Comments on text Does social media really bring us closer to the reality of conflict?


  • Protesters-share-news-of-the-cops-arrival-on-their-cell-phones-near-Istanbuls-Taksim-Square-TurkeyA Buzzfeed list of 27 “heartbreaking” images of the Venezuelan protests was created, and shared by progressive activists around the world. Perhaps those activists would have been more reticent had they known the Venezuelan opposition largely consists of the country’s elite

    Yes, I can’t feel sufficiently bothered by pictures of young people being shot, beaten and tear-gassed unless I know how rich or poor they are.

      • dogfondler StVitusGerulaitis

        Yes. Amnesty writes about repression in Caracas on 12 February:

        ‘excessive use of force (including firearms) by the security forces, clashes between demonstrators and security forces and violence against protesters, perpetrated by armed civilians with the accord of the security forces according to some witnesses … Two men, Juan Montoya and Bassil Da Costa, were killed and a number of others injured.’

        It’s not only amateur video that can lack context.

        monkie dogfondler

        according to some witnesses

        not that i am in any position to judge the situation in caracas but i think it is important to note that these words are going to be used for a very good reason.
        it is very difficult to judge, especially from a distance, the truth of the statements by “some witnesses” and what their agenda is.
        this is not particular to the protests in caracas either.
        we see the same with the ukraine, there is a video by a bbc crew showing sniper fire coming from the hotel where the foreign news media had their base in kiev, i have yet to see video of sniper fire by government forces, yet the news was flooded with the assertion that government sniper were murdering unarmed protesters.

        BBC: snipers fire from ukraine media hotel

        it is true that we have seen video of at least one riot policeman firing his gun, as we have video of protesters using fire-bombs against the police, but even then it is difficult to know the context when these events are seen in isolation.
        that said i am not someone who would condone police violence, unless there is serious danger to the lives of civilians.

  • Guardian contributor
    EllsBells StVitusGerulaitis

    That’s a facile response. Violence of this kind is obviously deplorable, regardless of who is committing it.

    The opposition in Venezuela is a right-wing elite which receives long term support from the US. The leaders are the same people who were involved in the 2002 coup, and who have made their desire for regime change pretty clear. Those facts are not in dispute.

    The point is simply that presenting images of conflict without context encourages people to apply the context of existing narratives, or allows people with an agenda to define the context. This is obviously misleading and dangerous.

    You don’t have to be a raving Chavista to know that.

  • yermelai

    Whenever a horror is broadcast you know that there will be more to follow. I cannot recall a single time when after the broadcasting of an hooror the conflict has subsided.

    Conflict and communication share a symbiotic relationship – one fuels the other.

  • 2 people, 2 comments

    mobile_activist_Conflict as entertainment. Elsewhere on this site there was a thread on Libya. It attracted about half a page of comments before closing. The same with Iraq.There were forty two people killed and hundreds injured in a car bomb yesterday. Nobody cares because Iraq isn’t fashionable anymore. If the bomb had been in the conflict de jour (Ukraine at the moment), there would have been news headlines, live footage, and twenty pages of comments.

    But we don”t really care about the conflicts themselves. We just care about the entertainment value of them. Thirty years there was sport and fashion and such for diversion

    Now it’s the misery of strangers.

    • Jdopus retsdon

      I think it’s a bit daft to suggest that people are interested in Ukraine solely for entertainment value because they’re somehow bored with Iraq. Something isn’t newsworthy solely because of the human cost involved, if it was the logical conclusion is we should ignore any events like this and report solely upon the vastly more substantial numbers of people who starve to death in Africa everyday.

      It’s newsworthy because political attention in a vast number of international countries is focused on Ukraine and the leaders of our countries are engaging in a lot of rhetoric and sabre rattling. People have every reason to be more interested in Ukraine than Iraq because escalation in Ukraine is far more likely to have an impact on the global political situation than another car bomb in Iraq.

  • 3 people, 3 comments

    Social media is a perfect example of a technology whose effects cannot be predicted or controlled.

    The simple idea that everyone having a voice can only be a good thing is accepted far too easily by most. To be fair, most new technology is greeted with an excited awe these days – we link technical progression with advances in society, a link which has existed for years, but which has no basis in reality.

    Having tried to follow several conflicts on social media, I found there was very little point. The element of doubt that fills your mind when a shocking image or claim appears renders most of it meaningless.

    • StVitusGerulaitis iamdanthomas

      The element of doubt that fills your mind when a shocking image or claim appears renders most of it meaningless.

      But the point is that you have to be your own editor/journalist. As long as you remain (healthily) sceptical, try to remain balanced and look at a range of sources I think the wealth of information can be a really powerful tool.

      As with many things it can be overwhelming, but I don’t really think you can ever have too much information. The ability to see things without the newsmedia filter is a huge deelopment in how we view the world.

    • monkie iamdanthomas

      Social media is a perfect example of a technology whose effects cannot be predicted or controlled.

      not that this is stopping companies, and governments, spending serious amounts of money to attempt to do this very thing.
      one of the hacks by the anonymous collective found evidence of plans to use armies of automated “sock-puppets” to discredit wikileaks and glenn greenwald, among others.HBGary high volume astroturfing

      the plan to attack wikileaks

      the US government has similar software.

      According to Commander Bill Speaks, the chief media officer of CENTCOM’s digital engagement team, the public cannot know what the military wants with such technology because its applications are secret.

      “This contract,” he wrote in reference to the Air Force’s June 22, 2010 filing, “supports classified social media activities outside the U.S., intended to counter violent extremist ideology and enemy propaganda.”

  • FredinSpain

    democracy screamWell we did get to see Cameron looking all manly and serious as if he was in charge on the phone to Obama so that was enough for me not to believe anything on twitter ever again.
    Imagine the tweets Bill Clinton could have done from the oval office.

  • Calimocho

    Thought provoking article – thank you, With so many restrictions on media via D Notices or given a political slant due to a papers specific allegiance how do we interpret information as being honest and subjective? Perhaps it’s naive to put more trust in those with a smart phone submitting photo/video evidence or who post content as they appear to be directly involved with the events, but given a choice I take the latter option.

  • 2 people, 2 comments
    S Stigson

    I’ve lost count of the number of shocking or surprising stories I’ve come across on social media recently that have turned out to be either completely fabricated or distorted beyond all recognition, and it’s quite disconcerting to stop and think about that for a moment. A worrying number of people take things on trust on social media – I’ve seen people sharing pictures which are claimed to be dangerous criminals on the run, missing persons, or notorious former offenders now released from prison under new identities due to their horrendous crimes. But actually, the people sharing them don’t know any of that to be true – the person pictured could just as easily be a friend of a friend, the victim of a silly prank or something more malicious.

    I know this is at a slightly different tangent to the thrust of the article, but we really need to think about the context and reliability of some of this information before we accept it as being everything it’s claimed to be.

  • 2 people, 3 comments

    Context, context. Any image can be manipulated and interpreted to reflect its caption. Mostly, I’d prefer to wait a few minutes or hours to get the images/comments/reports from a reputable news organisation who’s reputation (and employees jobs) depend on getting it right, rather than an unfiltered tweet or Instagram posting, possibly (how would I know?) captioned with the poster’s inherent bias.

  • BlackberryBlossom

    Egypt-protests-007I think this is a bit convoluted, really. Venezuela’s security forces have used excessive force and unlawful violence against protestors – it makes no difference who the protestors are, it’s clearly wrong for any government to behave that way. Those who rose up against the dictatorships in Egypt and Tunisia were arguably vanguarded by elites – that is, people who were young and highly educated (though by no means exclusively). The same could be said about protests against Britain’s government.

    I think that’s probably what makes social media subversive – it captures inconvenient truths, which defy prevailing media narratives, of one kind or another. The flip-side is that it’s always prone to matters being removed from context. I think it confers the same kind of responsibility as professional journalism should – for it to have any real value, people have to be truthful, and fair-minded.

  • Scorf

    The news certainly slants things for its own agenda – but so does everybody – for example how many of UK Uncut have any genuine understanding of how the UK corporate tax system works as opposed to swallowing cheap headlines and indulging in “look at me” stunts…

    I think I’d still prefer to watch something on the BBC news as opposed to some partisan activist – a bit like Charlie Brooker asking who should we trust – the medically trained professional or the hairy bloke in a jumper drinking his own piss?

  • Guardian contributor

    in this era of social upheaval, and encourages us to internalise it as background noise. If we can flick between Taylor Swift and the Syrian civil war, what does that say about the level of serious interest we take in the Syrian civil war?

    How does this differ from turning from the front to the back pages of a print newspaper?

  • mylo4442

    Turkey mobile phoneSomeone could shoot some else dead in a street in Egypt, Venezuela, Syria etc and post it on Twitter etc and claim that the police did it, or Muslims or whoever and then 100,000 would be retweeting it claiming its true when in fact it would not.I do not get my news from Twitter or youtube but it seems that many younger people rely on those outlets for all their news,which is pretty sad because they are going to misinformed a lot but then again they are going to be misinformed a lot if they relied on the MSM.

  • aliendrum

    Do we want to be closer to the reality of conflict?

  • 3 people, 3 comments

    I always thought of Plato’s Theory of Forms as a cop out to adjust for reality not fitting our ideals.. IE we have the ideal version of a cat in our minds but the reality of the cats we are presented with does not match the ideal version that we have in our heads…

    I always assumed Plato wrote all this after a bad relationship break up.

  • 3 people, 4 comments

    It’s true that in Fortnum & Mason, the protesters were misrepresented by traditional news media,

    Presumably people mistook them for the thugs who were smashing up other parts of London at the time….

    • Dangerman2 Bob_Helpful

      Except the protests at Fortnum & Mason where in March 2011?

    • Bob_Helpful Dangerman2

      and whilst they were in Fortnum and Mason what was happening up and down oxford street?

      oh yes, the anti capitalist lot taking their juvenile aggression out on a few shop windows and ATMs.

      “joint venture” is the risk you take when you do stuff like this.

    • monkie Bob_Helpful

      Presumably people mistook them for the thugs who were smashing up other parts of London at the time….

      and how many of those thugs were undercover police officers and/or directed and encouraged by those same police officers.
      if they will stitch up a minister, or have children with protesters they are spying on, or report on meetings of suspects with lawyers, or spy on the family of a man that died in police custody, where is the limit?

  • 2 people, 3 comments

    “Does social media really bring us closer to the reality of conflict?”

    Of course not, does watching Holby City make you a doctor?

  • 3 people, 4 comments
    Guardian contributor

    Pg-4-protesters-epaOne of the things that I’ve absorbed from reading coverage of the Ukraine situation was that quite different accounts of what was going on emerged in real time and more or less simultaneously.

    The only clarity was coming from Moscow and the American right – the two places guaranteed to be peddling self-interested versions of events in a way designed to promote themselves: clarity itself became evidence of untrustworthiness. In other words, Plato’s ideal only made it’s appearance as something already without credibility.

    There’s the old Churchill quote that “history is written by the victors” which implies a sequence: victory would happen and then history would be written. With social media that temporal lag between winning and writing history seems to have more or less collapsed and one result is that the losers are getting to have their say too.

    That creates confusion, but the confusion is always going to be more truthful than clarity. And to me the confusion has a definite utopian moment. I imagine a time where the “decision makers” are so overwhelmed by drinking from a fire hose of contradicting information that they would never be able to take decisions and therefore never able do anything:

    And thus the native hue of resolution
    Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
    And enterprises of great pitch and moment
    With this regard their currents turn awry,
    And lose the name of action.

    • Guardian contributor
      EllsBells translated

      Thanks for that – and for the Hamlet quote! Very apt.

      protesters-connect-611x620With regards to the Moscow / US thing: when the Venezuela protests were at their height, someone jokingly tweeted me “what does Blair think? Because the exact opposite is likely to be true.”

      I think I adjust my reality lens to suit the medium of news – and perhaps what worries me about social media is that it is presented as a pure form of objectivity: agendas are less obvious. You’re right that in some ways traditional media becomes the ideal because people factor in distortion when trying to build a pure picture, so perhaps what they ultimately envisage as true is closer to reality. If that makes sense.

      In the case of Fortnum & Mason, the traditional media distorted the protest, but in the temporal lag you refer to, social media filled the space and compelled the traditional media to readjust the picture. A turning point for the protesters was the Indy’s front page about the protest being misrepresented. That chimes with what you say, but it also suggests that establishment discourse – like traditional media – is still dominant, and that social media can only act as a corrective lens. Which I suppose is unsurprising.

      What I was trying to argue here is that because social media can be a corrective lens to bias, it is perhaps lent a level of trust it doesn’t deserve – and the fact that it can function in other ways is too readily ignored.

      Anyway, interesting comment. Thanks for posting.

    • Guardian contributor
      translated EllsBells

      Yep, I see what you are saying. To me there’s another problem with the idea of social media as a “pure form of authenticity”. It’s one thing to use it the way you did in the Fortnum and Mason protest – as a way to correct an error, or misinformation. Thing is that’s an unusual situation to be in – most of the time social media affords this effectively infinite capacity to broadcast information when nothing is at stake.

      What happens? Maybe the manufacture of meaningless authenticity….the most toe-curling examples for me of what happens are things like Scott Simon tweeting his mother’s death. I guess that qualifies as “true” and “authentic” – he was there and his mother was dying, but that’s not Russia invading the Ukraine or even a protest at Fortnum and Mason. So it’s not just Taylor Swift v. the Syrian war that jars, but Scott Simon the nominally serious journalist v. Scott Simon the maudlin social media addict.

      So to go back to your point, it’s not just that social media are sometimes invested with an idea of authenticity they don’t necessary merit because they are subject to manipulation, but that the expectation of authenticity itself creates pressure to generate authentic bollocks.

      PS. Do you have a link to that Huw Lemmey thing you cite? He used to comment here as zounds – he was always really interesting.

    • herero translated

      Those mobiles in the crowd, a thousand splintered mirrors held up to nature?

  • WakeUpArgh

    In some ways the footage we see from phone cameras etc is more raw and in your face, but social media does also at times minimise what is happening, ie people tweet ‘Ukraine, so sad.’ and other mindless nonsense and then move on to the next tweet/status update, without really thinking.

  • Heidyll

    Tweeting, yeah that makes a difference, we can like, you know, tweet our way to a revolution, well on our devices like…whoops, hold up, battery died….

  • Wesseltoft

    Baudrillard alert… Please be aware that you may be reading an insubstantial article which suggests that the hyperreal, although parasitical on the real, is more real than the real, which is thus rendered unreal.

    Ellie O’Hagan’s article did not take place.

  • cxs218

    Social media might not give you all the context, and certainly cannot convey the feeling of a bullet cracking past your ear or an explosion rocking you to the core, but it can put across some really good things. In an era when many peoples’ only exposure to warfare is in sanitized movies and call of duty, social media provides a snap back to reality. Its pretty hard to think war is just a game or at all glorious when you can see at a moments notice a 19 year old kid with his intestines blown out, or a child with chemical burns over her whole body. If we’re ever to get rid of war, we need everyone to understand why its so terrible, and social media can help.

  • Rattel

    First impression from the article. In many of these countries who has access to smart phones, i pads, computers and the web? Who in those countries used to have access to the foreign media? In both cases it is or old friends, the middle classes.

  • gopal viswanathan

    Were* we wanton criminals or conscientious activists.

  • herero

    Chavistas, are they baristas in Burberry , time for a new Owen Jones book?

  • queequeg7

    We seek meaning – context, explanation, narrative. Usually, we look for these things in places we trust – friends, media we’re familiar with – and add our own layers of experience and understanding to them. I mistrusted the right wing feeds coming out of Venezuela and trusted the demonstrators tweeting from inside Fortnum & Mason. Plato imagined an unmediated purity, Baudrillard the impossibility of such a thing. Both are spokes from the same hub.

    The first time I saw people recording a live event – a gig by Richie Havens – on their phones I was appalled that they would want to remove themselves from the experience of being ‘present’ in order to record it. I still am, I think. But political understanding comes from more than authenticity.

Please follow and like us:
Previous articleDoes Social Media Really Bring Us Closer To The Reality Of Conflict?
Next articleOn Indian Food in the Diaspora