I appeared on the Visu.News podcast to discuss my recent article on the language media uses when discussing the police. The hosts, Aaron Cynic and Zach Roberts, had just watched the recently released bodycam footage of the police murder of Adam Toledo. They were understandably shaken, and it gave our discussion an increased urgency.
I found a really stark example this week of how the mainstream media continues to misreport about police killings, or as they too-often call them, “officer-involved shootings.”
I’m not the first one to point out that this is a problem. Experts on journalism discourages the use of vague language like “officer-involved shootings.” So why does the media persist in it?
Again, this happens all the time. I’m only calling out ABC here because it’s so blatant: two contrasting examples from the same 24-hour period. Here’s the first tweet:
Often working with just their phones, community journalists can shine light on movements, expose police brutality, and help protect activists from getting “disappeared” by an authoritarian government. At the same time, the wrong tweet—or especially livestream—can leave people in the street exposed to increased police surveillance.
From “snatch and grab” arrests in unmarked vans, to raids on the homes of perceived organizers, activists have good reason to be concerned. From Portland, Oregon, to Philadelphia, law enforcement acknowledge using livestreams and other social media to gather evidence.
As activists begin to face serious charges from the most recent wave of protests, there’s also more attention on the risks posed by inexperienced or unethical community journalists. Meanwhile, more people are protesting for the first time, with some newly taking up the role of community journalist. As such, a debate that’s been bubbling beneath the surface since at least the Occupy movement and Arab Spring is bursting to the forefront: the question of whether, and how, protests should be documented in real time online.
The First Amendment doesn’t grant you the right to film people’s faces or put protesters at risk without facing social consequences.
Recently, I’ve watched protesters turn increasingly hostile against some media, especially livestreamers. Even though I’m a journalist, I find myself agreeing with protesters that streamers can put them at risk.
Any journalist, even well meaning ones, can become a media troll if they endanger movements. And right now, as we face off with ascendant fascism, the potential risks to activists are very high.
A free zine by Kit O’Connell with nonviolent tactics for protecting your movement from media trolls and grifters that seek to harm activists.
During the Occupy movement, the smartphone allowed anyone to broadcast live or instantly report on protests or police action using social media. Some of these citizen journalists started to bring in donations from their viewers, usually just enough to keep them supplied with Megabus tickets to the next protest. Most of them either broadly supported the movement, or subscribed to “journalistic neutrality.”
Then, some of them figured out you can make way more money working for the dark side. So they tucked their beanie caps down a little lower and got to work making the Left look bad. A trickle of donations turned into a flood of money.
Dishonestly edit a video, and you could land a job with Infowars. Get roughed up while harassing antifascists, and you earn a 6-figure paycheck. All you have to do is give up a piece of your soul.