Tuesday 8 July 2014

Trending Bad

The other day I wrote about an edition of BBC Trending, which I heard in the middle of the night on the BBC World Service. 
To recap: 
But the item that caught my ear was the one devoted to hashtag “GazaUnderAttack” , which they tell me has been trending, on and off, since one of the IDF’s previous incursions into Gaza, probably Operation Pillar of Cloud.   The thing about the latest flurry of activity over at hashtaggazaunderattack is that people (mainly from Malaysia, somewhere else I've forgotten and the UK) have been furiously Tweeting images of ‘dead babies’ willy nilly, no matter whether they were gleaned from Gaza or anywhere else, nor whether they occurred recently or from time immemorial. 
They joked a bit, then interviewed a disturbingly nonchalant sixteen year old British Tweeter and blogger who readily admitted doing this - that’s Tweeting fake images - but was quite okay with that as she feels the world has to know what the mainstream media isn’t telling them. 

Bloody hell.

The thing I found most offensive of all was that the presenters seemed relatively unfazed by the fact that disinformation was being so cavalierly bandied about on social media, when it has the potential to be so inflammatory. To be fair, they did seem a bit taken aback, especially when the young lady interviewee didn’t appear sufficiently remorseful, rather she gave the impression that she was sorry, but still blissfully unaware of the potential seriousness of her error. It was a kind of  protracted “Ooops!”  

We’ve heard this argument before, but it goes like this; “We know that this kind of thing happens all the time, so if the particulars aren’t 100% in accordance with l'actualit√©, what’s the problem?” That’s the argument that was presented when the unverified al Durah pictures were beamed round the world with such disastrous consequences.  There is a problem, and it’s good that the BBC  spotted it and featured it. 

If accuracy doesn’t matter, the BBC reporters and foreign correspondents might as well pack their bags and go and work from home. Make it up as they go along. Spend more time with their families. The creative personnel could offer their services to al Jazeera or press TV. or just pass the reins over to the magazine and light entertainment departments.

Hadar Sela has explored this topic over at BBC Watch.

The intro has been transcribed for our edification:

Anne-Marie Tomchak: “This week the hashtag ‘GazaUnderAttack’ has been trending. It’s been used more than 231 thousand time in the past seven days. But the hashtag itself isn’t new. It’s reappeared on social media because of fresh tensions between Israel and the Palestinians. Now earlier this week the bodies of three kidnapped Israeli youths were found in the West Bank. Israel has blamed Hamas, but they’ve denied responsibility. And then later in the week a Palestinian teenager was abducted and killed in Jerusalem. The deaths have fuelled tensions and sparked new clashes on the ground and it’s all moving really fast. Abdiraheem – can you just give us a sense 

Abdiraheem Saeed: “Yeah, so things kind of started on Monday when the bodies of the three Israeli teenagers were found around Hebron and they went missing about two weeks and a half ago and since then the city of Hebron has been locked down. Israel accuses Hamas of being behind the attack and has since launched a number of air attacks on Gaza, partly because it says there has been rocket attacks coming in from Gaza on Israeli cities.”

AMT: “Right, so rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel and there’ve been Israeli airstrikes on Gaza and it’s those airstrikes on Gaza that are a part of the reason why this hashtag ‘GazaUnderAttack’ is trending.”
There’s a slight problem with “things kind of started on Monday...” because of course they started long before that, ( Since the beginning of 2014 Gaza terrorists have fired more than 450 rockets at innocent Israeli civilians) but, benefit of the doubt, he meant what started on Monday was the Twitter spike. (It’s a big benefit, because his subsequent summing-up of events indicates otherwise.)

The theme running through most of the BBC’s interviewing I’ve watched over the last few days is an assumption that ‘airstrikes on Gaza’ are in retaliation for the murder of the three Israelis. So to dispel that it’s necessary to clarify that things did not start “on Monday” and it’s also important to explain that ‘airstrikes on Gaza’ are targeted attacks,  not some kind of unfocused carpet-bombing, which brings me to the other misguided assumption encapsulated in a headline from Sky:”Israel Bombs Gaza To Avenge Hamas Rocket Fire”

The purpose of the current “Operation Protective Edge” is to “Lay a significant blow on Hamas’ terror capabilities.” To quote Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, IDF Spokeman. But because of the prolific propaganda that surrounds us, many people will respond to that with a cynical “Israel says” - or variations thereof.

Although it’s encouraging that these inaccurate Tweets have been highlighted on the BBC, it seems that the potential they have for causing more hatred, more violence and more deaths could have been taken much more seriously by the folks at BBC Trending, by the BBC World service and by the BBC in general, who haven’t been entirely free from committing similar carelessness themselves.  

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