Wednesday, September 28, 2016

What danah boyd said (personal)

I'd like you all to read a piece by danah boyd entitled There was a bomb on my block. Go read it, then follow me below the fold for an explanation of why I think you should have done so.

I have some experience of terrorism. I was a grad student living in central London during the 1970s IRA bombing campaign. My father worked at Harrods, which was later the target of two successful bomb attacks, in 1983 and 1993. During the 1970s campaign he was in charge of the store's response to the numerous bomb threats it received. He worked out that, given that most of the threats were bogus, evacuating the store for each of them would cause more casualties than would an occasional bomb going off in the building. So he designed and the store implemented a plan by which staff would search the entire building in, as I recall, less than three minutes. If anything suspicious was found, that area would be evacuated. As a result, the 1974 bomb was successfully defused. The two later bombs that did explode were outside the building.

In 2001 my brother had a business partner who had just left Cantor Fitzgerald. On September 11 that man lost almost all of his close friends.

On July 7, 2005 the headlines in the morning papers were that London had been chosen over Paris as the site of the 2012 Summer Olympics. That morning I was meeting with colleagues at University College, London, just around the corner from Tavistock Square where the 4th bomb of the day went off, killing 13 of the 52 victims of the day. We knew about the earlier bombs and, as Londoners, were familiar with the sound of a bomb. When we heard it we looked at each other and said "that was close, we need to get away from here". One of my colleagues was disabled, and had parked his car in a reserved parking spot just outside. As we rushed out of the building, on the pavement, I bumped into a man walking rapidly away from the square. He was dead-panning to his companion "It must have been the French". We all laughed.

boyd's post starts:
I live in Manhattan, in Chelsea, on 27th Street between 6th and 7th, the same block in which the second IED was found. It was a surreal weekend, but it is increasingly becoming depressing as the media moves from providing information to stoking fear, the exact response that makes these events so effective.
Exactly. The whole point of terrorist bombings is to get the media to react as the US media have since 9/11, and as in general the British media have not. The goal of a terrorist incident is to generate terror (i.e. intense fear), hence the name. boyd is understating the problem when she writes:
Traditional news media has a lot of say in what it publishes. This is one of the major things that distinguishes it from social media, which propagates the fears and anxieties of the public. And yet, time and time again, news media shows itself to be irresponsible, motivated more by the attention and money that it can obtain by stoking people’s fears than by a moral responsibility to help ground an anxious public.
The moral responsibility is rather not to assist the terrorists in their aim of causing terror. Of course, it is easier for the London media because London Can Take It! The city is used to terrorist incidents, which have taken place somewhat regularly over at least the last century and a half. They all pale into insignificance because the city remembers that:
From 7 September 1940, ... London was systematically bombed by the Luftwaffe for 57 consecutive nights. More than one million London houses were destroyed or damaged and more than 40,000 civilians were killed, almost half of them in London.
The correct response to bombings, whether by the Luftwaffe or the allied air forces, the IRA or ISIS-inspired loners is Keep Calm and Carry On. And, if possible, do as the gentleman I bumped into did, and make jokes about the bombs. The media "feeding the trolls" makes that really hard, and thus helps the bombers.


David. said...

Frank Rich's The Chelsea Bombing Shows That Americans Are Getting a Better Perspective on Terrorism has a slightly more optimistic take on American attitudes to terror as revealed by the reaction to the incidents danah boyd wrote about.

David. said...

Patrick Coburn's Why Politicians Are to Blame for Most Terrorist Attacks shows an understanding of what is going on.

David. said...

Nemil Dalal's How Media Fuels Our Fear of Terrorism is a worthwhile examination of the enormous bias in the media's coverage or terrorism. The animation of the New York Times' 5-day saturation coverage of the Orlando massacre is especially telling.

PS: Shouldn't it be How Media Fuel Our Fear of Terrorism?