Monday, March 09, 2009

Wheeler's Postulate on Controversy

Between reading the Fark book -- which is all about media reactions to things -- and thinking about various old and recent controversies, I've come up with a theory. Now, I expect someone much smarter and more famous has already stated this more cleverly, but I do what I can.

So, to follow up Wheeler's Law of Hype, here's Wheeler's Postulate on Controversy:
Every scandal or controversy has two parts. The first part is shorter and focused on the actual subject of the event. The second part is much longer and more acrimonious, and is entirely about the information management during or prior to the first part.

In politics, the actual scandal is one day's news. "What did he know and when did he know it" goes on for months. Who lied to whom? Has the public trust been violated? Did the media Go Too Far?

(The Fark "did the media go too far" model, which covers nearly every news story, slots in well here.)

On a message board, a flame war erupts. Inevitably, someone is banned. Then the real fight begins. "Why was X banned when Y is worse?" "The moderators are biased!" Some posters lead an exodus to a new home; others grovel. Sock puppets least according to some people.

There's a heated discussion on the Internet. If it wasn't originally about deleting posts, changing posts, privacy concerns, and access to information, it will be within a week. Perhaps there's a troll -- or an accusation of trolling. Perhaps disemvowelling is applied. Often whole swaths of the history -- comments, whole blog posts, even entire blogs -- are radically changed or entirely deleted. Outrage grows the more the past is changed.

In short: the discussion of every controversy eventually turns into a discussion of the way that controversy was handled. We are all spin doctors now.

1 comment:

Ran said...

That's a useful postulate. It fits my experience of this sort of thing very well. You see it in politics, too, with the idea that the cover-up is often more interesting and talked-about than the skeevy original doings.

I avoid the whole thing about flamewars over bans on the forum I run by not making them a public issue and refusing to get drawn into public discussion about such decisions. Mostly works.

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