A quick case study in how the media misleads us through selective editing

Why was that line omitted?


The news about the Bahar Mustafa prosecution meant that this week I was reviewing the old reports about the #KillAllWhiteMen controversy.  I noticed something about many of the articles that I think is noteworthy.

All the reports I saw noted that Ms Mustafa sought to ban cis-white men from attending an event that she was organising (indeed, it was this that brought down so much opprobrium on her).  In each story, the following Facebook message was quoted:

Invite loads of BME Women and non-binary people!! Also, if you’ve been invited and you’re a man and/or white PLEASE DON’T COME just cos I invited a bunch of people and hope you will be responsible enough to respect this is a BME Women and non-binary event only.

In the Evening Standard, the Daily Mail,  the Daily Telegraph, the International Business Times, the BBC Newsbeat, the Daily Express, the quote was reproduced exactly as above.

However, the actual message was posted as a screen grab, and did include a crucial further line:

Don’t worry lads we will give you and allies things to do.

‘Allies’ are people who support an oppressed group’s struggle for equality without being a part of that oppressed group.  Its a useful distinction, particularly in this case where the event being organised was discussing a response to a consultation on diversity in the curriculum, and the purpose of the event was precisely to get the views of BME women and those with non-binary gender identity.

Why was that line omitted?  I suppose the journalists who wrote the pieces linked above might claim that the reason they cut the line was because it was somehow irrelevant or unnecessary, or that they just wanted to quote the ‘essence’ of the message without quoting its entirety.  But I rather think that the reason the line was removed because it casts the entire message in a conciliatory light, and undermined the narrative of sexism and racism that those journalists were seeking to establish.

As and aside, its also worth noting that the screen shots of the Facebook event page that illustrated many of these news reports showed that the was actuallyamended to say “Allies now welcome” which also undermines the accusations of racism levelled at Bahar Mustafa.

I must emphasise that the journalism-with-an-agenda that I perceive in these articles is perfectly legal.  Newspapers are perfectly free to publish whatever they want with whatever ‘spin’ they choose.  But I do think that if one advocates, as I do, for as wide a space for free speech as possible, then one must use one’s own right to free speech to critique writing that you think could be better, and call out journalism with a bias that misleads.

When technology is our undoing

Is there a word for an argument that happens only because of technology?  A row that simply would not have happened in days gone by?

I’m thinking of those lovers’ spats about, say, a failure to send a text message, to reply to a missed call, or to let your partner know that you’ll be on a later train home.  Such arguments would simply not have happened in the days before mobile phones!  Back then,  when you left the house you were incommunicado and there was no expectation that you would be in contact.

The entire controversy discussed above is entirely the creation of technology.  Note the actual reason why Bahar Mustafa wrote what she did:  She had used a function within Facebook’s event feature to make lots of people in her contact list ‘hosts’.  She did this in order to spread the word about her event to as many people as possible in the narrow target demographic (BME women and non-binary people).  But by doing that, several cis-white men would have  received a message ostensibly ‘inviting’ them to an event that wasn’t for them!  Wise to this, Bahar sensibly explained what she was up to, and asked them not to attend.

In the pre-internet era this would not have happened at all.  The SU diversity officer would have knocked up a poster calling BME women and non-binary people to a meeting, and then blu-tacked them to pillars around campus.  That would have been the sum of it.

Unfortunately, two features of the technology in question (Facebook) caused the confusion and controversy arise: first, the fact that we now advertise events exclusively via social media.  In practice this actually means via a chain of middle-men; and second, we use a technology with a nomenclature (‘invite’, ‘like’, ‘friend’) which is often reductive in an unhelpful way.

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