<span class='p-name'>Too Long; Didn’t Read #182</span>

Too Long; Didn’t Read #182

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Viral Misinformation
TL;DR #182 – 1/26/2019

Hi all, welcome to TL;DR. My name is Ian O’Byrne. I research, teach, & write about technology in our lives. Usually in TL;DR, I try to synthesize what happened this week in tech…so you can be the expert as well.

This week’s issue will veer from the norm as I try to unpack an event that took online & offline social networks by storm. I’ll focus on the incident between Covington Catholic and Nathan Phillips and the narratives that flooded the Internet. As noted by Julie Zimmerman in The Atlantic, if this incident was a test, most of us failed it.

I think this incident provides a powerful opportunity to study critical media literacy with students while developing empathy and other needed skills and dispositions. To that end, I started up a Google Doc to collect/share all readings & responses to this incident. It started as a discussion with one of my classes as we discussed how they would teach and contextualize this incident with their future middle and high school students.

Please feel free to visit the Google Doc to add your own resources and join the discussion. Please note that our (my students & I) main focus is on critical media literacy. This is a heavily nuanced incident with a lot of bias, perspective, privilege, and viral misinformation.

Before we get into it…I should note that I also shared a couple other things this week:

  • Critical Media Literacy – In an online space that regularly serves up spin, fake news, & shades of fiction, it’s easier than ever to consume falsehoods and spout them as fact. That’s why critical media literacy must be an integral part of students’ learning experience.
  • What is Screentime? – A look at the topic of screentime, and think about its role in our lives…and the lives of our children.
  • Technology in the Higher Education Classroom of the Future? – A quick tour of the classroom where I get to teach every day.

Covington High viral controversy, moment by moment recall (3:09)

I tried to find one of the original video clips shared from the incident. As you can imagine YouTube is flooded with a multitude of response videos on the subject. This video does an adequate job of unpacking the timeline of the event.


White students in MAGA gear taunt Native American elders

This is one of the first posts on the incident.

In videos shared widely on YouTube and Twitter, a young man wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat stands inches away from a native elder who is beating a drum. Different angles of the incident show a group of a few dozen young people, mostly boys, in the background, jumping up and down and jeering in unison at the group of elders present for the day’s march. In some shots, the teens appear to be shouting, “Build that wall, build that wall.”

The post finishes by indicating that there is a lot more happening in the incident, outside of the original video clips. The story gets much more complex.

The MAGA teenager who harrassed a Native American is still unnamed, but we’ve seen his face before

The identities of the individuals in most of the video clips, especially the inclusion of of the MAGA hats was a flash point for many as they viewed these events.

In the clip, captured after the Indigenous Peoples March in Washington on Friday, an elderly Native American man beats a drum and quietly sings, and a small group of activists and allies can be seen in the crowd behind him.* Perhaps 18 inches in front of him, a white teenager in a “Make America Great Again” hat makes eye contact and smirks. A much larger crowd of teenagers—mostly male, mostly white, many wearing MAGA hats—hoots with delight at the wordless confrontation. The encounter was captured from multiple angles and circulated widely on YouTube and social media, generating widespread disgust.

How the Media Turned the MAGA Teens Into Martyrs

This is viewed as a tricky lesson as we see children/adolescents mimicking the behaviors of adults. This is further complicated as we see the media more than willing to fan these fires. The media was accused of having “wildly mischaracterized” the incident and not revealing a far more complicated interaction.

Debate has also focused on the tendency of the media to overcorrect in order to please readers and fuel the rage.

The discourse is poisoned, but you already knew that

L. M. Sacassas talking about memes and discussion in digital, social spaces.

…we believe we know the truth about everyone and the truth we know is that there is no truth to be known. So our public sphere takes on not a cynical quality, but a nihilistic one. That is the difference between believing that everyone is a moral hypocrite and believing that everyone is inauthentically posturing for attention.

Why “both sides” of a story aren’t enough

Students are capable of processing complex narratives; we just need to give them the tools. A primer on the challenges and implications as we try to paint this as a debate/discussion between two sides of a story.


Srop trusting viral videos

It’s tempting to think that the short video at the Lincoln Memorial shows the truth, and then that the longer video revises or corrects that truth. But the truth on film is more complicated: Video can capture narratives that people take as truths, offering evidence that feels incontrovertible. But the fact that those visceral certainties can so easily be called into question offers a good reason to trust video less, rather than more. Good answers just don’t come this fast and this easily.

Next time we see viral events bubbling up online…let’s take a second to read, research, think, and question. What narratives are we hearing? What narratives are we missing?

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Let’s create space for the teaching of tolerance.

Nathan Phillips


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