United States

Apr 18, 2013

Democratising the exploitation of terrorism after Boston

Terrorist incidents in Western countries now produce a highly ritualised response, and that applies to social media as well.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

We grow traditions and rituals fast these days. It must be the internet. We've now ossified into a satisfactorily kabuki-like set of reactions to terrorist events in Western countries. After any atrocity, most of the following will now happen:
  • The mainstream media will continue further down the path of abandoning the one edge it has over social media, a reputation for greater reliability, by rushing to misreport important details of the attack or, in the case of The New York Post, virtually every detail of the attack. (At some point, consumers will realise that when it comes to breaking news, the mainstream media is slower, more expensive and no more accurate than social media. Those few mainstream media outlets than can afford to maintain standards, usually because they're publicly funded, like the ABC, will stand out ever more as trusted sources.)
  • Australian media will desperately search for an Australian angle on the tragedy, with journalists, editors and producers desperately looking for any Australians "caught up in the terror". Failing that, they'll simplify these complex events into childish narratives focusing on individuals, usually with some uplifting dimension, because evidently readers and viewers can only process major events if they're portrayed like a movie. The same process will occur in every Western country other than the one in which the attack occurred.
  • "Terrorism experts" will emerge onto television screens and opine about the causes and nature of the attack, in the process revealing that they have absolutely nothing useful to say. If "terrorism experts" aren't available, the local village idiot, like Alan Jones, will be pressed into service.
  • Someone on the Right, ignoring the lesson of Anders Breivik, will immediately blame Muslims.
  • In the gap between news of the attack and an accurate identification of its perpetrator, Western Muslims and progressives will fervently pray it's not a Muslim.
  • Progressives will (correctly) note, usually via social media, that many multiples of the number of innocent victims in Western terror attacks die every day in incidents in non-Western countries, sometimes in attacks carried out by Western governments, but no one pays any attention to them.
  • Conspiracy theorists will rapidly emerge and, regardless of common sense or for that matter basic decency, instantly begin constructing lunatic theories involving government/ corporate/ UN/ Illuminati/ fluoridation agents, especially if some totemic unidentified figure can be found ("the man on the roof" is the new "gunman on the grassy knoll").
  • If it's in America, Westboro Church will emerge to add the funerals of the victims to its busy schedule of funerals to protest.
  • Representatives of industries that stand to benefit from greater defence or security spending will instantly demand greater defence or security spending. Former IRA supporter and fundraiser and now dogged advocate of the War on Terror Republican Congressman Peter King has already demanded more security cameras in the US in the wake of the Boston attack.
That's not to say the tragedy in Boston doesn't have its singular aspects. There is a vast wealth of picture and video evidence from the scene of the attack, courtesy not merely of the now-normal reverse-Panopticon of citizen-touted mobile phone cameras, but from its occurrence at a major event. This will in fact encourage conspiracy theorists, rather than undermining their efforts, as it will throw up far more irrelevant and meaningless material for wingnuts to focus on as "not quite right". But it will also enable millions of amateur sleuths to start poring over phone images, CCTV and press images of the event and parading their results online, identifying a range of possible suspects. Crowd-sourced investigation is here. And that isn't meant as mockery -- get used to it. Ask the Steubenville r-pists, or the alleged r-pists of Rehtaeh Parsons, who are currently the subject of an Anonymous investigation, whether online crowds can be more effective than police forces. How useful social media forensics will be remains to be seen. It might be bad news for people filmed in the wrong spot, with the wrong clothes, or with the wrong expression. One Boston "suspect" identified on Reddit is the "blue robe guy", which makes the man concerned sound like a sinister follower of some religious cult, who was filmed "clenching" his backpack, as of course you would if it was laden with explosives. Oh, and he has a beard. In short, social media means that what was once the prerogative of governments, politicians and the mainstream media -- exploiting terrorism -- has now been democratised. We can all do it, right here at home.

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18 thoughts on “Democratising the exploitation of terrorism after Boston

  1. klewso

    “Mainstream Media” like cock-work.

  2. klewso

    We were too poor to be able to afford an Alan Jones when I was a kid, we only had a real galah.

  3. klewso

    What are they if not fawn stars?

  4. j.oneill

    People are rightly sceptical of the mainstream media and their selective reporting of events. Some things are mentioned on the mainstream media and then disappear down the memory hole when the “official story” gets told. An example is Oklahoma local tv reporting about other explosives being found at the Murrah building. That didn’t fit the official story so it disappeared. Ditto explosive experts saying that the type of bomb allegedly used by McVeigh couldn’t have caused the amount of damage that occurred.

    The internet media are reporting statements that at the time of the Boston bombing there were drills being carried out that matched the events. That might just be a coincidence were it not for the fact that there was an identical scenario on 7/7 with the London bombings, and also on 9/11 with the Pentagon drills that mimicked the actual events.

    Before the usual suspects rush in and say this is “conspiracy theory” it should be noted that all of this information appeared in the mainstream media and then disappeared down the memory hole.

    It is also useful to pose the universal Police question: cui bono? The only consistent winner from all these terror events seems to be the people who make a bucket of money from increased demand for their lethal products. Perpetual war for perpetual profit as Gore Vidal so aptly put it.

  5. Electric Lardyland

    Probably the most idiotic comment about the bombing that I’ve heard so far, was the ludicrous effort of Alan Jones, who decided that because Boston has colleges, er like Harvard, it was probably the work of radical students. Like many of the statements of the ‘talking melanoma’, this one had me wondering; is he really that barking mad, or is he on cynical, but very highly paid mission, to make the less perceptive members of our community even more unhinged.

  6. negativegearmiddleclasswelfarenow.com

    The pejorative use of the term conspiracy theory won’t be enough to sweep the collapse of World Trade Centre Building 7 on September 11 under the carpet.

    This isn’t the 60’s and this totem is something other than a grassy knoll – 47 story WTC Building 7’s collapse was reported on the BBC 20 minutes prior to it imploding and then when it did happen it wasn’t broadcast by the Australian networks. Not theory but fact. Few today know anything about this event.

    According to the New York Times, the use of the term conspiracy theory in its pejorative sense was made CIA policy after detailed directive titled Countering Criticism of the Warren Commission was issued. This use as a put down has been effective in truncating discussion of any facts contrary to the official account.

    Demonisation of those who question the JFK event is necessary as the possibility of High Treason comes in to view when the veil of the cover up is even partially removed. I can’t imagine the stakes being much higher.

    The BBC has changed – fact. Where once BBC2 did docos revealing the likes of Operation Gladio, now they broadcast reality Conspiracy television shows, including one featuring September 11, designed to belittle. Not an expert critic in sight and definitely no questions about BBC foreknowledge on September 11.

  7. David Hand

    Journlaists will agressively question law enforcement authorities why the crime can’t be solved in a commercial hour of TV.

  8. AR

    On 2GB Wednesday morning rat hately, the Parrot Pretender, tried to whip up complacency by pouring contumely on Virginia Trioli/ABC24 for daring to suggest that the focus on Boston was proportionately greater than the series of car bombs in Baghdad the day before. “Not as if those injured real people” he did NOT say …

  9. Tony Thorne

    Bernard’s sledge against ‘conspiracy theorists’ seems a bit bizarre unless he’s suggesting that a co-ordinated bombing involving two timed explosives a couple of blocks apart could only have involved one person, and that the subsequent investigation doesn’t need to consider different theories as to who, how and why. Otherwise a ‘conspiracy’ is as likely a suggestion as any other (two or more perps commit a crime and keep the planning secret) and the ‘theories’ are all being examined right now by Boston police and the FBI. That noted, cute to see him include ‘government’ in the list of groups that it’s lunatic to include, giving the FBI themselves a breather after Mother Jones journalist Trevor Aaronson listed 50 or more ‘plots’ that the agency had helpfully encouraged through the last decade in his recent book THE TERROR FACTORY: INSIDE THE FBI’S MANUFACTURED WAR ON TERRORISM. A good thing that incompetence and corruption never occurs in government agencies, particularly American ones, or I’d start feeling worried.

  10. klewso

    What good is being “fastest gun in the press”, if you’re not accurate?

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