I so appreciate your thoughtful note, Ocaasi :)

The chart is meant be a little provocative - a thought experiment based on an 
application of current policies to new media like Twitter and YouTube - and I 
should add that I'm not asserting that just because something is secondary or 
primary doesn't mean it should be seen by editors as reliable. This is the good 
thing about the RS (reliable sources) policies right now - there are constant 
reminders that secondary sources are preferable but that this characteristic 
isn't sufficient to determine whether something is reliable or not. More 

On Aug 10, 2012, at 3:18 PM, Ocaasi Ocaasi wrote:

> *sorry, my last response was so full of confusing errors I've rewritten it*
> Heather,
> Thanks for a fascinating read.  You managed to capture the crazy, chaotic, 
> collaborative world we sometimes inhabit, especially during events like the 
> Egyptian Revolution.  In all, it was a truly fascinating and consuming event 
> to be a part of, and it got me briefly hooked on the rush of working articles 
> on 'current events', an area many editors avoid due to the flood of attention 
> those articles receive and the challenge of finding seasoned secondary 
> sources.  Working on that article with EgyptianLiberal and Lihaas and 
> Abrazame and SilverSeren and others truly felt like we were relaying messages 
> to the rest of the world as events unfolded.  That might be slightly 
> grandiose but I think it's not that far off given how often the Wikipedia 
> article was used as a go-to source for information about what was happening.
> I'm very much interested by your page 50 chart on using social media as 
> primary and secondary sources, respectively.  The notion that a re-tweet by a 
> journalist, a photo of a political cartoon in a rally, or amateur video 
> footage on NYTimes website qualifies as a secondary source will probably rub 
> many editors the wrong way.  What is likely lacking in the mere republishing 
> of that type of primary content is an indication that it has been vetted, 
> fact-checked, or otherwise investigated through the typical channels which 
> work towards ensuring reliable media reports.

Certainly. I'm not suggesting that a retweet necessarily means that it has been 
verified etc, but on the other hand, the medium itself is not a sufficient 
rationale for saying that it has *not* been verified. Just because its on 
Twitter, in other words, doesn't mean it hasn't been verified -- in the same 
way that just because its on the New York Times doesn't necessarily mean its 
true (hint: WMDs). 

Following this logic, then, if it is possible for there to be reliable Tweets 
on Twitter, how can we use Wikipedia's methods for determining reliability 
using the secondary vs primary source analogy (which is not in and of itself 
the only way of determining whether someone is accurate or not, but it is one 
way of helping us to determine what reliable experts believe happened)? One 
could argue that the process that a "traditional" journalist follows in 
choosing which sources to quote during a rapidly evolving news story equates 
with the process of choosing which sources to retweet in the coverage of a 
particular event. 

>  If a journalist retweets a message from the ground, did s/he confirm that 
> the original poster was where and who he said he was (if we know either of 
> those details)?

We don't always know these details, but as with media reports used for the 2011 
Egyptian revolution article, editors verify sources using whatever means 
available to them -- for example by finding two sources that say the same 
thing. Traditional journalists sometimes withhold the identity of their 
sources, singling out an identifying characteristic that will keep their source 
anonymous but prove to the audience their expertise. For example, the phrase: 
"a source from the White House who would prefer not to be named" might be used 
in a story about the president of the united states. The source's position in 
relation to the subject is used here to warrant their expertise.

>  Perhaps the retweeter is just acting in that sense as only an amplifier 
> rather than a journalist.  

I definitely agree that you'd need to look at the reputation/goals of the 
Tweeter, but using the example of NPR journalist, Andy Carvin again, there 
might be little difference between a  journalist telling us what is happening 
using local expert sources to tell the story vs a retweeter (who might also be 
a journalist) retweeting someone (or in textual terms, perhaps just quoting 
them?) They are certainly amplifying the voice of the Tweeter but doesn't this 
have the same effect as any traditional news article in which a source is 

> The picture of a political cartoon in a rally could be considered a secondary 
> source, but for what exactly?  That the cartoon
> was present in at least one protest?  A more valuable secondary source would 
> be able to make a broader claim that, for example, a particular photo was an 
> 'iconic' image of the protests.  Merely capturing one instance probably does 
> not provide the benefits that we expect from secondary sources, namely 
> fact-checking, and most importantly some context.

I actually took this example from the 2011 Egyptian revolution article. Editors 
initially complained that the Latuff images were being used without any 
understanding of whether they were influential in the protests or whether they 
were just being used there to market Latuff's work. Another editor came with a 
photograph of how protesters had actually re-drawn the cartoon and were using 
it as a banner in the protest - thus showing how it was part of the protest. In 
other words, the primary source was being reflected in its context, showing its 
importance in the context of the event (i.e. a secondary source). I thought 
that made sense :)

>  I think the same concerns would apply to an NYTimes republishing of an 
> amateur video.  Mainstream news media wants to be 'social' these days, yet I 
> do not think they have yet solved the puzzle of what their role should be 
> with respect to ireports, tweets, on-the-ground cellphone footage, etc.

Certainly. But they are selecting footage in the same way that they might 
select from photographs or from a variety of potential sources. 
> Last, I just want to acknowledge the particular vulnerability one feels from 
> having an ethnographer evaluate their heat-of-the-moment comments.  You were 
> indeed fair, but even with Wikipedia's wide-open transparency, it's a little 
> uncomfortable to be the *subject* of the reports rather than the one who 
> summarizes them ;)

And I'm sorry for your discomfort. It actually did feel like I was watching 
some intimate conversations happening rapidly and among those with little sleep 
on those talk pages and I felt a little discomfort myself writing about them. 
That said, I can honestly say that having done this work I feel that I 
understand better the experience of Wikipedia editing (about time after having 
been involved at least peripherally since about 2005) -- and I feel like 
telling the stories of editors in this detailed way can lead to better 
understanding and empathy by others. 


> --Ocaasi
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Heather Ford 
Ethnographer: Ushahidi / SwiftRiver
http://ushahidi.com | http://swiftly.org 
@hfordsa on Twitter

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