TechCrunch, Fitna, The Truth, ‘New Media’, and Social Responsibility

29 Mar
2008

I read the latest post on TechCrunch re – Fitna, and could only shake my head.

I am the product of many countries. My grandparents/parents were all from Kashmir, the piece of land that India and Pakistan have gone to war over. Before I settled in Canada, I had the pleasure of living in half a dozen cities in four (very) different countries. In Japan I learned what respect meant. In Pakistan I learned what family meant (imagine having 30+ people all jammed in a house). In Saudi Arabia I learned what security meant (not being afraid). In the US I learned what spirit meant. And in Canada I learned what acceptance meant.

Each country gave a lot to me. It helped me appreciate things in subtle ways that I could not have understood when growing up. In each country I would hear things about the other country that I knew simply was not true. I would end up defending one country in another simply because I had been there while others would speak on hearsay.

In all countries I saw despair and I saw prosperity, often times next to each other. I read stories of awful cruelty and greed, and I read stories of amazing giving and strength. Good and evil are not exclusive to any one country – it simply happens wherever people are.

My own foray into blogging was a mismatch of random coincidences. I have found that many people who have organically built up their web presence often had a single topical hit that they worked on before they could expand further. Mine was top sites, and I entered the blogging space with Blog Top Sites. The first of its kind, it was a giant hit, gaining links and traffic up the wazoo. Seeing that success, I bought EatonWeb, and re-created it as Blog Flux. With more success in the blogging space, I ended up creating Bloggy Network with Jacob (who runs it day to day). I’ll be honest – I had been suspicious of how long blogging would last.

And then I truly appreciated what blogging could do. Back when I was still active over at Digg (I was a top 200 … or top 300 user for a while), I saw a story that screamed at me: Muslims offended by 5th Avenue Apple Store, “Because the building resembles the Ka’ba in Mecca, is called “Apple Mecca,” is open 24 hours a day like the Ka’ba, and “contains bars selling alcoholic beverages.” The title was as incendiary as possible – how dare the Muslims hate what the geeks loved!

The vitriol in the comments had already started, and when I actually read the article, I couldn’t believe it. If one was to actually read the article, it cited another website which said “some Islamic website doesn’t like the cube.” The problem of course was that there was no source. Some random website was claiming that another random website found the Apple store to be offensive. This somehow escalated into “Muslims offended by 5th Avenue Apple Store.”

To deviate for a second, part of Islam’s strength and weakness (to me), is that there is no central authority. Catholics have the Pope (for example). Muslims have no one. I could step up right now and say “Hey! I’m a Muslim leader and expert” and no one could really argue with me. So part of the problem of lumping a billion people as ‘Muslims’ is that there is no one recognized (other than self-appointed people) as the voice of Muslims.

Of course when the information did finally come to light, the ‘source’ of this outrage was a message posted on some forum. I hope you can take the time to appreciate the lunacy that had occurred here. A random forum post saying “Hey that cube is insulting!” was somehow parlayed into “Muslims offended.” Even more twisted was that the forum post was over three months old!

And here we have uncovered ‘The Truth.’ Except it didn’t matter what the truth was. The story had spread. It was in print media. It was all over popular Apple blogs and Digg and so forth. Without bothering to actually check a single fact, this ‘story’ (which we now know was a complete non-starter) must have appeared in front of a couple hundred thousand people.

So I decided to do what I do best – poke fun at the entire stupid premise. We wrote a tongue-in-cheek article called Muslim Community Responds: We love the Apple NYC Cube. We decided to quote one random un-sourced ‘muslim’ who said he loved the Apple store, and decided to extrapolate it to the entire Muslim community. So while 24 hours ago ‘The Muslims’ hated the cube, now ‘The Muslims’ loved it. What an interesting turn of events!

And thus I appreciated what blogs could do. While previously we could write an angry letter to The Editor (and hope it would get published), anyone had the chance to speak out and say what they felt. New Media had dawned!

Everywhere you go, you read about how ‘old media’ doesn’t get it. How ‘new media’ gets it. How ‘new media’ will crush ‘old media.’ TechCrunch, ReadWriteWeb, GigaOm, Mashable, etc – they will lead us to the promise land.

People complain that CNN and Fox News only focus on entertainment and not real news. I fail to see why this is shocking. These compares are in the business of making money. At the end of the day, they have to go to their bosses and answer the question of “did you make us more money than last year?” It is unfortunate people fall for stupidity like Paris Hilton leaving jail or Eliot Spitzer’s 20 minute ride in his black SUV. But that is reality. Those stories get people tuned in. The more that tune in, the more money they make.

And alas ‘new media’ has become the same. Linkbait (that word seems to have fallen out of disfavor) is a great way to get traffic. The more traffic you get, the more money you make! While decrying the old, nothing has changed. TUAW and ZDNet were more than happy to run that faux-story on the Apple NYC cube – it got them traffic! It got them links (yay for SEO). It made them money! And the the latest story on TechCrunch is just another example.

I have to take on more side step and say that I’ve been a fan of Duncan for a long time. I read Blog Herald, and read his blog after b5 split up. Two months before TechCrunch picked him up, I specifically told Jacob that we should talk to Duncan about having him join the team. He writes well, he writes interesting posts, and he writes his mind.

But the latest story on TechCrunch is a ploy from the old days – take a relatively non-story, sensationalize it (ala Muslims hating the Apple Cube), and watch the dough roll in! Hell nothing is easier to sensationalize than ‘The Muslims’ stomping on freedom of speech.

So lets analyze this latest story. Fitna, for those that don’t know, is an anti-Islam video created by a Dutch politician. It was heavily hyped, and before it was released, their web host (NSI) pulled it. The Muslims accusations started flying. The video was released very recently (one or two days ago), and the leaked version was on LiveLeak.com. Hit by a huge amount of traffic, they strained to stay up. Then they were hit with threats and some unspecified British media reporting, they took it down. In their video explaining this, they said it was an ugly thing to do, and that they didn’t want to do it, and that they thanked supporters from all religions.

After that, someone uploaded it to Google.

LiveLeak itself doesn’t blame ‘The Muslims’, nor have they claimed that there was any boycott or backlash. LiveLeak was responsible enough to know that acts by anonymous people (which I admit were likely to be Muslims – though there are definitely people who gain when others dislike Muslims, but to suggest that would be ‘a conspiracy’) and the British media meant they could no longer host it. They were responsible enough to not blame ‘The Muslims.’ But Duncan took it upon himself to say “uhoh, Google is hosting it, ‘The Muslims’ are going to go nuts” His proof? The LiveLeak video.

Just like the Apple NYC Cube story, the content does not match the headlines. There were threats. There was some media stupidity. LiveLeak couldn’t keep up, and had to take it down. Someone uploaded it to Google. And according to Duncan, that means Google is about to face a backlash from ‘The Muslims.’

To bring more credibility to my claim that this is all about traffic and money – while ‘Live Leak’ is mentioned three times, they can’t be bothered to actually link to the site. The site they are covering that was supposedly the victim of ‘Muslim backlash’ wasn’t even linked to!

People have been recently complaining that TechMeme has become an echo-chamber of uncritical thinking, and I can only ask where they have been for the last couple of years. The Apple story I cited was linked to over a hundred times before we wrote our article, and not a single person took the time to question how that headline matched the content. Same thing with the TechCrunch Fitna story – the comments are full of trolls saying how ‘The Muslims’ are either awful/great. Not a single person has asked how the hell that headline matches the story.

Where is the social responsibility that blogs were supposed to herald? There is such a mad rush to commercialize and make money from blogs that people are scrambling ways to get traffic. Stories are written and duplicated a hundred times over and no one bothers to actually critically think and say “Hey – this doesn’t make sense.” Take the LiveLeak Fitna story – what I want to know is what did the British media do that upset them so greatly? But everywhere you turn you read how ‘The Muslims’ shut down LiveLeak. LiveLeak themselves do not even claim that!

Just like in Animal Farm, things seem to always stay the same. In the chase of ad dollars critical thinking seems to have fallen to the wayside.

8 Responses to TechCrunch, Fitna, The Truth, ‘New Media’, and Social Responsibility

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Andre

March 30th, 2008 at 8:19 pm

All its turned into is a flame war. The difference between newspapers and tabloids is the facts, where do blogs go?

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Michael

March 31st, 2008 at 2:44 am

@Andre

That depends entire on which blog you’re reading.

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Apple DOES care about its customers - no matter what ‘Boy Genius’ says

March 31st, 2008 at 3:01 am

[...] You know, sensationalist headlines are nothing new. There was a time, before blogging became a business, where that kind of thing was frowned upon in the blogging world – but that time has passed. This weekend Ahmed at Tech Soapbox wrote a great piece about just this subject. You can read it here. [...]

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Ahmed

March 31st, 2008 at 11:33 am

Blogs can go wherever they want.

Unfortunately the tabloid road leads to more links, more pageviews, and more $

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Ahmed

April 1st, 2008 at 12:20 am

Alas, I was hoping the non-stop spammer to post a new comment, but he sticks with the same tired message.

1. If you can’t use a real email address, then don’t bother posting here.
2. If you have anything intelligent to say, please do.
3. Freedom of speech doesn’t apply to private property – which my blog happens to be (not to mention I am Canadian, and my servers are hosted in Canada, which has a slightly different approach to speech). At the same time, I’ve never deleted a (legitimate) comment that disagreed with mine.

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Proving your point by being an idiot - Tech Soapbox

April 1st, 2008 at 4:35 pm

[...] my last post on blogging and social responsibility, I outlined how blogs are going the way of tabloid rags by option for sensationalist headlines (to [...]

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mustafa

April 27th, 2008 at 8:32 pm

It seems techcrunch just took down that post for some reason

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Ahmed

April 29th, 2008 at 8:27 am

I see it just fine, likely just an uptime glitch.

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