20 April 2013

Finding useful information in a crisis

Yesterday was an interesting exercise for me in finding useful information in a crisis. I lived for years in the neighborhood where the Boston marathon suspect manhunt was taking place, so I was urgently interested in what was going on. I’m not a tv news watcher, so I turned, first, to the radio and listened to WBUR streaming on the net (that’s the Boston public radio station). Their coverage was ok, but it kept returning to the same people asking the same questions, without providing the kind of detail — or ongoing context — I was looking for.

My Facebook news stream had some useful tidbits in it, but most of my friends were not in a position to contribute much that was information. They did offer prayers and encouragement!

Wikipedia’s page was a useful collection of sources, even given its “this is a current situation” caveat, because it compiled — as the day wore on — a useful timeline and whatever information there seemed to be consensus about. But again, it was not always as speedy as even what was on the radio.

Twitter was NOT useful. There was too much garbage to sort through, and of course lots of people creating fake accounts purporting to be from the suspects.

Nate suggested I look at reddit, and that turned into the place I used as my central source. Reddit is a site that anyone can create an account on and post information to, so you have to take it with a huge grain of salt. But by keeping WBUR running in the background, and glancing at reddit every so often, I was able to feed my desire for information, without getting sucked into the problematic coverage happening in other media.

I also would glance, in between meetings and so on, at a couple of news bloggers (mostly dailykos and Andrew Sullivan). Here I “fell down” a bit in my standard practice, because I didn’t take the time to look at the “disconfirming” blog sources I keep in my news reader. I suspect that that was because I wasn’t really reading the blogs yesterday for information, so as much as for shared community.

Still, I mostly felt that I was able to keep abreast of what was going on, without spending too much time sorting through useless or peripheral information.

TV news, on the other hand, was not very helpful. Here, for example, is an analysis of the tv coverage from Entertainment Weekly.

We’ve been talking about “crap detection” in my class recently. Where do you turn to for useful information in a crisis? And what crap detection methods do you employ?

This entry was posted on Saturday, April 20th, 2013 at 2:59 pm. You can follow any responses to this entry through this RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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