Thursday, April 04, 2013

Cry Wolf

Over at Profhacker, the solution to a mystery:
On January 25, 2013, I began tweeting about what was supposed to be a routine commuter flight from Washington-Dulles International to my home in Charlotte, North Carolina. My tweets grew increasingly frantic though, as I began detailing an emerging,mysterious disaster. Over the course of the next few days I continued this narrative, which eventually wound up with my interrogation at the hands of a strange foreign agent. And finally, after four days of such tweets, following the release of a murky video to my family, my Twitter account disappeared. Poof! I was gone. 
Of course, the whole story was made up.
I had seen some of the early messages on Twitter, and I had been worried--worried enough, anyway, to check various news sites to see if there was other news confirming this, and worried enough to mention it to Spouse. Since I don't know Mark Sample, the internet prankster, in real life and didn't see other confirmation, I concluded that others, whom the writer did know, would take care of it. I still wondered about it, though.

Stupid me. I was worried about a person, another human being whom I thought might be in danger, not realizing that I was part of a War of the Worlds-type  prank. People aren't accountable on the internet. I was stupid for worrying that something bad was unfolding, even though all of us have seen plenty of bad things unfolding on the internet with early intimations being posted to social media.

The writer is now outraged that other people have picked up on this story: some who were, like me, worried, took it upon themselves to find out what really happened; others have hacked into his account and continued it. It's all apparently a form of performance art.

But it made me think.
  • Does each new form of media bring with it a kind of credibility on the part of the medium--or, if you prefer, a stupid naiveté or credulity on the part of its readers-- until their trust is violated by enough Onion-style news or pranks?
  • How long does it take before you read everything in a new medium as just more faux news on the internet? 

Something about this story bothers me, but aside from learning valuable lessons (1. Ignore Twitter. 2. Ignore Twitter. 3. Ignore Twitter), I can't quite figure out what it is.

Your thoughts?  [Edited to add: I had taken this down but a comment on the other post convinced me to put it back--thanks, Stacey!] 

Edited to add: here's a link to the #OccupyMLA hoax, otherwise known as more pranksters wasting the time and patience of everyone on a serious issue so that tweets about genuine injustices will be ignored next time when people believe it's a hoax:

All three of these hoaxers dressed it up in theory-speak and tried to spackle it  over with pretensions to doing something useful, but this is the same juvenile mindset that makes 11-year-old boys put firecrackers in mailboxes every 4th of July.  I don't see why we should either excuse it or trust the perpetrators.

3/15/21 Edited to add: Eight years later, and I've purposely never read any "scholarship" that the prankster bros have written. Once bitten, twice shy, indeed.


Stacey Lee Donohue said...

My concern over the Twitter narrator didn't last long, but when he played out his scenario even after folks expressed concern, then I lost interest in the game. Perhaps if OccupyMLA hadn't also just revealed themselves to be a hoax, then perhaps the narrative would have been more amusing. So thank you for sharing your reaction and confirming my own: it's not one that I saw at all on Twitter at all, interestingly.

sophylou said...

I had already unfollowed the Twitter narrator before he started the game, so missed the whole thing. The ProfHacker post rubbed me the wrong way, though, and your post, which I saw in Google Reader yesterday, did a good job of enunciating my reaction to it.

undine said...

Stacey--my concern didn't last long, but since I think that anything that chips away at the trust human beings have for each other erodes something fundamental, it irritated me.

OccupyMLA was a hoax, too? I hadn't paid attention because I figured it was just another Twitter/Facebook outrage maker. Twitter= 70% self promotion and 25% political outrage. I guess i read it for the other 5%.

It's astonishing that no one on Twitter had anything to say about it. Business as usual on there, I guess: everyone talks and no one listens.

sophylou--I'm glad you had the same reaction. I thought at first I was just being too sensitive about being pranked, which is why I took the post down, but Stacey convinced me otherwise.

The ProfHacker post is all about "poor me--someone believed me on the internet and came to my class! Jeez, can't you all take a joke about terrorism?" Well, not so much, these days.

undine said...

That's probably a little too harsh about Twitter, because I do learn things from there, but still.

sophylou said...

I also got a whiff of "people just don't appreciate how clever I am by playing with the medium this way!" which I found a little annoying.

Flavia said...

I hadn't followed the Twitter story (must have been offline most of that day), but reading the linked account in ProfHacker really rubs me the wrong way, too. How dare you care about me as a human being! How dare you not get that I was engaged in really really meaningful performance art with some really really meaningful (but totally obscure) message!

Personally, I cherish the human connections I make through social media, and they're dependent on a certain level of openness and trust. And though I understand that real people aren't fully contiguous with their online personas, the people whom I like and connect with online are overwhelmingly also people I like and connect with offline (when I've had the opportunity to do the latter).

I've made friends through Twitter, as well as through my blog and through Facebook. But you may be right that as a medium it encourages--or should encourage--greater skepticism.

Thanks for the post.

undine said...

sophylou--That's exactly it. He was outraged because his performance wasn't received the way he thought it ought to be. When students rail that we "didn't get the message," we take them through another iteration of subject/audience/purpose, but if anyone brought this up on Twitter, we'd be accused of being wrong--too uncool, too female, or too "not getting" the playful nature of social media.

Flavia--yes, that's it, too! He was annoyed because someone cared enough to see if he was all right, and how dare they show up at his classroom? How dare they? I do feel a connection to people through this blog and through Twitter, which is why I was taken aback to have that trust abused.

Anonymous said...

Well, I am teaching an 1871 novella about a ride on the first tram Madrid ever had. On the tram you can pick up fragments of other peoples' newspapers and magazines, which have pieces of serialized novels in them. You can also listen to other people talk about these novels, or hear fragments of real news and gossip they are sharing with people they know. The character decides some of the people in the stories are on the tram, and that a murder has been committed ... and tries to investigate (and go after the culprit).

So now, plane and twitter, but then, tram and newspaper fragments that include installments of fictional tales ...

undine said...

profacero, that sounds like a cool novel. Can you give the title, or would that out you?