Credit goes to The Blaze for bringing this story from the New York Times to my attention.
Now, I know what long time followers will say: Doug! You’re linking the New York Times, bastion of progressive hedonism! What happened?
For once, the New York Times committed actual journalism. I won’t focus too much on the article itself, The Blaze has already done a fine job summarizing the article which is very much worth the read. In brief, an agency from Russia committed an elaborate hoax of a chemical plant explosion in a small american city. Said hoax included staged video of supposed ISIS terrorists claiming responsibility for the attack, hundreds of twitter accounts posting faked photos and video, and duplicate versions of authentic websites meant to trick the unwary.
The main reason I bring this is up is to share my experience as an old hand at consuming news, and in our era of always evolving news reporting there has been a universal constant:
First reports are always wrong.
That doesn’t mean you disregard breaking news. It means you view it with a critical eye. Always, no matter the source. Even when youtube came out, even during the aftermath of the Boston Bombing in which Twitter was the most reliable information source and absolutely creamed the mainstream media in reporting, any self respecting news analyst, amateur or otherwise, took to heart deep down that you always double check, you always triple check, and you verify your information through third parties.
And no, citing twitter and then citing a news story citing twitter doesn’t quite count, that’s ontological sourcing. What first reports are useful for are leads. The broad gist, the smoke in the room that one might chase down in order to find a possible fire. Or, in this case, a foreign country sponsoring a group of professional trolls blowing a tremendous amount of smoke.
I have always encouraged my listeners and readers to do their own homework, and, by and large, the list of websites and broadcasters I draw the majority of my information from encourage their audiences to do the same thing. In the example of the Columbia Chemical hoax, those initially caught up in the thrill of the moment would have verified the non-event by checking CNN, the local radio affiliates, drudge, ABC, state authorities.. the list goes on and on.
Yes, the problem of a legitimate website being ‘duped’ with a fake exists, and took place in that example. But for an event as serious as the one the hoax was trying to push – a major chemical plant explosion on September 11th – you treat those cases with extra scrutiny and make sure they look really good before firing the broadsides of everybody panic!
There are people out there who want to cause mischief. There are cases where they are willing to go to tremendous lengths to do so. Sometimes, those actors are countries, or sponsored by countries. Whatever major conflict happens next to humanity will almost certainly involve informational warfare, and, arguably, one could call this incident a major test-case. It’s in no way my intention to scare or fear monger or anything of the sort.
Merely, this is just a gentle reminder: When you see that sweet juicy story full of blood and guts splattering the windows, make sure the big and little dogs out in the wild actually have something in their jaws. Which you should have already known to do, anyway.
I’ve said in the past that twitter is a decent means of getting a feel for the ‘pulse’ of a current event. By and large, it still is. But now more then ever, if a current event is highly controversial while its unfolding, you’re going to want to take extra time to ensure the tweets you’re following come from verified, trustworthy people. And even then…
Minor housekeeping note:
I am currently exploring options for rebooting the podcast, favoring blogtalkradio but willing to consider other venues. While I would like to reach out to other conservative folks out there I kind of need to earn my street cred back, and what I really need to do is actually start commenting on news articles again, in addition to writing posts about them, on the sites I frequently mention here. (Like Legal Insurrection, Instapundit, and Ace of Spades).
I’m torn between whether I want to focus on California politics, or my usual schtick of a focus on national issues with whining about California sprinkled in between. Realistically, my entry back will be the short, frantic half hour weekly shows where I don’t have to pay for a BTR subscription, but we’ll see. I am guilty of sometimes overthinking this stuff.
As always thoughts and comments are appreciated.