2016 minus 48: the day after

Posted: 14 November 2015 in 2016minus, internet, media, world
Tags: , ,

I doubt anyone reading this is unaware of the horrific events that took place in the last 24 hours in Paris. I wrote on Twitter a couple of hours ago that I didn’t have a fucking clue what I could possibly write today in the shadow of those events that wasn’t trite nor unnecessary, and as I write these words, I’m still not sure.

Oh, I could state my loathing both for those who committed the atrocieties we’re still learning about, and those who defend, justify or excuse those who carried them out. Or those who protest that they’re merely ‘explaining’ the motivations, when what they’re actually doing is defending, justifying or excusing. There is a time for serious people to seriously consider what happened, and such horrors can attempt to be prevented from reoccurring. But that time is in the future, not while bodies are still being identified and removed. Yes, I could state my abhorrence of such horrors, but anyone reading this would already know I abhor them.

There’s something to be said I suppose for my entire lack of surprise at how these events have shown once again that people are amazing; not those who carried out the attacks, but the people who opened their homes to those who needed shelter, the people who understood that to blame a religion (rather than its perversion) for the attacks is as ludicrous as blaming the concept of writing for an obscene piece of graffitti, the people – in short – who as Alistair Cooke once said were a credit to their race… the human race.

So let me instead comment on just three facets of the evening that entirely surprised me at the time and continue to do so; two are to do with social media, one on the news reporting; one surprised me in its cleverness and rightness, one depressed me, and one utterly disgusted me.

Facebook did something that only tech could do, that was in hindsight obvious, but at the time genuinely pleasing. If the functionality was available previously, it’s something of which I was entirely unaware, but it’s something that I sadly suspect will become more and more important as time goes on. I’m not on Facebook; lots of reasons for it, but I’ve not regretted not being on it. I may change my mind after this. A couple of hours after the attacks commenced, I first became aware that Facebook had activated a function that informed people that their ‘friends’ (i.e. contacts on Facebook) were ok, that they were safe, that they had checked in. Of course, one might think that someone on Facebook saying “I’m ok, everyone” would be enough, but I’m presuming (I don’t know, as I say, I’m not on Facebook) that this algorithm scanned your friends’ list, checked who lived in or was in Paris that night, and then if Facebook detected that their phone was moving, being used to make calls, tweet, post, etc. it automatically marked them as ‘safe’ in the function. Astonishingly clever automagical use of a social media network and one that could have been useful on too many similar occasions in the past.

Twitter meanwhile lived up/down to the comment made some years back that Twitter is at its best in the twelve minutes after any major event and at its worse in the following twelve hours. Genuinely well-motivated tweets were tweeted as accurate then deleted – or worse not deleted – as new information superceded the previous inaccurate data. Idiots made mischief, and good ideas, such as a hashtag for people to use to find somewhere safe, were drowned out as amended tweets drowned out the possibility of anyone being able to find a genuinely useful example of the hashtag. As for the developing situation on the ground, incorrect information was tweeted by too many (some well meaning, some not) without any consideration as to its accuracy. It was the most recent ‘news’ so get it out there for your followers to see… And a perfect example of this was the alleged fire at a Calais refugee camp. Too many examples last night of tweets from people stating outright that the camp was on fire, and that it was probably a ‘revenge’ attack. It took a couple of hours to sort out what had happened. Some racists online – entirely missing the point that the refugees weren’t responsible for the atacks, but were refugees precisely vecause they had fled such attacks – had tweeted that they hoped the refugee camp would be set aflame. One of them grabbed an old photo of a camp on fire (a gas cannister had exploded, accident). That pic then did the rounds, and people started tweeting that the camp was on fire. The possibility/probability/certainty/doubt/debunking process took far longer than it should have. (Edit to add: almost 24 hours later, it appears there was a fire last night, but the pictures tweeted were from an old incident, and there have been no official reasons given for the fire, nor details of the size or seriousness of it.)

And that brings me to the news reporting. Much of it was excellent; I was channel flipping between BBC News, Sky News and France 24. All had their advantages and all their disadvantages. But around midnight, BBC News was the one that shocked me, and not for a good reason. That Calais refugee camp? Look, BBC News, I can understand your irritation at being accused of always being behind everyone else and the desire to be first with ‘new’ news, but for the love of Reith, is it asking too much to withhold even a suggestion as potentially dangerous as a refugee camp being on fire until you check the bloody story out? I appreciate that being on air during a developing story is when a news presenter is tested. Well, sorry, by reporting that even as a possibility and then saying “but treat that with caution; we’re not sure it’s accurate”, you failed.

One final thing. It’s petty and trivial and shouldn’t upset me as much as it did. When you tweet something, you shouldn’t have to check the last hour of your feed to confirm ‘nothing’s happened in the world’. But more and more, it appears as if some think you should. 

The events last night started mid evening. Many were entirely unaware of the events for some time as they’d been travelling or at a party, or in the cinema or… just not on Twitter. Their tweets – about such trivialities as what they’d had for dinner, or what they’d just seen in the movie theatre, or anything at all that didn’t relate to the horrible events in Twitter – were not only perfectly understandable but on any other occasion wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow, let alone the ire of others. And yet, time after time last night, I saw someone tweet a completely harmless tweet of the sort we’ve all done, only for people to fall upon them because they’d dared tweet something that wasn’t about Paris. This isn’t not bothering to cancel scheduled tweets promoting something or other – I had three ready to go and very fortunately remembered to cancel them –   but having a pop at people because they weren’t aware what had happened in Paris. As I say, seeing the tweets discomforted me; I can’t lie, but it was that discomfort that occurs when someone you haven’t seen in years ethusiastically asks after your parents and you have to explain they died. What upset me was the knowledge that by having a go at someone, the accuser was assuming that the person tweeting knew about Paris and chose not to care. And some of these people being berated were my friends. 

Be safe today, people. Please.

  1. On the facebook point, it’s a question of pushing through the response. Facebook has a news feed where you get stories from friends, but if you have even a decent number on there, it filters down so you won’t see everything. It also did a push notification, so even if it’s people you weren’t aware might be affected you found out

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