“Blogging is not writing. It’s graffiti with punctuation.”

Posted: August 29, 2012 in Life As Science Fiction
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Yesterday, I finally sat down and watched Contagion. The movie was so-so and not something I’d discuss here anyway, but it did contain that zinger of a line above. Possibly, the only moment of really decent writing in the whole film and it felt totally discordant, probably because it is so sharp.

And then, Lightspeed posted this brilliantly thorough interview with Mira Grant–aka Seanan McGuire–the lady responsible for the Newsflesh trilogy. (If you like zombies and political thrillers, you really, really ought to read them.) Of course, Grant deals with the development of blogging heavily in her novels. Bloggers are the new journalists, which isn’t quite true in Contagion yet, but it gets there. What’s interesting in both cases is that catastrophic events (basically, two epidemics) catapult blogging into the realm of “serious journalism.”

Now, you’ll probably argue, isn’t that already true? Huffington Post is basically one giant blog, and then there are the Gawker websites (Jezebel, io9, Lifehacker, etc). Don’t half of us already get most of our news from Twitter and Youtube?

Grant admits that when she wrote Feed, blogging hadn’t reached the level of ubiquity it has today. Regardless, I think her novels (and Contagion in its own ham-handed way) raise some interesting questions about the blogosphere and journalistic integrity.

After all, anyone with an internet connection (fast or slow) can be a blogger. Obviously, all you need is a wordpress account and enough time. Most blogs don’t have the mainstream appeal we see in these fictional accounts, but there are some people (including Grant/McGuire) who have quite an impressive following.

Now I’m not a huge fan of mainstream media, especially the 24-hour news cycle, but you can make the argument that among journalists there’s professional accountability for bad reporting. The different networks are constantly ragging on each other for misrepresentation, etc. You can usually say the same of news websites (although I’ve seen some unabashedly poorly reported stuff on Huffpost). But where does accountability in blogging come from?

It’s kind of exciting and terrifying, because accountability comes from the readership. If I find faulty information on a blog, information without sources, or just grossly biased material, I’m probably not going to go back to that blog. The internet is huge–there’s plenty else for me to read. So, you can make an argument for a truly democratic process. More successful blogs get more readers, more readers make the blogs more successful, ad infinitum.

But this doesn’t account for the kind of internet frenzy that happens around mimetic material. Kony 2012 is probably one of the most famous recent examples. Yes, the group’s misleading claims were eventually brought to light by several interested individuals, but a fair bit of damage had already been done. Thousands of young people had given money to support a group they didn’t actually know very much about.

And if the situation were even more serious, as it is in Contagion for example, how do we create accountability then? And how do we protect the online community from people who would mislead us for their own gain?

Just one of the many ways we’re living science fiction, folks.

What are your thoughts on the ethics of blogging? How do you verify what you read online?

  1. I don’t know if there’s really any “professional accountability” left in TV news reporting. I mean, some, I guess?

    Even with TV and newspaper news, though, the actually accountability still kinda comes from the audience, don’t you think? I mean, The NY Times has fact checkers, so they can internally review their own stuff, but if they get something wrong, somebody has to call them out on it.

    • Julia says:

      Yes, but it’d be the New York Times–not the audience–who would, say, fire a bad fact checker or a journalist who falsified evidence.

      There’s also the difference in that there is academic, professional training for journalists which teaches important things like ethics. Do all journalists have that? No, but the opportunity is there, which you can’t say about bloggers.

      Moreover, while audience is important to news machines, they don’t rely on word of mouth to attract people, whereas blogs do.

      Are the lines getting blurred as more media becomes digital/online? Yes, of course. But there is still a difference and one of those differences is who determines the success of the material.

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