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The knot in my stomach is CNN

CNN just interviewed me for a 3 minute segment they’re doing on cyberbullying. Why me? Because they called the Berkman Center and I was around. They’re likely to take a few seconds from the 15 minute interview, and use it as something like color commentary. It’ll air on Monday morning.

I told the producer in the pre-interview yesterday that I wouldn’t comment on the awful specifics of the bullying of Kathy Sierra— the case that’s prompted them to do a “Dark Side of the Net” piece — because I know people involved in it. Also, (I told the producer) I’m not a good resource for telling the story of what happened because I didn’t know what was going on until Kathy posted about it. But the producer apparently liked what I said about the lack of norms of behavior on the Web. So, they asked me to do the interview anyway. And, true to their word, they didn’t ask me directly about Kathy, although several times in context I said how badly she was treated.

I agreed to the interview because I wanted to try to counter the fear-mongering story I’m pretty sure CNN wants to produce about the Web. So, I tried to simultaneously acknowledge the seriousness of the bullying that happens (including the reprehensible battering of Kathy, of course), and dispute the idea that the Net is all bullying all the time. But, in trying to steer them from their Fear Mongering story, I ran the risk of minimizing the awfulness of being bullied, so I tried to keep interjecting how serioius and unacceptable it is. It’s all up to how they edit it. And also how well I put it, of course.

They asked me about anonymity (me: we shouldn’t remove it just because it’s abused by some cowards), the need for regulation (me: real world laws apply, and the Web is constantly evolving ways to manage bullying and obnoxiousness…although none works perfectly), and whether this is a gender issue (me: that accords with expectations and intuition, but we need actual data). I also talked about the fact that we don’t yet have well-developed norms guiding behavior on the Web, and the Web brings people together from different backgrounds, although death threats and bullying are never ok; I’m afraid I’ll come off as sounding like I believe that bullying is really just a difference of opinion about acceptable levels of aggression. Ack.

Afterwards I realized that I should have made clear that I was talking about adults bullying adults. I have no idea what the level of bullying is among children online. Also, in talking about the ability to steer clear of sites that are nastier than you’re comfortable with, I should have appended something about it being different when the bullies are coming to your site. Damn.

The producer interviewed me over a speaker phone, but they had me face forward and talk to an intern seated in front of me, to give the illusion that the producer was in the room with us. After the interview was over but the camera was still rolling (foolish me), I turned sideways to face the speaker phone so they couldn’t use the footage, because I wanted to have a meta-discussion with the producer. (The producer promised me that he wouldn’t use it, and he seems to be a straightforward and honest guy.) I told him that I thought the CNN story was seizing on one case — a nasty, disturbing case without doubt — and using it to generalize without further evidence or research, because the media likes conflict and likes to raise fears about the Net. A serious piece would do some serious research about just how prevalent bullying is: It might be quite widespread, it might be unevenly distributed, it might indeed be usually gender-based. All that would be truly interesting and important to know. But I don’t think that’s the story they’re doing. Maybe I’m wrong. I hope so.

I left feeling crappy, afraid that as I tried to maintain two positions — bullying when it happens is shameful and wrong, but it’d be wrong to characterize the Web as dominated by bullying — the editors will use the juiciest quote from just one of those two points. It’s no fun to lose control of your words, although I knew that going in. [Tags: ]

16 Responses to “The knot in my stomach is CNN”

  1. Hmm .. I don’t get that Doc doesn’t do dialogue. Personally, I think Chris does too, but I suspect he would suggest he does dialogue with an iconoclastic style. Mean, sometimes .. tough, sometimes … socially uncouth, sometimes .. peremptory, usually ? threatening .. I’ve never seen that (I did not visit the two contentious sites .. well, meankids once but I left after a minute or two, not my taste).

    It will be fascinating to see what kind of treatment CNN gives the interview … I too would assume some degree of fear-mongering and stuffing the monkey back into the (well-ordered society) box.

    re: the comments previous to Bob’s .. are they CNN China trying to contact you for an interview as well, or encouragement from Chinese fans or criticisms from disgruntled Chinese readers ?

  2. The comment to which I was referring (Bob’s) has disappeared … maybe you nuked it along with the Chinese spam ?

  3. Shoot, Jon, you’re right. This post was hit with ten Chinese spams, and I apparently accidentally cleared out a comment from “Bob” that said something quite nice about my post (thanking me for trying to preserve the conversation, or some such), although (as your comment makes clear, Jon), it was couched in a negative comparison with my Cluetrain co-authors.

    I promise the deletion was unintentional. And, with Movable Type, there’s no way to get it back.

    Sorry, Bob!

  4. And as to your point, Jon: Yes, Doc is constantly out on the Web, talking in lots of different forums. It’s not as if he refuses to engage. Far from it. Chris is a different type of person. He engages far more in mailing lists and small groups. I am a poor contributor to mailing lists, but good in back channel chats, good at returning email, not all that much of an IM-er, etc. So I agree that the comparisons are too simple.

  5. Thank you for a voice of reason and for (as usual) helping to focus on the crux of the problem. No one who makes their living online would say that the situation with Kathy is indicative of the Web. Although of course, we all know that it’s unfortunately too common. And I applaud her for standing up, and using her conference no-show as a vehicle for drawing attention to the problem. At the same time, the Web does so much more good. Just because someone can kill with a car doesn’t mean we all stop driving and rip up the highways. We go after the individual. Not cars. Not the act of driving. The Web is simply a reflection of us: full of promise and inherently flawed. May the editors at CNN be balanced, fair, thoughtful, and may all your misquotes be favorable.

  6. Can I just say that Chris Locke is a genius? I’m not talking about this episode or his response to it; what I mean is that I thought Chris was a genius before any of this happened, and none of this has made me change my mind on that point. He may be a genius who’s done some vile and hateful work, but even if this were the case (and it’s by no means proven) Chris would still be a unique and powerful voice, and one we’d lose at our peril.

    Just thought the point needed making.

  7. I think Kathy Sierra’s case (and a bunch of others that have hit the press lately) are not about blogging or the ‘net, so much as they are about society – as brutal, misogynistic, racist and violent as it is. The more voices that call collective attention to this reality, the better, in my view, even if it takes the sensationalizing of several Internet-based events to bring it to the fore.

    Unfortunately, CNN and the rest tend to have the media version of an “oooh, shiny” reaction to these sorts of things.

  8. Regardless of the CNN spin, you shouldn’t feel bad for presenting a complex issue with a well rounded view. The piece will be what it will be. Doesn’t make much in the end.

  9. the media version of an “oooh, shiny” reaction to these sorts of things.–thank you Mark, that gives me a handy image to think with–better than, “If it bleeds, it leads”.

    I’ve been reflecting on how I personally responded to Kathy Sierra’s post: with emotion. I admire Kathy, but I know Frank Paynter personally and have a high opinion of him. I don’t know Chris Locke or Allen Harrell, although I’ve followed their writings for several years and have left comments and/or exchanged emails.

    And yet somehow, I believed the picture that Kathy painted without question.

    Emotion precludes thinking. It took Ronni Bennet’s post at BlogHer to make me stop feeling and start thinking.

    The issue of emotional reactivity, and how to manage one’s own emotions in volatile situations, is one we need to bring into the Stop Cyberbullying arena, especially in regards to teaching youth.

    As far as covering all the issues in one interview: this is a complex, nuanced conversation, that we are just starting to have in an organized way.

  10. wha…?

  11. Liz, well put. I think everyone’s initial reaction (almost everyone’s) was shock, dismay, outrage. Now we should let the complexities emerge out of our initial straightforward reaction. The complexity stretches in every direction, including the emergent behavior of crowds/mobs and the multifaceted personalities of the people involved…leaving out for now the sick f*cks who posted death threats; I’m not ready to admit complexity there yet.

    We need some room to talk and think without fearing that what we are saying will be reduced to fodder for denunciations. It will take some time to get past our initial simple shock, some kindness, a willingness to hear long sentences, and a lot of honesty.

    So, thanks for the honesty Liz, and thanks to all who have posted in this thread so far.

  12. “…a willingness to hear long sentences…”

    bravo, well put…yes, perhaps, but not in this life-realm, because we think–and believe–on this great Earth with our pineal glands

  13. To those whom much is given…

    I think the A List is not saying much about it or is “withholding judgment” because they don’t want to seem hypocritical — a la Bush — when the truth comes out. David, if someone not your friend were accused of this, would you be so circumspect? I think not. Don’t make me go through the archives and pull out snap judgments you’ve made on less evidence. You can’t comment because you know the people involved? Huh? That is precisely why you should comment. What do you make of the purpose behind If Locke made an anti-semitic or racist attack on a blogger instead of just being a sexist misogynist, would you be so reluctant to talk?

  14. For the reasons you state here I have stopped doing taped commentary for TV news stories. I just tell them no. I made one exception the last few years–for Frontline’s News Wars–and regretted it. From a two-hour interview one sentence was used on the air.

    You have them pegged, David. It’s going to be another hysteria story. It would take a super-human effort by the producer to avoid that, and such people are rare.

  15. I read this as I was waiting for a local news station to show up to interview me on the same subject. They were here for 40 minutes, and I spent the next 5 hours feeling exactly as you describe. They used two ~5 second quotes, the first of which was OK (although I made the same point more intelligently many times in the conversation) the second quote was literally picked up mid-sentence, and without the context of the first half of the sentence I think it made no sense at all.

    Throughout the interview the reporter’s questions made clear to me that she really wanted to go in a certain direction with the story…a direction I just don’t agree with, so I’m sure she thought the whole thing was a waste of time from her POV. but yeah, that sick feeling in your stomach as you wait to see what they do with your words…bleh.

  16. Oy, Elisa. I feel yuh pain. I think maybe Jay has the right idea. These short, highly consructed pieces are a corrupt form, even with the best intentioned and most professional people doing them. What issue can be explained in three minutes? And the need to grab and hold an audience has to be a tremendous burden to the producers.

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