Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Attackers and the Bystanders

In "Stars and Sewers," New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd points to misogynistic Internet comments posted about the brutal gang rape of CBS reporter Lara Logan in Egypt's Tahrir Square, comments that appeared on Twitter, in blogs, and anonymously on Yahoo! For Doyd, this abusive online verbiage serves as more support for Nicholas Carr's high-profile anti-Internet argument that networked computer technology is "rewiring" our brains. Dowd also cites a number of other social media skeptics in rapid fire succession: Jaron Lanier, Evgeny Morozov, and Leon Wieseltier of The New Republic, with whom she ends her editorial.

“I’m not interested in having the sewer appear on my site,” he said. “Why would I engage with people digitally whom I would never engage with actually? Why does the technology exonerate the kind of foul expression that you would not tolerate anywhere else?”

In "Adding insult to Lara Logan's injury," once controversial blogger Amanda Marcotte, whom I write about in the chapter on blogs and Photoshop in the Virtualpolitik book, focuses on a cast of conservatives in the blogosphere.

Popular rightwing bloggers Debbie Schlussel, Robert Stacy McCain, and Sister Toldja were among those who immediately used the attack to reinforce their anti-Muslim, anti-revolution arguments. But the real cause of sex crime is power, and its abuse, and that is a problem in all the nations on this planet.

Meanwhile, anti-Republican journalist Nir Rosen has been apologizing for Tweets that maligned Logan's character in "How 480 characters unraveled my career." From a rhetorical perspective, it is interesting to note that Rosen drops in a reference to WikiLeaks in explaining his lapse into Internet cynicism.

With 480 characters I undid a long career defending the weak and victims of injustice. There is no excuse for what I wrote. At the time, I did not know that the attack against Lara Logan was so severe, or included apparent sexual violence. Even so, any violence against anyone is wrong. I've apologized, lost my job, and humiliated myself and my family. But I, at least, don't want to go down looking like a sexist pig. I am not. I am a staunch supporter of women's rights, gay rights and the rights of the weak anywhere in the world. . . . So why did I write it? It was a disgusting comment born from dark humor I have developed working in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and Lebanon -- and a need to provoke people. I have a few think tank friends on Twitter, and we often banter about the morality of WikiLeaks, counterinsurgency and other issues. When I first heard the news about Logan, I assumed she was roughed up like every other journalist -- which is still bad -- but I was jokingly trying to provoke one of my think tank friends on Twitter, thoughtlessly, of course, and terribly insensitively. Stupidly, I didn't think the banter between myself and a couple of other guys would amount to anything.

Now, Twitter is no place for nuance, which is why I should have stuck to long-form journalism.

Logan's own journalistic practices have had a complex relationship to social media. As I write in this article, the cell phone footage that she used in her reporting on the Iraq war caused her story on the Battle of Haifa Street to be rejected for broadcast; subsequently Logan complained about having been exiled to the station's webcast as a result.

I might suggest to Dowd that online comments left last year on a 60 Minutes story done by Logan about Green Berets who shot two boys accidentally provide an example of much more substantive counter-discourse and civic engagement. Even if the tone of some of those postings was caustic and cynical, viewers were able to question the powers that be

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