Guidelines for FPP November 17, 2004 7:55 AM   Subscribe

I have at least five more recent journal entries from soldiers in Iraq that I wanted to share, but I can't link people directly to these entries, as some of the posts are locked. Even though I provided a screenshot last time I shared a letter, showing the original post but censoring names, pictures, and possible OpSec issues, I still heard from people saying that it doesn't sound real and another person who supposedly wanted to send it to Snopes. So, my question is this... how best should I present this kind of material, and how can I / who can I trust to take a look at my sources and vouch for their authenticity, while still respecting these soldier's confidentiality?
posted by insomnia_lj to Etiquette/Policy at 7:55 AM (26 comments total)

I don't get you, insomnia. Why do you think you have the right to disseminate info that's published in a locked post? Do you have permission from the author?

You chucked a wobbly not long back over someone linking to giant_laser's unlocked lj, and now you want to share locked posts? Or did I miss something?
posted by different at 8:04 AM on November 17, 2004

Yes, I have permission to share posts anonymously.

Secondly, I had a problem with the distribution of Giant_laser's unlocked posts because it was both unauthorized and you could basically look at his journal and find out a scary level of information on him -- information that would jeopardize his safety.

Giant_laser, incidentally, has subsequently tightened his security on what he posts. He felt so threatened by the situation he faced in Baghdad that he left to a safe region in northern Iraq. He doesn't return because he doesn't want to put his Baghdad workers in greater danger.
posted by insomnia_lj at 8:15 AM on November 17, 2004

How is it "the best of the Web" if it's not actually available via http publicly?

If you have to put it somewhere so we can see it, then it sounds more like a self-link to me.
posted by caitlinb at 8:20 AM on November 17, 2004

Yes, I have permission to share posts anonymously.

Fair enough. Apologies for snarking.

(Let's not get into the giant_laser discussion again - we'll just have to agree to disagree on that one I think.)

In terms of sharing the posts anonymously, I really don't see what you could do. Basically you need to find a way to prove that the information is correct without actually providing any info that would allow readers to verify it. I can't see how that could happen. I agree with you that the information is worth sharing, but the problem is that without readers being able to draw their own conclusions on its authenticity, it just becomes hearsay.
posted by different at 8:20 AM on November 17, 2004

First off, don't post screenshots. That's a horrible way to present text. Since there's no way to prove anything is real on the internet, don't get hung up on people doubting you.

Personally, I would suggest creating a mirror livejournal with the censored interesting posts. Regrettably, then you couldn't post it since it would be self-linking.
posted by smackfu at 8:20 AM on November 17, 2004

What you seem to asking is how can I post confidential material with the names, images, identifying characteristics and details omitted -- while still having people accept it as factual. You can't establish veracity and at the same time remove any material that would lend credence to the posts. The very stuff you want to remove are the portions that make them worth reading, otherwise you just have the words of some anonymous guy.

Having someone you trust vouch for them isn't going to do it. Just because you trust them doesn't mean anyone else is going to.
posted by cedar at 8:59 AM on November 17, 2004

Just post the links to your blog?
posted by dhoyt at 9:00 AM on November 17, 2004

I like the idea of just a general site where you post their anonymized entries. If you do this, just let us know the url in metatalk--if it gets enough traffic, it will probably be referred to often by posters here.

I'm thinking of as an example. That site provided a great deal of information, much of which used as supporting links every few days here leading up to the election.

I would trust you to post accurate information, but you may have to earn that trust from others by explaining who you are, why you take out all the identifying information, etc.
posted by whatnot at 9:01 AM on November 17, 2004

another person who supposedly wanted to send it to Snopes.

Why should that bother you? It's not as if Snopes takes everything that's sent to them and posts "Lies, lies, all of it lies!" without doing what research they can with the given information. Snopes would most likely simply tag it with the "Undetermined" status, saying something along the lines of "there's not enough information here to verify the letter, but there's nothing that refutes it either."

Some people--myself included--do not automatically give a presumption of veracity to people we don't know. I've found that attitude has worked pretty well for me up to this point, and I'm sticking with it. But please understand that when I (or someone like me) question something you tell me, it's not meant as a personal attack. Or, to put it another way, "I know you very little (or not at all). I've found in my life that many people are liars, and many more are mistaken about many things. Since I really don't know you, I must consider the possibility that you are a liar or mistaken."

If my "you might be a liar" attitude offends you, please consider that it is based on my knowledge of humanity in general, and not based on any specific knowledge of you personally. If it still offends you, well then I guess you're going to be offended from time to time.

who can I trust to take a look at my sources and vouch for their authenticity

As others have alluded to here, it's not about who you can trust to vouch for your sources. You, presumably, already trust your sources. It's who your readers can trust. And there's no universal answer to that. On preview: re-reading, I realize you may have meant who you can trust to look at the original letters, in order to confirm that the letters are valid, given the identifying information, in which case of course it does need to be someone you trust. But the issue remains that it has to be someone your readers trust too, and there's no person that everybody trusts.

As to the question of how to do it, I generally agree with others here--post the redacted letters in your own LJ. You can't post it to MeFi yourself, but perhaps you can alert one/a few other MeFites to it, who might choose to post it if they think it worthy.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:42 AM on November 17, 2004

Like caitlinb, I think that the convoluted logistical problems of this reflect the fact that it's borderline, to put it charitably, appropriate for MeFi's front page.

OTOH, now that you've gone and started this thread, you could link to stuff in comments within here which would both avoid the self-link rule (at its most egregious, anyway - I'm sure someone would still give you crap about it), and provide context that would allow the linked material to be taken seriously. Or at least, more seriously than it might otherwise.
posted by soyjoy at 9:49 AM on November 17, 2004

Make a page for it yourself, send it personally to Snopes and get their seal of approval. Then tell me about it once it's done, and I'll gladly link it on the front page.
posted by kaibutsu at 9:54 AM on November 17, 2004

I don't think you can have anonymity and factual integrity at the same time. When Atrios was anonymous, as well as the electoral vote site, it was a case of opinion, which you could take or leave, and the posting of easily-verifiable fact, such as poll numbers and links to articles.

You're asking to both maintain anonymity while asking people to take testimony at face value. I don't think you can.

As I've said in many threads, and much to the whining of some pro-war blogs outside of MetaFilter, I don't trust any of the warbloggers claiming to be Iraqis either unless they can actually provide legitimate evidence.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:59 AM on November 17, 2004

I have the feeling that there are lots of people pretending to be soldiers in Iraq online right now. I do not have anything specific to point to, other than a general low estimation of humanity in a culture that is fascinated by violence.

There is a real lack of journalistic rigor in the emerging newsy blog scene that I think many of us find frustrating (those of us who are excited about the possibility of distributed journalism).

As in most things, the higher the (potential) sensationalist value, the higher the bar must be raised for proof of authenticity. I do not know what you can do, insomnia_lj, to prove any of it. You haven't even established yourself as a trusted, verifiable source (posting from a fake screen name doesn't help). If your credibility factor to the wider world is zero, how can you vouch for other semi-annonymous posters? "Because I have a good rep on Metafilter?" We are entering internet logic here.

Having said all that, I am more than a little interested in reading posts from soldiers. As suggested above, I hope you might be able to explore creating a third site that could address some of these issues, which I think is an intriguing proposition. Good luck.

(on preview -- kinda what XQUZYPHYR said)
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 10:11 AM on November 17, 2004

But there are things posted here all the time that aren't really verifiable...that guy collecting every song in the world online, for instance. That's not a big deal. There will always be doubters about everything, even when the info presented is factual.

If you know these people, you can ask them to make a more anonymized post (or posts) maybe?
posted by amberglow at 10:13 AM on November 17, 2004

Not verifiable. Has caused nasty issues in the past. Probable self-link. Possible real life endangerment. Not on the public Internet. Certainly not "best of the web". Yet more IraqFilter.

This is a good MetaFilter post why again?
posted by y6y6y6 at 10:24 AM on November 17, 2004

because it would be good to hear from people actually in Iraq, instead of armchair generals?
posted by amberglow at 10:42 AM on November 17, 2004

"because it would be good to hear from people actually in Iraq, instead of armchair generals?"

How about hearing from neither on MetaFilter? Wouldn't that be refreshing?

Rather than trying to find some kooked up whirligig construct so that we can get MORE IRAQ NEWS ALL THE TIME EVERYWHERE, how about if we, you now, don't?
posted by y6y6y6 at 10:46 AM on November 17, 2004

because it would be good to hear from people actually in Iraq, instead of armchair generals?

Send mail to:

Support Our Soldiers
P.O. Box 1928
Round Rock, TX 78680

And ask for a reply!
posted by rocketman at 11:07 AM on November 17, 2004

I don't think it's a good idea to continue doing this on metafilter per se. It was novel once, five more would get tiresome. How about setting up a new site called "letters from iraq" or something and maybe someone could make a post here to that? I'm sure a lot of people would love to hear daily or weekly output from soldiers in the shit.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 11:20 AM on November 17, 2004

Is there an email equivalent of the Support Our Soldiers program?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 12:17 PM on November 17, 2004

I agree with y6y6y6 in wondering why this is a good MetaFilter post...and certainly not poignant enough for consecutive installations.

Regardless, I can direct you to Mr. Andrew Carroll, the founder of the D.C. based organization War Letters. His organization collects and publishes the kind of memoirs that insomnia_lj comes across on the internet. Maybe insomnia_lj should forward the entries to War Letters, and sit back until a book is published, or at least contact them for a possible collaboration or brainstorming session?
posted by naxosaxur at 12:40 PM on November 17, 2004

How is it "the best of the Web" if it's not actually available via http publicly?

If you have to put it somewhere so we can see it, then it sounds more like a self-link to me.

I agree. And I also agree with mathowie. How is posting more of the same an appropriate/desirable use of Metafilter?
posted by rushmc at 12:45 PM on November 17, 2004

I totally vote for insomnia_lj making a webpage about it, then doing a self-link or whatever he needs to help him get the info out to those who might be interested on a continuing basis.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:10 PM on November 17, 2004

Is anyone really suffering from a dearth of information on what it's like to be in Iraq?
posted by haqspan at 4:17 PM on November 17, 2004

Is there a war going on in Iraq? Why didn't anyone tell me? I count on MetaFilter to keep up to date on this stuff, dammit.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 5:55 PM on November 17, 2004

insomnia, I'm glad to see that others have come to the same conclusion -- that you should have a specific site dedicated to "letters from soldiers". A blog, perhaps, or some kind of journal. I can suggest software that will let you set this up fairly easily, but I'm quite sure your googling skills are up to date, so I'll let you do that end of the research yourself.

I don't think you'll be able to get total credibility, at least not to the point that no-one ever questions the authenticity of what you publish. Where Is Raed?, of course, is a prime example of this -- I defended the existence of Salam Pax here, where I was accused of being taken in by an obvious CIA propaganda vehicle, and in warblog land, where I was accused of being taken in by an obvious Mukhabarat disinformation operation. Ironically, what had tipped the balance for me was his obviously complex views of the war, neither wholly pro nor con. You just have to laugh it off, because some people are so far down their particular rabbit holes it's not worth calling down to them. (Pissing, maybe.) In the end, it took his emergence in the mainstream media to convince people.

In fact, I suspect that a specific site dedicated to this purpose is far more likely to get wide readership than occasional posts to the blue. A well-branded URL with regular updates will be blogged, reblogged, and e-mailed to soldiers and their families and could even attract further submissions. You'll have to use your own judgement at how to vet these, but of course a dot-mil address is immediately more credible (though something like is likelier). Soldiers out of the shit, too, will want in and perhaps you'll just have to fall back on them turning over to you verifiable names and assignments and trust you'll keep them to yourself.

Of course, you'll also get a lot of ain't no surfing in Viet Nam types of responses as well as those of questionable veracity. You'll probably have to consider whether your project will have a viewpoint and what will be published. But that's all considering you're serious about this. If you are, I think it could be a great resource.
posted by dhartung at 10:02 PM on November 17, 2004

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