Citizen Journalism and Misinformation
Today I shared a link to an online article reporting Israel Opens Dams, Floods Agricultural Lands And Homes In Gaza. As it happens, the article was wrong.
The origin of the report ~ and in particular, the misinformation that this flooding was a result of deliberate action ~ at first appeared to be the UK newspaper “The Daily Mail.” The misinformation in the original story reported:
Hundreds of Palestinians were evacuated yesterday morning after Israeli authorities opened a number of dams causing widespread flooding
But in these days of slashed budgets, even the mainstream media news has only a fraction of the resources they did once ~ actual reporters, field offices, foreign correspondents, fact checkers, proof readers ~ and so what they have left is often employed in ferreting out the news online, which often includes poaching facts or quotes from someone else’s news story. Sometimes such errors are accidental, but other times they are deliberate attempts to spread propaganda. Again, with news room budgets being tight, jobs in journalism are thin on the ground, which naturally opens up the possibility of reporting the facts as the powers that be wish them to be, rather than reporting the facts as they are.
Whether by accident or design, in this case, The Daily Mail story was built on a piece from Al Jazeera,which reported:
Brigadier Gerneral Said Al-Saudi, chief of the civil defence agency in Gaza, told Al Jazeera: “Israel opened water dams, without warning, last night, causing serious damage to Gazan villages near the border. More than 40 homes were flooded and 80 families are currently in shelters as a result.”
He added that the dam opening would adversely affect local agriculture as the flooded area included Gazan poultry and animal farms.
“We are appealing to human rights organisations and international rights organisations to intervene to prevent further such action.”
— Al Jazeera: Gazans flee floods caused by Israel’s dams opening
Since being informed that the accusation was false, The Daily Mail has since retracted it, retitling the article Hundreds of Palestinians left homeless by flooding after water levels in Gaza Valley rise by up to 10 feet following heavy rain. And while the paper has rewritten the body of the article to clear up the misinformation, the closest they come to accepting any responsibility for publishing false information was:
The floods led to false accusations that Israel had opened up dams along the river to intentionally cause the flooding, even though no dams exist in southern Israel.
A spokesman for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Palestinian Territories (COGAT) told VICE News: ‘These claims, I don’t know who started them, but they are completely false.
‘There are no dams in the southern part of Israel so we couldn’t open any dams because there aren’t any. I don’t know how these rumours got around.'”
For myself, I apologize for misleading anyone. Part of the reason for blogging about this is to set the record straight. Especially as I consider correcting misinformation to be an important part of what I do, so the absolute last thing I want to do is spread any myself.
The MSM’s lingering decline has been offset by the rise of citizen journalism online. There are a growing number of independent digital news resources that are as reliable (if not more) than the MSM. The fact is that I stumbled into it as I learned the mainstream media is no longer reliable. If it ever was, it was because competition made truth and accuracy essential. That certainly doesn’t seem to be the case any more. If there was any doubt citizens were being failed by MSM news before, Wikileaks removed them. As journalism prof/mediacritic Jay Rosen put it, “The watchdog press is dead.”
These days, most of the news I get is online. I trust the informed people I listen to on Twitter or Facebook far more than I trust any mainstream media outlet. In today’s information swamped world, there is simply no way anyone can know everything. One reason social media is on the rise is because we need to know things the MSM isn’t telling us. Whether it can’t or won’t doesn’t matter. We need to know.
Very often people who have important information want to share it, and the Internet makes this possible. Anyone can blog with WordPress, Tumblr or blogger, or post to Facebook or Twitter or Youtube. Specialized information that would once have been limited in reach by the number of mimeographs possible or the cost of postage is now available freely or cheaply online, available to anyone in the world with an Internet connection.
Since I’ve become active online (2009), over time an increasing amount of my time is spent engaging in citizen journalism online. I’m not doing it because I’ve had anything resembling journalism training, because I haven’t. Or because I want to make a living at it, because I don’t. But the horizons of my world have opened up with the ability to converse with total strangers around the world. Even as I’ve been sharing important information I learn more. We need to converse with each other and learn from each other and work together; and yet there are many who profit from our polarization. There are people who are paid to spread misinformation online, people who pretend to be someone they aren’t to derail change that will interfere with their profits.
When I read something I think important, I might make the time to expand on what I know so I can blog about it, but if it doesn’t fall into one of my particular fields of interest its more likely I’ll share a link to the source material through social media. Which is what I’ve done here. Oddly enough, in all the time I’ve been engaged in citizen journalism, this is only the second time anything I’ve shared required a retraction.
The situation in the middle east is complicated. The situation in Gaza is dire, and has been ongoing without any real hope of resolution for a ridiculously long time. In recent years the Internet has fuelled a growing awareness of the situation in North America. the result has been the BDS movement.
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS Movement) is a global campaign targeting Israel, attempting to increase economic and political pressure on Israel to comply with the stated goals of the movement: ending Israeli occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967, dismantling the Wall, full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, and respecting the right of return of Palestinian refugees set out in UN Resolution 194.“
Right now there is an uproar in Canada because our government has passed a motion condemning the BDS movementl, claiming that bringing such economic and political pressure to bear is anti-semitic, even though BDS political and economic pressure aims to convince Israel to conform to International Law. If Nations can blithely choose which parts of International Law they will deign to follow without any repercussion (as Israel does in flouting of International Law by encroaching on the what little Palestinian territory remains with new settlements), International Law is meaningless.
In light of the other attacks our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has been hit with of late, this blatant suppression of the Canadian right to dissent has upset a great many Canadians, myself included, so it is not surprising the misinformation included in this article slipped past my own personal critical thinking screening. Clearly there is acrimony, anger and hatred on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian problem, with propaganda arising from both sides. As in most conflict, neither side is entirely blameless, just as neither is perfect.
Regardless, the original story I posted (along with the other bouncing around the internet) is simply not true. There was flooding and evacuation, but it was not a deliberate attack by Israel. I will strive to be more careful in future.