Thoughts on the Internet as a Medium – Analyzing the Bradley Manning story

Regardless of your opinion concerning the Wikileaks cablegate debacle and Bradley Manning’s imprisonment after allegedly leaking top secret government documents, it’s hard to argue that the media has given the public adequate information instead of sensationalism and the “he said”/”she said” treatment.  While television has been a popular medium, more and more people are starting to rely on the internet as medium. According to a study completed by the Pew Research Center in 2008, the internet has overtaken newspapers as the second most used news source, rivaling television. The same research indicates that most younger people prefer the internet as a medium for news, which seems to make sense.

Due to its democratic mutidirectional flow of information and loose regulations, the internet been referred to by many as a contemporary ‘wild west’. The ability for the internet to be used by just about anyone with a computer or phone and a stable connection in order to spread information is perhaps its strongest attribute. But this is also its greatest weakness as a medium. Despite the difference in structure and dissemination of information used by the internet, it does share many parallels with television as a medium. The way the information is commonly coded by both mediums is one that can be presentational, more so with television.

One of the more interesting things both television and the internet did in regards to the Bradley Manning story was their broadcast/publishing of his pictures. In terms of television, there was one specific picture that was practically forced upon the audience in every major broadcast featuring his name

The infamous Bradley Manning 'beret' photo.

There was very little use of other images in television broadcast, mostly the one of Manning in his beret and military attire. On the internet, things work a little different; detailed information is so much easier to access, and that also includes a wide array of pictures. But while stories on the internet concerning Bradley Manning have had the opportunity to showcase several other pictures than the infamous beret one, many have taken the lazy route and went with the picture everyone else was using. An even greater problem with the internet’s use of Manning related images is lack of checking the facts.

Featured in several stories on the internet was a supposed photograph of Bradley Manning taken sometime after he had been sent to solitary confinement in a military base in Quantico. The picture featured the face of a bruised, bloated, and pale looking man who had little resemblance to the Bradley Manning we all saw in the beret pictures.

The other Bradley Manning.

The reason for this lack of resemblance did not lie in the fact that Manning was reduced to a shell of a human being in solitary confinement (although that may be true), but instead because the picture was not of Private Manning of all. It was in fact a mugshot of a man named Kenneth Bradley Manning (no relation to the other Manning) taken in Portland. The internet managed to circulate a false image of Private manning, and it began to plague popular news blogs.

But perhaps the most important thing to understand in regards to the internet is this: The fact that a presentationally structured medium like the web does little to encourage critiquing and reason-based information. While the internet features a much larger amount of information than television, it’s full of mistakes and lacking in thorough research on a broad scale. With the internet, i believe it comes mostly from the ability (and encouragement) to be multitasking through visiting different webpages at the same time. The use of popular search engines to keep track of common searches made is an example of a common distraction for the user. As of now, if you Google ‘Bradley Manning’, the next word that appears with Google’s instant search system (used to show the most common next words after the one’s you’ve already put in used in their searches) is ‘gay’

The results from Google's instant search system after typing 'Bradley Manning'.

The popular search leads to all sorts of websites that have little to do with the cablegate story and instead useless and pointless skepticism concerning Manning’s sexual preferences.

So what does this have to do with activism? The fact is that the internet is the most fluid and dynamic medium we have available as of now. People are able to get out information t the public in a much more in depth manner. Activists rely on both the conveying and intake of specific information as a reason for change, which is why the internet has become so popular;. It’s the outlet with the most flexibility. The problem is that many times publications and individuals on the internet choose to distort information or take faulty info from other sources without checking it’s credibility. How can someone formulate a critical idea about a situation when he/she is being presented with one overwhelming argument and very little actual information?  Therein lies the problem. While the internet is now the most capable medium in terms of providing activists for a place to both gain and pass on information, it also harbors the most arbitrary stories, the most factually void information, and the least critical perspectives of situation’s like the Bradley Manning story.

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