There's a good deal of mystery surrounding the massacre at the Texas army base, Fort Hood, which took 13 lives last week. Was the shooter, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, carrying out a suicide mission? Was he in contact with known terrorists outside the U.S.? Did he simply snap? In addition to all of that, some are questioning whether the "citizen journalist" who first captured the event was helpful or harmful.
Details are still seeping out about what happened at Fort Hood, and they were not released right away to the press. When Major Hasan began shooting his victims, the base immediately went on lock-down in accordance with military procedures. Beyond a statement from Lt. General Robert Cone, information to reporters was restricted for a time. But one soldier based at Fort Hood, Tearah Moore, was bypassing the middleman and Tweeting out updates and opinion to the world as an eyewitness in the hospital.
I have a problem with this right away. Following military procedure should be top of mind for any soldier, particularly during extreme circumstances. Undermining the decision to put the base on lock-down and limit the flow of information for the sake of posting a few Tweets seems foolish to say the least. But, for some reason, when it comes to Twitter people tend to lose all sense.
Not to mention, her efforts were unhelpful since much of what she Tweeted turned out to be incorrect and/or speculative. For example, Moore falsely reported that Hasan was shot dead (and that, in her view, he should've lived and suffered instead). She also posted a photo of a soldier who she states was shot in the testicles (unconfirmed).
In a blog post on TechCrunch, the tech writer Paul Carr makes a case against citizen journalism, asserting that Moore -- like other eyewitness citizen reporters -- was less interested in informing people than with feeding her ego:
Her behaviour had nothing to do with getting the word out; it wasn't about preventing harm to others, but rather a simple case of - as I said two weeks ago - "look at me looking at this."
Regarding Moore's behavior, it's not possible to judge with certainty, but it's worth thinking about the ways in which social media bring out the need to tell the world "I was there!" It's this precise need to associate oneself with a big event that causes people like Moore to post unverified information online, and for that information to then spread wildly.
Of course, false reports are not unique to citizen journalists or eyewitnesses. Just a few weeks ago the so-called mainstream media were successfully fooled into reporting the harrowing tale of "Balloon Boy," the six-year-old who was thought to have gone flying away in his parents' weather balloon. (Just another day...) The world watched in horror and awe until CNN found out by accident (from the child) that it was a hoax. Whoops!
So, yes, reporters make mistakes and don't verify information before going live with it; and sometimes eyewitnesses have the story faster than a camera crew. But the tendency in this industry is to focus on citizen journalism as a revolution rather than something that may very well be occasionally helpful but is more typically just another source from which to receive misinformation.
— Nicole Ferraro, Site Editor, Internet Evolution