Information vacuum

Little late for commentary on Katrina. But hey why not….

I was intrigued by an article in the Grauniad concerning some of the initial stories that emerged soon after the disaster in New Orleans. The article lists examples of terrible things such as corpses in the toilets and extreme violence in the convention centre.

The interesting thing about these stories, and similar ones that occurred after the 11th of September U.S. attacks and 7th of July London bombings, is that they are generally unsubstantiated and little evidence after the event exists:

Nor has the source for the story of the murdered babies, or indeed their bodies, been found. And while the floor of the convention centre toilets were indeed covered in excrement, the Guardian found no corpses.

During a week when communications were difficult, rumours have acquired a particular currency. They acquired through repetition the status of established facts.

Indeed as on 9/11, and the London Bombings, when there was an information vacuum immediately after the event many stories emerged. I remember that there were stories of 7 unidentified planes over London not responding to air traffic control. Also about passports being found a few blocks away from the WTC. Ofcourse I am not saying that these stories aren’t true but it does raise the issue of the validity of information and how it is presented to us.

In the age of 24 hour rolling news there is a need to these channels to present ‘new’ information as often and as awe inspiringly ‘Breaking’ as possible. Thus often news items, which would otherwise have not been reported due to little evidence, are presented as fact. Subsequently these ‘facts’ go down in the history of the event and thus accepted as true by the general public.

None of this is particularly new, when people generally don’t have much concrete information at hand, we will tend to conjecture about the possible causes of situations. Essentially this is gossip. Often Local History (including myth, legend and fact all intertwined) is based around gossip. It just now seems that Sky News, Fox et. al. are now employing gossip as a major news source, thus enabling a ‘Local History’ on a global scale and all of the imperfections that go with it.

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