Tag Archives: Twitter

Enough with the social media articles

From yesterday’s online New York Times comes a story titled “As Social Media Swirl Around It, Supreme Court Sticks to Its Analog Ways:”

The Web is ready, too. On Thursday, after the justices once again did not issue rulings in any of the biggest cases, news organizations blared the “news” to their followers. “BREAKING NEWS: No major decisions from Supreme Court today,” the Yahoo News site announced on its Twitter feed. Another Twitter user wryly observed: “Clearly all Supreme Court judges were unpopular kids in high school and, excited by all the attention now, are gonna drag this out.”

A year ago, in the minutes before the court announced its decision on President Obama’s health care law, Twitter users posted more than 13,000 messages a minute about the court. (By comparison, there were 160,000 a minute at the height of the presidential debate in Denver last year.)

And then today, another story headlined “A Panda Escapes From the Zoo, and Social Media Swoop In With the Net:”

To help find Rusty, a raccoon-size mammal with a striped tail and moon-shaped face, the zoo turned to social media, and suddenly half of official Washington broke from Serious Events to tune in to the saga of the runaway panda.

On Twitter and Facebook, the hunt for 11-month-old Rusty, whom the zoo acquired three weeks ago as a partner to a female panda named Shama, exploded in a mix of concern, humor and, this being Washington, the goring of political oxen.

“Rusty the Red Panda eats shoots and leaves,” Jake Tapper, CNN’s chief Washington correspondent, filed to Twitter.

Doug Stafford, a senior aide to Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, called the escape a cautionary tale. “If we don’t use drones to spy on everyone, the pandas will win,” he wrote.

The zoo announced Rusty’s disappearance to its thousands of Twitter followers in a message at 11:51 a.m, which was retweeted nearly 3,000 times in an hour.

At midday, mentions of “Rusty” on Twitter nearly equaled those of “Obama.” ABC News started a blog with “live coverage” of the search.

“Please help us find Rusty,” the zoo pleaded on Twitter, explaining that he was last seen at 6 p.m. on Sunday and might be nearby “hiding in a tree.”

On its Facebook page, the zoo said keepers were combing the Asia Trail habitat, whereRusty and Shama live between the Japanese giant salamander and the small-clawed otter, since 8 a.m. But in an ominous note, the zoo said it was possible Rusty had been stolen.

Look, I get it. The New York Times has discovered social media, and it is on it. But please, please — stop with the constant stories devoted to people who…tweet. Or who post the occasional snarky Facebook post.

This is not news. This is actually rather mundane, and is best replaced by an article on almost anything else.

And yes, I realize I have just made the problem worse.

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Waiting for #SCOTUS: now we know next week is going to be amazing

Thursday morning came and went without any decisions from the Supreme Court on same-sex marriage, affirmative action in public universities and the constitutionality of a key provision in the Voting Rights Act, meaning that next week (the last scheduled week of this term) is going to be amazing. We did get rulings in three other cases (Descamps v. United States on enhanced sentences for those with prior convictions, American Express v. Italian Colors on class action suits and arbitration clauses, and Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society on government preconditions for aid and the First Amendment), leaving the number of yet-to-be decided cases at 11 now. Here’s the tweet recap (tweetcap?) of the frenzied period between 10:00-10:30 a.m. EST this morning:

Finally, of course:

 

 

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Waiting for #SCOTUS: Tweets from the Peanut Gallery

As the Supreme Court inches toward the end of its term in late June with fourteen cases still undecided, court-watchers are now surging toward Twitter and SCOTUSblog every Monday and Thursday morning at 10 a.m. EST in anticipation of history-making rulings on same-sex marriage, voting rights, and affirmative action in higher education. No one outside of the Court knows what and how many opinions are issued on any given day–and we did not in fact get any of the aforementioned “marquee” decisions today, which only adds to the tension for Thursday–but waiting is half the fun, right?

Here’s a roundup of today’s action in tweet form, showing our collective breath being held, held, held and then released over the span of 30 long minutes (thus freeing everyone up with time to spare for the Edward Snowden Q&A). In all, #SCOTUS handed down five opinions today, including a couple of important criminal procedure decisions and an Arizona voter registration ruling that saw Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Scalia siding with the liberal wing of the Court against the state’s proof-of-citizenship requirement. It also agreed to hear oral argument in four more cases for its next term. We begin with the one and only SCOTUSblog, the definitive source for everything Court-related:

https://twitter.com/ben_mccall/status/346628902707417089

https://twitter.com/khjEsq/status/346705366123438081

https://twitter.com/julierheinstrom/status/346632980514631680

How we are all unwitting terrorists

twitter

There’s been a lot of speculation in the past week or so about the Twitter feeds of Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Here are a few representative samples from The New York Times alone. First up is columnist Charles Blow:

On Friday, BuzzFeed and CNN claimed to verify Dzhokhar’s Twitter account. The tweets posted on that account give a window into a bifurcated mind — on one level, a middle-of-the-road 19-year-old boy, but on another, a person with a mind leaning toward darkness.

He was a proud Muslim who tweeted about going to mosque and enjoying talking — and even arguing — about religion with others. But he seemed to believe that different faiths were in competition with one another. On Nov. 29, he tweeted: “I kind of like religious debates, just hearing what other people believe is interesting and then crushing their beliefs with facts is fun.”

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had strong views on the Middle East, tweeting on Nov. 28, “Free Palestine.” Later that day he tweeted, “I was going to make a joke about Hamas but it Israeli inappropriate.”

Toward the end of last year, the presence of dark tweets seemed to grow — tweets that in retrospect might have raised some concerns.

He tweeted about crime. On Dec. 28 he tweeted about what sounds like a hit-and-run: “Just saved a bunch of money on my car insurance by switching my car into reverse and driving away from the accident.” And on Feb. 6 he tweeted, “Everything in life can be free if you run fast enough.”

He posted other tweets that could be taken as particularly ominous.

Oct. 22: “i won’t run i’ll just gun you all out #thugliving.”

Jan. 5: “I don’t like when people ask unnecessary questions like how are you? Why so sad? Why do you need cyanide pills?”

Jan. 16: “Breaking Bad taught me how to dispose of a corpse.”

Then yesterday, the Times‘ head book reviewer, Michiko Kakutani, delved in a little further:

Given the layers of irony, sarcasm and joking often employed on Twitter, it can be difficult to parse the messages of a stranger. Yet some of them can seem menacing or portentous, given what we now suspect: “a decade in america already, I want out,” “Never underestimate the rebel with a cause” or, drawing from lyrics from a Kendrick Lamar song, “No one is really violent until they’re with the homies.” But others suggest a more Holden Caulfield-like adolescent alienation: “some people are just misunderstood by the world thus the increase of suicide rates.” Sometimes, Dzhokhar sounds downright sentimental (unless, of course, he is being ironic): “There are enough worms for all the birds stop killing each other for ‘em.”

Parts of Dzhokhar’s VKontakte page are harsher and more serious. Under personal priority, it says “Career and money.” Under worldview, it says “Islam.” There is a link to a video indicating outrage at the violence in Syria, and a link to an Islamic Web site that says “And do good, for Allah loves those who do good.” Another video features a blind boy talking to an older man, saying he believes his blindness will be absolved on Judgment Day; the man starts to cry, and wonders how many people who have their sight are as committed to the study of the Koran as the boy.

To her credit, she at least had the self-awareness to observe the obvious:

These posts instantly became dots that people began trying to connect. Some details ratified the views of those former friends and neighbors who said they were utterly shocked at the brothers’ possible involvement in such a horrifying crime. Other posts pointed to Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s growing interest in Islamic radicalism and possibly a dark subtext to the friendly, boy-next-door affect of Dzhokhar.

At the same time, they were reminders of the complexities of online identity — of the ways in which people strike poses and don masks on the Web (which can sometimes turn into self-fulfilling prophecies), and the ways in which the Web can magnify or accelerate users’ interests and preoccupations.

The social media droppings the Tsarnaev brothers left behind not only attest to their own immersion in the interactive, electronic world, but they have also provided everyone else with plenty of digital data from which to try to extract patterns and possible meaning — fulfilling that very human need to try to make narrative sense of the tragic and the overwhelming.

And, unsurprisingly, BuzzFeed and New York Magazine, among others, joined in on the Twitter-parsing/stalking fun as well.

You may see where I’m going with this. Yes, it increasingly looks like Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev bought into a radical fringe of Islam prior to bombing the Boston Marathon. And so it is theoretically possible that breadcrumbs from their evolving radicalization are discoverable by sifting through tweets and Russian social networking sites.

But it is much, much more likely that these tweets are simply being scrutinized with that 20/20 hindsight so familiar to tragic events: everything always looks clearer in the rear-view mirror. Even the most “menacing” of Dzhokhar’s tweets pointed out by the mainstream media reveal less “a “bifurcated mind…leaning toward darkness” and more the typical musings of a 19-year-old college student.

This voyeuristic, retrospective fine-combing of the younger Tsarnaev’s Twitter profile is not only useless. It is counterproductive and dangerous too: reading too deeply into the abbreviated, 140-character-length thoughts of a suspected bomber promotes the notion that such heinous acts could have been stopped if only we had been able to access more information earlier on — if only we had been watching earlier on.

There are signs of this mindset already. Take this article from today’s Boston Globe:

House Speaker John Boehner this morning said he was concerned that federal agencies hadn’t learned their lessons from the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and he vowed to hold agency heads responsible if they didn’t do enough to stop the Boston bombings.

The response in Washington is increasingly focused on potential intelligence failures, and a lack of sharing information among territorial federal agencies – a problem that was supposed to be fixed after the attacks nearly 12 years ago.

“I have concerns about what agencies knew what — and the fact that it wasn’t shared,” Boehner said at a press conference. “You know if the information is good enough for one agency of the government, why shouldn’t it be appropriate for other agencies of the government? We’re going to get to the bottom of it.”

It’s the same story in The New York Times:

Emerging from a closed two-hour hearing with three senior law enforcement and intelligence officials, several members of the Senate Intelligence Committee raised new questions about how the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security apparently handled information about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, the suspect who was killed in a shootout with the police on Friday.

“I’m very concerned that there still seem to be serious problems with sharing information, including critical investigative information,” Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, told reporters. “That is troubling to me that this many years after the attacks on our country in 2001, that we still seem to have stovepipes that prevent information from being shared effectively, not only among agencies but also within the same agency, in one case.”

The problems with these interpretations are twofold. First, they assume that some form of Omniscience Lite is actually achievable. Well, it’s not. There is no such thing as perfect intelligence nor perfect crime prevention (sorry, Minority Report aficionados). Terrorism will happen from time to time. Maybe instead of freaking out, we can actually try to (gasp) get a little more used to it and, therefore, manage to return to normalcy more quickly.

Secondly, the implications of this type of thinking can be quite terrifying. If, with the benefit of hindsight, we can now perfectly see the seeds of radicalism sprouting on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s Twitter feed, then it follows that we can discover — and halt — someone’s budding radicalization taking place right now, in real-time. Many are already advocating for increased surveillance, more CCTV cameras, and so on. But even beyond the installation of more virtual eyes over our urban areas, the impulse to counter terrorism with an even bigger Big Brother is just one more step in the wrong direction for a country that’s already all too willing to surrender its civil liberties in the service of an unconvincing “security.”

Which brings me to the headline of this post. Take a look at the below tweets of mine, and then try to imagine reading them after I’ve been accused of a hypothetical bombing:

Do you see the problem here? It took me all of about ten minutes to select these tweets out of nearly 5,000 I’ve written. So yes, there are plenty of dots and data points in a Twitter feed. But connecting them arbitrarily after the fact to create a portrayal of something sinister does nothing to help prevent terrorism. And it may do a lot to help push us just a little bit closer to 1984.

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Running from terror in Boston

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Journalists in the Pulitzer World Room during Pulitzer Prize announcements. Monday, April 15, 2013.

On the third floor of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism is the Pulitzer World Room, a mid-sized chamber that could easily double as a church sanctuary. Today, at around 2:30 PM, I arrived there to cover the official announcement of the Pulitzer Prize winners that was scheduled to take place at 3 PM.

After setting up with my computer, camera, and obligatory coffee, I began scanning TweetDeck, trying to find which hashtag was associated with the event and generally catching up on news. At around 2:51 PM, I ran across this tweet:

At the time, it seemed out of place in my newsfeed, but it quickly became apparent just how relevant it was. Within minutes, a torrent of reports began flooding my computer screen in 140-character increments.

As it turns out, few places are more depressing than Twitter in the aftermath of a tragedy. What remains for most sentient human beings an unalloyed catastrophe that is mourned in solidarity with its victims requires all of thirty seconds on Twitter to devolve into a circus of self-righteous finger-wagging.

Of which I, like so many others, played my part. And yet there were so many aspects of today’s perfect Twitter storm that were so enraging in their lack of imagination and their utter predictability that it all felt, somehow, as if it were too much to handle at once.

I am from Boston (Everett, more precisely), and — like all Bostonians — have walked down Boylston Street far too many times to remember. Patriots’ Day is really, in the end, about two things: morning baseball and the Boston Marathon. Drinking plays a large role in both, and that is that.

And so part of my disbelief at the initial reports stemmed directly from the fact that a bombing in my hometown seemed so surreal, so otherworldly, so impossible, that it couldn’t have actually happened. I tried getting through to my parents and my little sister and kept bumping up against voicemail messages, endlessly ringing phones, and the even more ominous technical messages informing me the call could not be connected “at this time.” Eventually, I discovered none of them had even been in Massachusetts that day, let alone at home in Boston. But the horror remained.

There is a natural coming together after a tragedy. But even within this organic human impulse are concentric circles, ever-widening (or ever-narrowing, depending on the perspective) to include various scopes of “there”-ness. On September 11th, all Americans felt like New Yorkers. And all New Yorkers felt as if they had been at Ground Zero.

In reality, some people actually were there. Then, these geographical distinctions seemed not to matter. But today, there appeared to be a self-sorting taking place: the Bostonians versus the non-Bostonians, the true mourners versus the politicizers, those who demonstrated online “tact” versus the opportunists, and so on.

And yet we were all opportunists. If nothing else, today reminded me of how enormously petty people can be, as an actual human calamity was subsumed online under a wave of concern trolling and one-upsmanship. I don’t mean to pick on any one person in particular — because there truly was an enormous number of people doing this today — but it just so happened that one particular tweeter was especially prolific in this regard:

Again, my point is not to pick on Morrison, with whom I’ve briefly interacted on Twitter in the past without incident (is there such a thing as a Twitter incident? a Twitcident?). She’s just the one particular user handle I remember from a long day of staring at my computer screen. I normally find her quite interesting, which is why I follow her in the first place.

But tweets like the above, in which boundaries are quickly drawn and stakes are claimed to some online/virtual form of legitimacy or sensitivity are just…ridiculous. Similarly maddening (and yet entirely predictable) is the knee-jerk scouring for the nearest maniac to provide a useful unhinged quote:

Why do these people even matter? Coverage is exactly what they want, but it is not at all clear what they have achieved to deserve it.

One final complaint: the obsession with the word “terrorism.” Everyone seemed to be holding his or her breath, waiting for the magic “T word” to escape President Obama’s lips during his press conference: after he didn’t, the conversation on TV turned to why not, and the conversation on Twitter turned to castigating the conversation on TV. This entire succession itself played out like a tired TV sitcom, with all the characters playing to typecast without the faintest trace of irony. Indeed, as Nate Silver succinctly put it:

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Supreme Court Reactions: Tweets from the Prop 8 Oral Argument

Oral argument for the California Proposition 8 case has ended in Washington, D.C., and the Supreme Court audio and transcript are now up. It’s pretty inconclusive from today’s session what kind of ruling the Justices are going to come up with, but that didn’t stop the Twittersphere from exploding into varying degrees of rage, joy and punditry. Here is a brief recap in tweet form, culled from legal commentators, journalists and the rest of the peanut gallery:

Freedom of speech, except for the press

ESPN sports columnist Bill Simmons (a.k.a. “Sports Guy”) was suspended from Twitter for disparaging the network in regard to the above video:

ESPN has suspended superstar columnist Bill Simmons from Twitter after he criticized the network’s controversial First Take show, according to a Deadspin report.

On First Take last week, NFL player Richard Sherman eviscerated host Skip Bayless in an extended exchange that quickly went viral online. Bayless has long antagonized sports fans for what many see as convoluted rants and unnecessary criticism of athletes intended to generate controversy more than provide actual value to viewers. Sherman was widely celebrated for standing up to Bayless and dressing the host down.

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Twitter truth-telling

Slate reports on new research that raises the potential of machine-aided Twitter reading — that is, initial vetting of tweets for veracity, based on certain elements:

A 2010 paper from Yahoo Research analyzed tweets from that year’s 8.8 Chile earthquake and found that legitimate news—such as word that the Santiago airport had closed, that a supermarket in Concepcion was being looted, and that a tsunami had hit the coastal town of Iloca—propagated on Twitter differently than falsehoods, like the rumor that singer Ricardo Arjona had died or that a tsunami warning had been issued for Valparaiso. One key difference might sound obvious but is still quite useful: The false rumors were far more likely to be tweeted along with a question mark or some other indication of doubt or denial.

Building on that work, the authors of the 2010 study developed a machine-learning classifier that uses 16 features to assess the credibility of newsworthy tweets. Among the features that make information more credible:

– Tweets about it tend to be longer and include URLs.

– People tweeting it have higher follower counts.

– Tweets about it are negative rather than positive in tone.

– Tweets about it do not include question marks, exclamation marks, or first- or third-person pronouns.

Several of those findings were echoed in another recent study from researchers at India’s Institute of Information Technology who also found that credible tweets are less likely to contain swear words and significantly more likely to contain frowny emoticons than smiley faces.

But won’t many chronic Twitter liars simply absorb these lessons and tailor their tweets to trick the new algorithm? (Say that last part five times fast.)

Drones: a history in tweets

Josh Begley, realizing how little Americans know or understand about their own country’s drone warfare, began tweeting the entire history of American drone strikes yesterday. He’s still going:

For the past several years, Begley, who previously worked at an organizationthat uses technology to advance social-justice movements, has felt a nagging need to open Americans’ eyes to the reality of this method of warfare. Begley himself says he “started caring about the issue because I knew so little about [drones].” Then Jane Mayer’s 2009 New Yorker piece, “The Predator War,” which brought readers into the air-conditioned Langley, Va., offices from which drone attacks are ordered, got him thinking.

Drones “bring up all sorts of interesting questions about the intersection of technology and international law and human rights,” he told The Daily Beast. “A bureaucratic chain of command deciding to execute [people] outside any law is a very interesting concept intellectually.” And so, last summer, he set to work designing an app that would map U.S. strikes, to bring a far-away war into the palms of everyday Americans.

Drone+, as the application is called, culls public information compiled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism about U.S. attacks, translates the data into a user-friendly map, and pushes notifications to users every time a new strike hits.

A representative sampling:

[tweet http://twitter.com/dronestream/status/278727716801486848]

[tweet http://twitter.com/dronestream/status/278727931818278913]

[tweet http://twitter.com/dronestream/status/278890277261946880]

The hardest job in the world?

That may be slightly hyperbolic, but the New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief will always have his/her work cut out for him/her. And then shredded to pieces, castigated, and masticated ad nauseum. (Even just recently, I have also covered various unsavory aspects of the Times’ coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.)

In this regard, then, criticism of Jodi Rudoren is no different than the intense scrutiny faced by her predecessors (a line that most recently included Ethan Bronner, whose son served in the Israel Defense Forces). She got off to a rocky start earlier this year by doing things as downright treasonous as linking (via retweet) to a Hezbollah-friendly Lebanese news site and acknowledging the existence of Electronic Intifada founder Ali Abuminah, also in a tweet. (It should come as no surprise to anyone that Atlantic columnist Jeffrey Goldberg found all of this very upsetting.)

Well, she’s back in hot water again. As part of an otherwise very admirable step into social media (especially for an employee of an “old-fashioned” media institution), Rudoren posted the following commentary on her Facebook page on November 19, during the recent Israeli strikes in Gaza:

In terms of Sarah Sanchez’s q about effects on civilians, the strange thing is that while death and destruction is far more severe in Gaza than in Israel, it seems like Israelis are almost more traumatized. The Gazans have a deep culture of resistance and aspiration to martyrdom, they’re used to it from Cast Lead and other conflicts, and they have such limited lives than in many ways they have less to lose. Both sides seem intensely proud of their military “achievements” — Israel killing Jabari and taking out so many Fajr 5s, Hamas reaching TA and Jeru. And I’ve been surprised that when I talk to people who just lost a relative, or who are gathering belongings from a bombed-out house, they seem a bit ho-hum.

It was this last word — “ho-hum” — that sparked an avalanche of criticism. This flood of responses included one from Philip Weiss, founder of Mondoweiss.net and a fierce critic of Israeli government policies towards the Palestinians. He posted an article extensively analyzing Rudoren’s “ho-hum” comment, as well as previous statements she’s made, and concluded the following:

Rudoren was posted to Israel last June with her family, and we have a couple of times now…commented that she seems culturally bound inside the Israeli experience. These observations in the Facebook shtetl support that view.

When, to her credit, Rudoren linked to Weiss’ column — calling it an “incredibly unfair analysis of my Facebook posts, taking everything out of context to support his agenda” — many of her Facebook subscribers took to her comments section to air their perspectives, including me:

I hate to say it, but “they seem a bit ho-hum” is something you would never see printed in the NYT — or anywhere else — about Israelis/Jews. I’m not even saying it was deliberate bias, but just that certain narratives become reinforced through sheer force of habit and complacency. That was irresponsible phrasing.

Others voiced similar concerns. (The response was not unanimously of one mind, however. Several commenters registered disgust for Philip Weiss, for example.) The next morning in Gaza, Rudoren again — to her credit once more — took to Facebook to explain herself:

My feeling is that my posts on social media have to adhere to the same fairness standards as my work in the NYT itself, but not to the same tone or content standards as I try to bring a bit of reflection/behind the news. So while people are right that I would absolutely never use a term like ho-hum in the newspaper in this situation, I might well use a different word, and probably many more of them, to describe what I have experienced as a kind of numbness and, frankly, strength in the face of all that is happened to the people here. Steadfast probably would have been a much better choice.

I did not at all mean to imply that people were indifferent to the suffering, or uncaring, or unfeeling — they are passionate about their cause, deeply connected to the land being destroyed, with incredibly close extended families loved and honored above all else. What I meant was that their reaction to the literal things that had been happening this week was (mostly) outwardly calm, even, stoic. There is little panic and little public display of emotion (whether sadness or anger) that you might see in other cultures. Talking to people has made me think this is a mix of resignation, routine and resistance, along with a religious viewpoint that views death in this context as a sacrifice, of course, but also a worthy one.

Whether or not Rudoren’s elaboration was entirely honest is certainly debatable. But whatever its degree of veracity, it appears that such off-the-cuff statements will no longer be forthcoming from the freshman Jerusalem bureau chief. Today, New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan (who yesterday also tackled the allegedly “Orwellian” captioning of a Gaza photograph that appeared in the newspaper) took Rudoren to task for her social media commentary:

Now The Times is taking steps to make sure that Ms. Rudoren’s further social media efforts go more smoothly. The foreign editor, Joseph Kahn, is assigning an editor on the foreign desk in New York to work closely with Ms. Rudoren on her social media posts.

The idea is to capitalize on the promise of social media’s engagement with readers while not exposing The Times to a reporter’s unfiltered and unedited thoughts.

Given the spotlight that the Jerusalem bureau chief is bound to attract, and Ms. Rudoren’s self-acknowledged missteps, this was a necessary step.

The alternative would be to say, “Let’s forget about social media and just write stories.” As The Times fights for survival in the digital age, that alternative was not a good one.

Some would argue, however, that this nebulous middle ground is the worst position of all. The Times stakes a large part of its reputation on the lofty notion that its reporting is utterly devoid of bias, an idea that implicitly extends to the reporters themselves. Of course, it is impossible to be utterly devoid of opinions and biases developed through experience, research, or otherwise (also known as “living”).

As this inherent contradiction — practiced far and wide by mainstream media establishments — is subjected to increasingly incisive scrutiny by the likes of Jay Rosen and others, some organizations (especially those being distributed primarily via the Internet) have taken to disclosing political leanings and other relevant information upfront, and allowing readers to decide for themselves whether the reporting is worthwhile.

But in the case of Rudoren, it appears the New York Times is doing neither: now that it is no longer able to plausibly deny the existence of a functioning analytical brain inside its Jerusalem bureau chief’s head, it has decided to censor her, instead of embracing the newfound transparency of her possible innate biases. In fact, Rudoren’s critic, Philip Weiss, is among the frustrated:

Count me an unhappy reader. I like the transparency of social media, I like to know about reporters’ biases. The Rudoren moment showed us that even reporters for the most prestigious journals are real people with real responses, for better or worse; and I believe that Rudoren’s apprehensions about Palestinian culture are widely shared in the US establishment (indeed, I have admitted my own apprehensions re Islam). In the unfolding of the story, we got to see Rudoren, who is a smart, tough, thoughtful person, respond and evolve before our eyes. Now the Times, worried about its authority being diminished, needs to pull the curtain.

Chimes in Pamela Olson: No more unfiltered thoughts from Mrs. Rudoren– it probably would have happened sooner or later anyway, but it’s a pity.  It was a fascinating look into the mind of an establishment journalist just getting her feet wet, unconscious biases and all, revealing things that are supposed to be kept well hidden.  It’s always fun to watch the newbies– reporters, politicians, thinktankers– slowly learn the various orthodoxies they must adhere to.

Fellow blogger, friend, and Middle East obsessive Max Marder is on the same page:

For many, Rudoren’s social media activity has provided a refreshing peak into the way she covers her beat. She should not be criticized for talking to, or sympathizing with, actors on the fringes of the Israeli-Palestinian political spectrum as long as her reporting remains unbiased. The Times decision to attach an editor to her desk to supervise her social media use will prevent its readership from gaining insight into its reporter’s true feelings.

This decision sets a dangerous precedent. In journalism and in social media, as in politics writ large, censorship has been delegitimized and transparency is the ideal. The Times should know better.

Noted Israel critic Glenn Greenwald expressed similar concerns:

The reality is that all human beings – even including journalists – see the world through a subjective prism, and it is impossible to completely divorce one’s assumptions and biases and cultural and political beliefs from one’s observations and “reporting”. It is far better to know a journalists’ biases than to conceal them or pretend they do not exist. Having a window into what Sullivan calls “the unfiltered and unedited thoughts” of journalists is of crucial value in knowing that these biases exist and in knowing what they are – which is precisely why the New York Times acted so quickly to slam that window shut.

Me? I’m a bit conflicted. The New York Times‘ solution feels excessively heavy-handed and, worse, effectively eliminates any incentive for someone like me to bother following Jodi Rudoren’s Facebook and Twitter feeds anymore. At the same time, even if Rudoren’s reporting itself appears to be at least superficially neutral, her troubling Facebook comments leave an open question as to whether she is truly approaching the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with an open mind. (Given her predecessor Ethan Bronner’s own familial entanglement, it can surely be said that the Times has followed a somewhat risky path in its Jerusalem appointments.)

I’m still willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. As Max Marder has pointed out (both in his post and in conversation with me), when it comes to this particular conflict, it is often difficult to distinguish bias on the part of the Times from one’s own political stance on the subject. Whatever mistakes Rudoren may have made so far, it seems likely that we’ve now lost an interesting source of first impressions from a newcomer to the region, thanks to the (understandable) skittishness of her employer.