Old Journalistic Ethics vs. Social Media Screeds (updated below)

Back when I started in journalism (back in the era of print journalism), I was taught that every news story had to have some research, so it wasn’t just a repeat of what someone else had said. We were supposed to get opposing points of view, if there was a point of view, and if we couldn’t do that, stick strictly to the facts until we had them. The criminally accused were alleged to have committed a crime until a court of law had convicted them, statements were attributed to the speaker with the context of who the speaker was, and you’d have to check the facts on a single-source story.

If this didn’t happen, the reporter and the medium the story was published in could be sued for defamation and/or libel, and sometimes that happened.

But something different happened with the advent of social media. In sort, the stories that get bumped and viral on social media are always inevitably all about an emotional, visceral reaction to someone’s take on something that happened, typically missing all context. Before any one asks any questions, thousands upon thousands of emotionally-charged people are reposting it, sometimes with their own emotional outbursts added.

Foolishly, I have tried to bring friends (and I only do this for friends whom I respect) back from their social media rager. For instance, a few years ago, at least two friends went ballistic over a report that a teenager wearing a MAGA hat sneered at an American Indian drummer at the Capitol. By the time I saw their posts, additional information had come out that it was the boy and his group had been taunted by another group and the drummer had approached them in an attempt to get a negative reaction on camera. In context, the boy was only nervously smiling and trying to be calm. My friends’ first response was denial about news reports contradicting their visceral but uncritical emotional reaction, finally followed by one removing their post as if pretending it hadn’t happened, and the other acknowledging having been played. The boy in the picture successfully sued the mediums that had falsely called him a racist.

And yet, it continues. A story is posted, the mindless masses repost and screech in response, and when the facts eventually come out because the maligned parties had valid reasons behind their seemingly senseless acts, the mindless masses have already moved on to their next pumped-up reason for hysteria.

This week, it is surrounds an activist teacher and a journalist who damn well knew what they were playing the social media game, but went ahead and did it anyway. “Reporter” Wendy Suares @wsoares went on Twitter and announced a “source” had alerted her that a teacher had been removed from her post for sharing a QR link to books available from the Brooklyn library, because she was banned from lending such books to the children in her classroom herself. Instantly, the internet went insane about the horrors of book bans, the tragedy and stresses of teachers who simply want to open their students’ minds, and how extremely evil and backward the Oklahoma legislature and schools are.

Suarez cannot have been unaware that there were valid reasons and concerns parents had addressed to the schools and legislature that led to laws requiring some oversight over the material available to students in schools. Two days after the uproar, after all the socially correct posturing has been done and everyone has patted themselves on the back for spreading the story, it comes out that the parent who complained about the teacher in question didn’t want her child exposed to pornographic material such as in the book “Gender Queer,” which contains explicit pictures of oral sex and masturbation, and “Lawn Boy” with graphic depictions of sex between men and boys. You are all free to read these books yourself, but honestly, it can’t really have been that long ago that distributing sexual images to and encouraging sex acts to minors was illegal.

The parent addressed her concerns to the school, as it is her right to do. The school district says the teacher, Summer Bosimier @MsBosimier_ELA, was not terminated, suspended or placed on administrative leave. Furthermore, according to the parent (as quoted in the linked story), this teacher had covered the walls of her classrooms with the titles of “Books the state doesn’t want you to read.” This teacher didn’t give a single f*ck about any parent who might want to discuss sensitive subjects with their children directly, or be assured that what they had would be age-appropriate for their mental development. She had a political cause to push and she and her feckless journalist friend did just that. Not surprisingly, Ms. Bosimier quit once she was done and has gone off to poop on parents’ rights and concerns in Connecticut.

In this age of uncritical thought and emotion over substance, her cause has been well-served, as is any cause or story that is unquestioned. Readers on social media no longer look at who the people are telling the story or consider any agendas they may have; they never consider there may be a cause, reason, or context for what is going on; and they are easily ginned up into a mob on social media for something they don’t understand. We are all the worse for this

You may also note that the parent asked to remain anonymous because of fear of retaliation, while the teacher is out loud and proud, and is probably tweeting about how much she hates Oklahoma and the people and kids there already. Here she is being interviewed by her friendly journalist:

Summer Bossimier
Summer Bossimier, the teacher accused of encouraging her underage students to read banned books, especially some including sexually explicit images, being interviewed by Wendy Suares.

I will include my own personal take on this, as appearances are not always so deceiving. When my daughter was in sixth grade, the school district hired a first-year teacher who was covered in tattoos and flashed them openly. It’s ok to have tattoos (as many do), but it made me kind of nervous, especially when she also shared she had no idea about what she planned to teach the kids but would “look stuff up on the internet” as she went along, and said something about being an artist of some kind on the side. I decided I would be cool about this until this teacher hired a sub who openly watched pornography on his cell phone, according to several kids. Back then, pornography was not allowed in classrooms, and the sub was fired and went to jail. All the other teachers I had encountered before then were extremely picky about which sub would fill in for them. I don’t think that teacher continued teaching, but by the next school year we had moved to Tennessee where a porn-watching sub was inconceivable (at the time). And all the teachers have looked relatively wholesome, as in if they have tattoos, I can’t see them, and if they have political preferences or a rockin’ music career, I don’t know about it.

In this case, it is no wonder the public increasingly distrusts reporters and teachers.

Update: A few days later, the social media patsies have moved on to finding something else to go on a bender about, and more details are public (long after it could have placated an angry mob). Oklahoma’s Education Secretary asserts that the teacher’s actions violated state law; the books promoted on the site the QR code linked to included “Gender Queer” a graphic novel that includes explicit sexual drawings, including one of a girl fellating the narrator’s dildo, and the parent complainant asserts the teacher should face criminal charges for providing pornographic material to minors. Furthermore, the school district this teacher taught in could lose their accreditation for violating state law. But, hey, let’s all ignore the matter of a teacher providing explicitly sexual material to students knowing that parents and the state don’t want that happening, and pretend it’s all about a perfectly innocent school marm wanting to share her favorite literature with her precocious suppressed students against the will of bad bigoted forces, shall we?

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