Monday, January 13, 2014


The latest internet explosion is over a very odd husband-and-wife pair of articles (the wife's so problematic it's now only available cached) complaining about a Twitter account in which a woman, Lisa Adams, describes her experience with breast cancer. Like, that's really it. These are two high-profile articles, one in the New York Times, the other the Guardian, complaining that a woman's upset that she has cancer.

Bill Keller's add-on to his wife Emma Keller's earlier piece is extra strange, filled with mistakes, and based on the callous and just plain weird premise that his own elderly father-in-law's end-of-life decisions have something to do with the medical choices made by a very ill but not currently dying mother of young children. Why write an op-ed urging a specific, real-life, non-war-criminal woman to give up on life? I mean, at what point did that seem like a good idea?

But it's Emma Keller's piece that interests me here, because of this sentence: "She'll tell you all about her pain, for example, but precious little about her children or husband and what they are going through." Gaaaaaahhhhh!!!!!!! Why on earth would someone criticize social-media sharing for not including private details about family members? Our stories are our own to tell. Overshare is when it's someone else's medical details, or (as was discussed in a "This American Life" While as a rule, I tend to prefer fiction to memoir, I kind of think that if the issue is that you're very ill and want to leave a document about that, you're excused from coming up with what some blogger might deem optimal literature. And this is, as Zeynep Tufekci points out, why a Twitter account along these lines is so valuable. But really, more power to Adams if she's restricting what she says about her family.

Tufekci rightly faults both Kellers for shoddy journalism. Which... OK, it's a quick news cycle, and few things are investigated as much as they should be. Generally speaking, I, unlike Tufekci, think it's fine to link to (public!) social-media posts without gaining deeper knowledge of the person posting. But here... there's the incomprehensible stance taken and the fact that the Kellers presumably had a few more resources available to them as journalists than the typical intern or freelancer trying to meet a quota for the day. If for some reason they had to write about this Twitter account, they might have gotten more facts straight.

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