporters on the scene, but are the lines of citizen journalists and those traditionally trained so blurred that expectations are now the same?





Glenn Greenwald makes a similiar point in a recent column at Salon, though right-leaning blogger Patterico says Greenwald is being unfair.


Thanks for pointing out the Glenn Greenwald article. I think he raises some really interesting points.

"But whatever else is true, news outlets -- driven by competitive pressures in the age of instant "reporting" -- don't really seem to recognize the need for this balance at all.  They're willing to pass on anything they hear without regard to reliability".

 This is an important point that Carr doesn't bring up in his article. It seems to me that now some people are perceiving citizen journalism as problematic. What Greenwald says later in his piece is more important to note though as it deals with how citizens are viewing the information they are feed through new media.

"The problem, though, is that huge numbers of people aren't ignoring it.  They're paying close attention -- and they're paying the closest attention, and forming their long-term views, in the initial stages of the reporting.  Many people will lose their interest once the drama dissolves -- i.e., once the actual facts emerge. "

How can we avoid people losing interest or at least keeping interest until the facts emerge? Also, is there a way to get media outlets to retract the information while also taking responsibility for the careless work?




I don't dispute that citizen "journalists" complicate the already muddy field of journalism.  But I do take a small issue with Carr's assertion that people film an event rather than help at the scene.  It decontextualizes the cultural, political, and social situation those people are in at that moment.  The elections in Iran the place of Soltan's death, were in a country where personal rights are a far off dream.  Even in countries not involved in wars and power struggles, the people may be afraid to act and to help.  I lived in Austria for a year; my American friends witnessed neo-Nazis beating up a Muslim tram driver.  They were the only ones who stood up to the Nazis and stayed with the driver until the police came.  Does that mean Americans are more brave or have better values? No. It does indicate how fearful people become of speaking out b/c of retaliation.  While I question those people who attempt to use social networking to gain celebrity through citizen "journalism," I also realize that for some, getting proof is their way of helping.  If we hadn't had the video of Rodney King's beating, who would have believed something that heinous could have happened?  The death of Derrion Albert in Chicago was taken and posted and finally, people actually started talking about how to combat teen violence in the most neglected neighborhoods. Are there people who would rather make a film they can sell for 50$ instead of help a person in need? Of course.  But for people who have been taught that helping out can lead to more problems than they can handle, using a video camera to document police brutality, to catch a criminal, to show officials - and the world - that the problem is as bad as you have been saying all along, it may be the only recourse.