Racine Journal Times – careless journalism through imaginary reality

The public counts on journalists to be fastidious, careful checkers of facts. It is embarrassing enough when reporters and editors fail to perform their basic due diligence in their attention to facts, but when a editorial board fails in this regard, a cloud of suspicion begins to form over the entire organization. The Racine Journal Times editorial board has failed their profession and the rest of their employees by publishing an editorial titled “Google should ban gun-debate apps from its store” (Febuary 7th, 2015) without performing even the most rudimentary fact checking, and in the process have misled their readers.

Where even to begin correcting this mess of careless assumptions casually presented as fact? Maybe most fundamentally, the editors have misconstrued my Gun Geo Marker app as representing the position of the anti-gun crowd, somehow missing that it is in fact a pro-second amendment app. That the makers of Gunfree Geo Marker choose it as their target has nothing to do with “sides” in the national gun debate, on which both apps are essentially on the same general side of the field even given the very different functionality as software. It is perhaps a nuance once step to subtle for the Journal Times, but the “Gunfree” app was created by second amendment absolutists who believe – contrary to every supreme court decision on the issue – that the second amendment specifies an unlimited right. As the creator of the Gun Geo Marker app itself, I hope that all of the readers of this open letter to the editors will at least accept as actual my sincere agreement with the Supreme Court that the right to keep and bear firearms is constitutionally protected, yet is also a limited right much as free speech under the first amendment is. I am a gun(s) owner. Where I diverge from the absolutist position is in my strong belief that responsible gun ownership that respects legitimate public concern with gun safety is the best way to preserve our second amendment rights in the long run. And it is true, gun rights radicals can find no space within their dogma to account for this position shared by myself and millions of other gun owners, so they incorrectly situate it as anti-gun. It is embarrassing to see an entire editorial board adopt this simplistic model of what constitutes a real second amendment supporter. You are supposed to be checking each other’s assumptions; at least this is why I have always assumed that editorial boards of one person are rare. Maybe I’m missing something?

None of my political orientation nor its representation in the app itself is any kind of secret. There are these things called search engines. Other articles have been written about the Gun Geo Marker. It is all in the public record. Had the board been especially on top of their game, they might even have paused for a moment to consider why it is that Gun Geo Marker has not been removed from Google Play while the Gunfree Geo Marker apparently was? I think all reading this far would agree, there must be some explanation, and many interested readers would be curious to understand why. Does the reality that one of the apps is apparently banned and the other is not have some basis in facts? Facts that the (presumably) most experienced journalists in Racine would have some set of well developed skills garnered from their professional lives that they might have employed to investigate, interrogate and report on? Before they editorialized? Do tangible facts matter in today’s professional journalism?

I will leave some hints here as to how this editorial board might have gone about performing their roles in a way that would have set a good example for the rest of their reporters. Perhaps they could have read about the Gun Geo Marker app in the Google Play store or the Gun Geo Marker web site. Looking at available screen shots might have helped. If these failed to lend confidence, perhaps they should have run the app, trying it out in order to suss out its function.

Does it matter to the editorial board that one of the two apps they conflate targeted a list of specific individuals whom that app’s developers were intentionally targeting for harassment? Does it matter that the other app does not do this? Should it matter that one of the two apps makes its information global and available nationally so as to reach a maximum number of potential fellow travelers and marshal the maximum harassment of those particular targeted individuals? Whereas the other app very carefully limits the scope of communication to that between neighbors who by definition are near to one another, thinking about local problems in a local context? A context which is the only context – that of the community – where information about unsafe gun usage is likely to be of any practical use in the hands of concerned citizens? Does it matter to the editorial board that one of these apps simply can not be used as a doxing tool because it presents absolutely no way for people to browse its user-submitted data on a global or national scale? Hence, not reaching any global or national audience of potential harassers? Or that one app does not condone the publication of names or addresses of persons but rather the mere marking and short description of potentially dangerous places? Places, not people.

I think the public at large should be forgiven for innocently conflating the functions of what are in any careful, facts-based analysis actually two very different apps. The general public does not have time to digest that level of detail given their busy lives working in professions other than journalism. But discovering and attending to important and often complex facts is exactly the job, the responsibility, and indeed the fundamental enterprise of ethical reporting. Getting it right and providing clarity about the differences between the apps was a basic journalistic responsibility that was obviously not attempted in this instance. Even had the editorial board come to the exact same conclusion that “Google should ban both apps from its store” (because perhaps there is a well reasoned argument to make) they nevertheless had a professional responsibility to editorialize based on the facts of the apps as opposed to some alternative imaginary that conjures them as the same thing coming from two different political perspectives. It is not true that the apps do the same thing as the editorial assumes, and it is not true that the perspectives of the apps’ makers lie on different sides of the national gun debate. For the sake of journalism, I hope the staff and employees of the Journal Times are not looking to their senior editors as their exemplars of professional journalism. Even as a non-journalist, I am aware that journalism requires much more sweat of the brow than evidenced at the Racine Journal Times.

Comments Off on Racine Journal Times – careless journalism through imaginary reality Posted in Media

In Wonkette [correction: three days ago]

Why do satirists have to do the work of getting the basic reporting correct, AND be penetrating and funny social commentators at the same time? It does not seem fair for them to be required to carry both responsibilities when there are reporters and news organizations who are supposed to be doing the former. Anyway, thank you Wonkette for understanding that GGM being both pro-2A and a gun safety app is not a contradiction. (Except for those who believe that… well I will leave the reader to explore WK’s post.)

http://wonkette.com/581735/gun-humpers-using-sexy-app-to-track-gun-control-advocates-what-could-go-wrong

Comments Off on In Wonkette [correction: three days ago] Posted in Media

App Lets Gun Enthusiasts Track Down Gun Control Advocates’ Home Addresses

Here is some great new reporting by Lauren Williams, revealing further app antics on the part of some right wing doxers who will not show their faces.

App Lets Gun Enthusiasts Track Down Gun Control Advocates’ Home Addresses
by Lauren C. Williams 4/3/2015

http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2015/04/03/3641075/app-wars-free-speech-online-harassment-gun-rights-debate/

Comments Off on App Lets Gun Enthusiasts Track Down Gun Control Advocates’ Home Addresses Posted in Uncategorized

Article in Fast Company Magazine by Sarah Kessler

An article on another android application (that has for some reason been deleted from the Google Play Store since publication) appeared today in Fast Company. I have contacted the publisher regarding my tiny complaint that I was not given enough time (only about 24 hours) to respond to their request for comment, because I certainly would have. (It is Fast Company Magazine after all, and they are indeed faster than I, for sure. So no big deal.)

So, since it was written about, here are a few impressions the article may leave that I would like to modulate a little bit. I was never personally concerned with the “Gunfree Geo Marker” app that had been online for two years or so. First, I found it a little flattering. Second, I found it very interesting for a number of other reasons, and in fact have a paper on this topic “in press”, (ie that should be published soon.) Something often misread in past reporting on the Gun Geo Marker is that it is somehow anti-second amendment. Quite to the contrary it is a pro second amendment project, one that hopes to help us avoid gun related tragedies and encourage responsible gun use so as to preserve respect for the second amendment. It isn’t very much in terms of its usefulness as a tool, but it does have some small usefulness, and that is all we have, at least until such time as the congress is able to pass some reasonable and effective laws such as a universal background check. So, here is a screenshot of Google Play page for the curious (and former?) Gunfree Geo marker highlighted in the Fast Company article:

The Gunfree Geo Marker on Google Play page on Feb 7th 2014, 2014

The following text is from the Gunfree Geo Marker Google Play page:Hey gun owners, are you tired of being in fear of having your home, or work place marked on a map for the world to see just because you own a firearm? Are you tired of being treated worse than a child molester because you exercise your 2nd Amendment right? ... Well here is an app for you. This interactive map allows you to map gun free locations to include work places, schools and private residences. You will be able to annotate such information such as if there are any valuable items located inside, alarm systems, cctv systems, etc. Plus you can add additional information like how many children live at the residence, the best avenue of approach without being seen and much more.
(https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.secondamendment.gunfreegeomarker, accessed Feb 7th 2014.)
 

 

There is a key difference between the Gun Geo Marker and its strange other that separates them. Gun Geo Marker is not and never was a doxing app, as in, an app for sharing people’s addresses or personal information. Although the makers of “Gunfree” state otherwise (see article), the Gun Geo Marker simply has never had, or ever needed address fields that could be viewed as encouraging harassing types of behavior. Addresses are in any case completely unnecessary to the “locals only” context of the Gun Geo Marker to begin with, simply because local people are there already, and don’t need an actual street address. Further, Gun Geo Marker is used to mark any place – with or without street address – where gun safety might be an issue. Gun Geo Marker is not about opponents, but rather is a safety tool for people no matter what side of the great gun debate they may fall. By contrast, Gunfree Geo Marker apparently was an actual doxing app (or became that with updates… apparently featuring my home address in particular. See the article.) The Gun Geo Marker is very different; it is a crowd sourcing/information sharing app that lets neighbors communicate anonymously. It has many features that limit its geographic and temporal scope in order to balance privacy concerns and ensure “locals only” communication.

There is a lot of careful balancing between privacy concerns and very legitimate community concerns that are baked into the Gun Geo Marker software. I think Gun Geo Marker gets that balance as close to correct and responsible as can be accomplished, even as I remain interested in suggestions for improving it. Certainly because it only displays local data based on current GPS coordinates, the Gun Geo Marker simply can not be used to marshal a whole internet-full of extremists (in this case, absolutist gun nuts) as a means to harass and intimidate anyone. All the while, harassment seems to have been the fundamental purpose of the “Gunfree Geo Marker”, meaning that any analytically careful comparison will discover much more difference than similarity between the two. That the author(s) of “Gunfree” propose any such equivalency as an excuse for their bad behavior (see article) is pure sophistry.

In any case, you can read up about all of the actual features at the gungeomarker.org web site and make your own decision.

Bottom line: A good article by Sarah Kessler, Fast Company Magazine, March 27th 2015.

DO GUN OWNERS NEED AN APP TO TELL THEM WHERE ANTI-GUN-VIOLENCE ACTIVISTS LIVE?

Comments Off on Article in Fast Company Magazine by Sarah Kessler Posted in Media

Statement Regarding Gun Geo Marker Mark 1 App

From the University of California, San Diego:

Statement Regarding Gun Geo Marker Mark 1 App Developed by UC San Diego Professor Brett Stalbaum

Like all great public research universities, UC San Diego is home to a diverse faculty with a wide range of interests and points of view. On occasion, the research or creative works developed by faculty may be quite controversial. This is especially true when a creative work takes on complex issues where the public has strong opinions. We understand and acknowledge that, at times, the public may not agree with an individual’s views or tactics. However, the university is built upon the principle of academic freedom for faculty members to direct their areas of creativity and inquiry. As a platform for innovative thought that may challenge the status quo, the university does not take positions on the political implications of its researchers’ work.
University of California policies protect the academic freedom of our faculty within the confines of the law and the Faculty Code of Conduct. The University does not endorse or support the violation of any law or University policy, and we take seriously our role as a public trust. When issues arise, we conduct a prompt review of all allegations of violations of law. Each campus of the University provides training regarding responsibilities of our employees, and has established processes by which complaints regarding allegations of misuse or illegal activity are reviewed to ensure adherence to state and federal law.

Comments Off on Statement Regarding Gun Geo Marker Mark 1 App Posted in Uncategorized