I want to start out with a few disclaimers.
- I am not a journalist. (Pipe down. It needs to be said.)
- I am not the sharpest apple in the deck.
- I am not a lawyer.
- I am not a therapist.
- I do not care if you wish to hump wild oak trees at night in the privacy of your own home.
- I hate bullies.
- I enjoy neither confrontations nor being confrontational.
- I am not now, nor have I ever been a member of the Communist party. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
- I used to think I was really conservative.
- I have no ten. I just wanted to make this list end on nice number. Nine seems, oh, unfinished somehow. As if I stepped out for a sandwich.
- Oh, wait, I do have a ten. This is a long one. Get a snack. <insert that’s what she said here>
Okay. Now, here’s the thing.
I had like two other things I was going to write about today, but I did something stupid. Rather than just sit down and write, I looked at the Facebook news feed from my hometown NBC affiliate. Those of you from Laurel who are reading this are sitting there going, DUMBASS! And you are RIGHT. There’s nothing wrong with the station. It’s the comments that kill the operation. IN MY DEFENSE, I had a hard time getting up this morning. The jolt of adrenaline I got fixed that right up.
WDAM has a user-generated page on its website. Most news outlets do. You can post pictures and video. Today someone who wished to remain “anonimise” (Although there was a legitimate-sounding name under the “taken by” credit, so I don’t know what’s up with that.) posted a video purportedly of two middle school cheerleaders getting in a fight. The title of the video had the name of the girls supposedly in the fight. You with me so far? Adolescents, names, fight, video, user-generated content. Good.
I don’t comment on news sites generally. It’s really pointless. I don’t enjoy getting into virtual cat fights with people I don’t know and don’t care to know. My friends and I will discuss it, but that’s usually as far as it goes. When you grow up in a tiny town in southern Mississippi, you just hear a lot of nonsense. It gets pretty easy to tune it out. But I have to say that I took issue with this. Beyond the fact this was YouTube fodder and not news, you just don’t go throwing kids’ names around on websites. As my friend pointed out, legitimate news organizations do not do that.
And I pointed this out. I said, you know, you just don’t do that. You’ve not proven veracity, you know nothing about it. Further, because it is on the website of this station, the perception is that the video is legitimate. You and I, dear reader, may understand anyone can post anything at any time. You know what? People can do that on MY blog. You can comment until the cows come home, but BECAUSE IT IS MINE, I have a right to moderate what you post. So I set up a troll filter and comments that might be spam or hateful are held for me to moderate. I do that because while I feel very strongly you say what you want to say, I have an obligation to my reader(s), to me, and to my family. And if you call out my kids by name without my permission, you say something hateful, I’m going to knock you out of my virtual space. Because that kind of talk is not helpful or, frankly, interesting. And IN MY SPACE, your First Amendment rights are not the issue. While you have a right to say what you want, in my space, I have a right to tell you to hush up and go play in another sandbox. See how that works?
Basically, I was met with a bunch of people saying I was wrong. No, scratch that. I was met with a bunch of people who didn’t read what I wrote. Work with me here.
What I wrote, some several times, was that the severity or veracity of the content was not an issue. That it was not MY issue. That’s not what I was talking about. That you, on your website, allowed the names of minors to be published without benefit of research was the issue. I actually looked up what the laws are regarding the publication of the identity of minors. Now, again, I’m not an expert, okay? To cut to the chase, I found Smith v. Daily Mail. In this 1979 ruling, The Supremes unanimously decided that the First Amendment allows journalists to name minors if the information is obtained legally and “truthfully” reported. Judge Rehnquist wrote, “Publication of the names of juvenile offenders may seriously impair the rehabilitative goals…The press is free to describe the details of the offense and inform the community of the proceedings against the juvenile.” But this applies to a court case. Right now, there’s no court case involving these two children.
I went to the RTDNA (Radio Television Digital News Association) website. They had a lot of information regarding the ethical treatment of juveniles in the media. Some highlights:
- What alternatives have you considered besides identifying the juvenile?
- Who besides the juvenile, will be impacted by your decision? Other juveniles? Parents? Families? Victims? Officials/investigators/courts?
- How does the juvenile’s family feel about identifying the young person? Has the family granted interviews or provided information to the media? Has the juvenile talked publicly?
Now, the station maintains that since it is UGC (user generated content) they neither have to edit it nor stand behind it. In fact, in a comment directed at me, the station said, “Susan, if we run a story on this, we will verify the information. Content uploaded to our UGC platforms is moderated, mainly for obscenity. We do not, however, hold it up to the same scrutiny we would a story posted to our main news site or aired on television. We believe our audience is savvy enough to navigate the modern world of photo and video sharing and to exhibit a level of appropriate skepticism as they would with any social media service.”
That’s when I started thinking about the Tea Party.
Personally, I feel footage of two kids fighting (staged or not) is obscene. But my point, AGAIN, was never about the posting of the video to the website. My issue was that minors were identified. They may or may not have been involved. YOU DON’T KNOW. And, sorry, but kids get a pass. If you want to debate the importance of leaking a juvenile’s name, we can have that discussion later. But what the station and many other commenters did was ignore my concern. Here I am saying, wow, someone’s posted a video identifying two kids and I’m not okay with that. But it turned into statements like Girl Scouts get their pictures in the paper all the time. These kids need to be called out so they can be punished. It doesn’t matter because the video’s a fake.
What the Tea Party does is barf out some ridiculous piece of rhetoric, generally that has nothing to do with anything, and then get mad when you won’t engage them. ANCHOR BABIES! PLANNED PARENTHOOD IS ABORTING FETUSES AT EIGHT MONTHS! OBAMA ISN’T AMERICAN! And then when you say, well, see, Obama is from America. Here’s some proof. They say, IT’S A FAKE! CONSPIRACY! IT’S OBVIOUSLY PHOTOSHOPPED! And you can’t argue, you can’t rationalize with someone who refuses to concede you’re even arguing the same subject.
I’ve been thinking about something called splitting. It’s a psychology term. Basically what it means is that a person will split the world into good and bad, black and white, with no middle. They can’t integrate good and bad into something approaching reality. Because reality is all shades of gray. And a lot of people who do this do so to protect their egos. So someone who splits may have this very intimate moment with another person, but he or she will then retreat into anger because the self could disappear and turn into the other.
It’s so easy to split the world into black and white. It’s so easy to dismiss someone’s point because you have–in your mind–an even more important point to make about something else. It’s easy to dismiss a point when it hits too close to home. And it’s easy to dismiss a point when it’s not yours. But directly responding to a point that no one ever made is really ridiculous. It shuts the other person down and makes it easy for the person doing the shutting-down to say, Ah. There you go. Not so smart now, are you, Mr. Smarty Pants?
The Tea Party isn’t going away because there are too many people out there who want a forum for their particular concerns whether or not they are the concerns of anyone else, whether or not they are legitimate, and whether or not they even make sense. THIS is what the Tea Party means by individualism. The Tea Party is like this big bar. And that one dude starts yelling PLAY FREE BIRD! And the other dude starts a fight about the relative merits of Skynrd versus Foghat. And that creepy old dude in the tube socks is telling you about the time he and his old lady did it in the truck to “Sweet Home Alabama” on the way home from Daphne. They’re all talking about the same thing, right? Skynrd? No. It’s that everyone has their own opinion about Skynrd and wants to share. So that the Tea Party is full of fake conservatives who say they don’t want government to have a prominent role in our lives when what they really mean is they want to make illegal anything they don’t deem morally acceptable shouldn’t surprise anyone. Because these are the people who are out yelling their fool heads off in a smoky bar on the outskirts of West Beaver Dam, USA.
It’s all about civility in public discourse, stupid.
1:30 PM: By the way, the station did remove the names from the post. The station, on its Facebook page said, “After considering the issue, we did remove the names, as we did not post this video and can’t be certain the names are correct or that the video isn’t staged. Again, we offer user submitted content ‘as is’ in most situations. We have decided not to air the video on our broadcasts. Still, school bullying is an important issue to us, and we feel allowing this video to appear on our UGC platform will do more good than harm. So, it will remain there but not appear on air or on our main website. We appreciate your comments on the matter and have taken them all into consideration.”
I would like to applaud WDAM for doing what I happen to think is the right thing. And I hope that this does open the possibility that the station will do some substantive pieces on bullying. Clearly there is need.
3:50 PM: WDAM appears to have removed both the Facebook thread referenced here as well as the video from their Send It To Seven section of the website.
(Full disclosure: Two of these comments are from a friend and one is from my brother. The more you know…)