Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Month: July 2011 (page 2 of 2)

Ethan Bronner and Journalistic Integrity (Redux)

Last year, when a report from the Electronic Intifada (EI) indicated that New York Times Middle East bureau chief Ethan Bronner hadn’t been forthcoming about his son’s participation in the Israeli Defense Forces, I wrote that I felt it was a strong conflict of interest for a foreign embedded journalist to have a child participating in that foreign country’s military (note: it is perfectly legal for a US citizen to serve in a foreign military under most circumstances). The Columbia Journalism Review and the Timespublic editor weighed in on the issue, with the latter calling the situation “too close to home” and suggesting Bronner be reassigned.

He wasn’t.

Now, Bronner’s ethics have come into question again following an article in which Bronner highlighted an Israeli-Palestinian online initiative called “YaLa Young Leaders.” The Electronic Intifada once again unearthed the issue, and has done an excellent job of bringing to light the issues.

For many, this would appear to be a matter of political dispute, and for Palestinian activists it no doubt is. Nevertheless, with the facts laid bare, it becomes abundantly clear that Bronner’s reporting on the online initiative is at best less than stellar, and at worst downright fabricated in parts.

The major issues for me are as follows:

  1. The number of active participants in the group, as Bronner cites it, is “22,500.”  Frankly, that’s impossible.  In order to actively participate in a Facebook page, one must click the “like” button.  According to a screenshot published within the EI article, that number was, on June 19, only 1,200. A cache of the page from June 10 shows only 717 users.  Now, just three days after the release of Bronner’s article, the number has jumped to 7,472 (see screenshot), exactly 15,028 fewer “active participants” than Bronner stated were taking part.

    The article also claims that 60% of the page’s participants are Arabs, but it is unclear how Bronner deduced that number, or the number of alleged page views YaLa’s page had received. It is possible that Facebook handed over the latter number, but as to the former, I can say with some certainty that it is next to impossible to deduce the nationalities of “22,500” people on Facebook. And since Facebook doesn’t actually ask for nationality (it does ask for location, which not everyone provides), Bronner’s statistic is plainly a fabrication.

  2. It is clear that Moad Arqoub did not come across YaLa while “bouncing around the Internet the other day”, as Bronner states. As EI states, Arqoub was participating on the page as early as May 22, a month and a half before Bronner’s article was published. Lest that be dismissed as semantics, EI has pointed out that Arqoub has been participating in similar initiatives with the only other individual cited in the article for years, and has a prior relationship with YaLa’s founder Eyal Raviv suspected YaLa founder Eyal Raviv [edit: Eyal Raviv was involved in similar initiatives along with Arqoub and the other quoted individual, but may only be tangentially involved with YaLa leaders].
  3. Good journalism is not one-sided: There is significant Palestinian opposition to such initiatives, as EI points out, which is evidenced by the fact that few Palestinians appear to actually be participating on the page. Whatever Bronner’s opinion on initiatives like YaLa, his lack of coverage on more widespread initiatives like the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign indicates bias.

In effect, and as EI points out, the article comes across as a press release for a minor (by any estimation) Facebook page.

Google+ and “Real Names”

In my last post, I noted the differences and similarities between the user policies of Google+ and Facebook. One of my particular concerns for a long time has been Facebook’s policy of requiring users to identify using their real names, so, while Google+ stated in its community standards that Google+ would be an “identified” service (see Google’s differentiation between unidentified, pseudonymous, and identified), I was heartened by the fact that, at the very least, they would allow users to utilize the name by which they are commonly known, thereby eliminating incidents like the one Michael Anti experienced with Facebook.

Today, I spotted my first example of Google+ cracking down on a user for violating this particular rule. Ken Wehr, who publicly posted about his experience on Google+, found his account disabled for initially using his initials (“k s w”) to identify himself.

What’s interesting is the discussion that has ensued about Ken’s experience (unfortunately, it’s occurring across various accounts, with some discussions public and others semi-private, so I won’t be able to share them all). Some people disagree with the idea that Google+ should be an “identified” service, while others are simply peeved at how the policy is or might be enforced (sample comment: “The policy actually says that I should use the name that “my friends know me by”. Nowhere does it say “unless it’s a pseudonym or nickname unrelated to my legal name”. If the policy they’re enforcing doesn’t match the policy as written, that’s a problem.”)

Still others (and I admittedly and shamefacedly–my privilege is so showing–never even considered this aspect in all of my writings on Facebook) have pointed out how this might affect transgendered people, particularly those who may not yet have changed their name or gender legally (though, I would hope that Google wouldn’t object if a person’s name and gender seemed not to match up).

First, I will say this: Google+ is still in beta, and therefore so are its policies. In this case, I think the policy needs some serious clarification. As others have pointed out, the policy states that “Google Profiles is a product that works best in the identified state”, but Google’s own definition of the identified state seems to imply the use of one’s real, legal name (in that their example is Google Checkout, which would in fact require the name on your credit card). Thus, it would seek to reason that Google+ is to be used somewhere in between the pseudonymous and identified states.

My frustration over Facebook’s policies started somewhere in the belief that people should be allowed to be anonymous, and progressed to frustration with their particular method of enforcement, rather than the policy itself. In this case, I recognize Google’s right (as I do Facebook’s) to create a policy as they wish, but also as with Facebook, I don’t particularly see the value in a selectively enforced policy, which is to say that the policy is only enforced when someone reports you for violating ToS (or, perhaps, when a name triggers some automated function, as also occurs on Facebook with certain words).

Most importantly, though, I hope that Google+ will clarify its policy and continue to allow nicknames as it claimed it would. There is a rather large difference between anonymity or “unidentified” use of a product and semi-identified use, and I respect that people who use known “handles” across multiple services might wish to do so on Google+ as well.

P.S. I should also say I’m thrilled to know that Ken was only kicked off Google+ (temporarily) and not all Google services, as I feared one might be for violating the rules.

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