How do journalists report on communities that exist entirely online?
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It was an expected bomb threat, insofar as you could be prepared for one.
Three years ago, I was speaking on a panel about the Gamergate movement at an event hosted by the Society for Professional Journalists in Miami. Someone had already tried to call in a threat that morning. Previous events had been shut down because of them, too.
A handful of fired-up firebrands, including the soon-to-be conservative Icarus Milo Yiannopoulos, railed against journalism and feminism on the panel across from me. A troll posted my home address for all the livestream viewers to see. Still, when the police threw open the doors and ordered us all outside, all I could think of was a question from earlier in the day: How do you report on communities that exist entirely online?
I didn’t have a good answer at the time. Now I could point to Rukmini Callimachi’s work on ISIS, Will Sommer’s coverage of the alt-right and my colleague Daniel Funke’s reporting on online fact-checking. All three report on people who often refuse to be identified, can’t be verified and often claim to speak for a group or organization they don’t actually lead.
“There are challenges for all journalists in discovering and verifying stories we don’t ‘own’ or can’t attribute to other known opinion-formers. There are ethical dilemmas, too, in journalists seeking to insert themselves into unfamiliar online communities, either openly or undercover,” Mark Frankel wrote for Nieman Lab.
Frankel’s article and the report it was based on is possibly the most comprehensive guide to reporting on and from social media platforms. His research focuses on how journalists can cover and participate in platforms like subreddits (where much of Gamergate was organized), Facebook Groups (where countless politically motivated people share ideas) and WhatsApp (where rumors may be inciting violence in India).
It’s a must-read for any journalist who covers online movements or communities. As our conversations continue to shift away from mainstream sources to disparate online groups, I’d say that includes most of us.
+ WhatsApp added a feature that it hopes will curb misinformation. The Facebook-owned chat app with 1.5 billion monthly users now alerts users when a message has been forwarded. Fact-checkers praised the addition.
+ Always a step ahead, hoaxers have begun using audio messages to spread misinformation on WhatsApp. One victim of such an incident: famous Argentinian soccer player Diego Maradona. Hoaxers claimed he died from cardiac arrest after Argentina’s World Cup match with Nigeria.
Digital news to know
INBOX SAUCE: Chris Stanford sends The New York Times’ U.S. Morning Briefing to 1.6 million subscribers every morning. It’s just one of the Times’ 55 newsletters that go out to 14 million people in total. Their secret sauce: “Know your audience, have an expert write it, design it beautifully, maintain it with best practices in mind, and, perhaps most important, ‘offer something valuable that you can’t get anywhere else,’” said Elisabeth Goodridge, the Times' editorial director of newsletters.
ON MY RADAR: Workbench is a data journalism platform that says users can “clean, scrape and analyze data without coding.” It offers tutorials on loading, cleaning, analyzing and publishing data from across the web. And it comes from Columbia Journalism School, so you know it’s legit.
+ What’s the difference between a box plot and a scatter plot? A line plot and an area plot? And what the heck is a dendrogram? It can be hard to pick the best graph to visualize data. From Data to Viz is here to help. (h/t Rachel Schallom and her Best In Digital Storytelling newsletter)
GAMER GRAB: Twitch is a streaming video service known mostly for video game livestreaming. But starting this week, The Washington Post will appear right alongside your favorite Fortnite, League of Legends, and PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds streamers. Programming will include live event coverage from politics and accountability reporter Libby Casey and a series from political reporter Dave Weigel called “Playing Games with Politicians.” Amazon bought Twitch in 2014 for $970 million. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post in 2013 for $250 million.
INNOVATION FORMULA: “Green Eggs and Ham” was born when a young Theo Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) was challenged to write a children’s book using only 50 words. It has sold more than 200 million copies. As newsrooms constrict and we all try to do more with less, it might be time to read up on the power of constraints.
PICTURE THIS: Humans of New York is probably the most famous social media-based photography series. Brandon Stanton has found, interviewed and photographed an eclectic mix of NYC residents since founding the project in 2010. The International Journalists’ Network interviewed Michael Crommett, who works with Stanton on Facebook Watch’s “Humans of New York: The Series,” on the visual storytelling lessons he’s learned from the project.
40 BETTER HOURS: Wake up. Turn off the alarm. Walk to the kitchen. Turn on the coffee maker. Wait five minutes. Drink it up. Sound familiar? You might be doing it wrong. The science says we should probably be drinking our morning coffee between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. Levels of the cortisol hormone, which makes us feel alert and awake, aren’t peaking at that time for most nine-to-fivers. Caffeinating during a cortisol spike increases caffeine tolerance.