Ethics

Tweet revenge: New York Times reports Twitter's efforts to keep out ISIS

Tweet revenge: New York Times reports Twitter's efforts to keep out ISIS

When social media do nothing about terrorism, the critics complain. And when the social media do something, the critics complain.

"Some guys do nothing but complain," as Rod Stewart, well, complained.

But it's true with Twitter's fight against terrorism, according to a New York Times story. The microblog firm just announced it had suspended about 10,000 Islamic State accounts for "tweeting violent threats." It's just a tiny fraction of the estimated 90,000 such accounts linked to Islamic State -- which, the newspaper points out, is also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh -- but it sounds like a decent start.

Users who also oppose ISIS, though, accuse Twitter of a weak p.r. stunt that does nothing to halt the hate online.  The objections, and Twitter's answers, are part of this fairly short, 535-word story.

But the Times takes the risky route of using only unnamed sources for this piece. It also risks imbalance in focusing solely on what Twitter is doing and ignoring the kind of hatred Twitter is trying to stem.

Evidently, the social media giant is increasingly sensitive about its image. According to the Times, the firm has long fought efforts to misuse its system:

The suspensions came against a backdrop of rising criticism that Twitter has allowed the Islamic State to exploit the social network to spread propaganda, glorify violence and seek recruits.
Twitter previously acknowledged suspending as many as 2,000 ISIS-linked accounts per week in recent months.
The Twitter representative, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for security reasons, attributed the surge of suspensions in part to a widely publicized effort by ISIS opponents, including some hacking groups and online vigilantes, to expose suspect accounts and report them as violators.

The Times acknowledges a dilemma faced by Twitter, which seeks to promote free speech yet snuff out talk that leads to murder. Curiously, the article doesn't use the term "hate speech," although ISIS' threats would certainly seem to qualify.

I liked the lore in this story, like an alliance of ISIS opponents -- "including some hacking groups and online vigilantes" -- that find and report the online terrorists.  Some of the users worry that the account deletions will make it harder to watch the terrorists, although others applaud Twitter for trying to "deny ISIS a social media platform."

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Plain or with bias? CNN's reporting on gays and law reveal contradictions

Plain or with bias? CNN's reporting on gays and law reveal contradictions

I was just about to hand a bouquet to CNN for a sensitive video about the Indiana pizzeria that closed under a barrage of pro-gay hate. But I feel more like serving them bad anchovies after seeing the same kind of shallow, irresponsible coverage in Georgia.

In one video, CNN takes a close look at Memories Pizza in Indiana and interviews the owner, and looks into how this matter of individual rights mushroomed into verbal violence. In the other video (shared with us by a reader who calls herself TheAnchoress), a CNN reporter ambushes five florists in rural Georgia with a "gotcha" question: "If you had gay customers come in here to buy flowers, and they said, 'We want you to come do our commitment ceremony' -- marriages are not allowed in this state yet -- would you do it?"

But OK, the nice one first. CNN's follow-up tells some of the travails of the O'Connor family after they gave their opinion on catering gay weddings.

"Social media unloaded on the pizzeria ... many too vulgar to share," CNN says. The network also reports the tweet by one Jessica Dooley to burn the place down. Adds the network: "Detectives who investigated have recommended charges of harassment, intimidation and threats."

The story also highlights tweets and Facebook posts in support of the pizza parlor. One calls the harassment "cyber bullying" and a "lynch mob." Another says how ironic it is to threaten in the name of tolerance.

CNN then reports on a GoFundMe campaign to compensate the O'Connors for their loss: donations of $842,387 in three days.  The network also does an on-air interview with Lawrence Billy Jones II, a commentator on the Dana Loesch Show, who launched the fund drive.

In the accompanying video, CNN's Brooke Baldwin asks Jones if the O'Connors would, indeed, decline to cater a gay wedding. He says they would, but he's allowed to qualify that they would serve gays who sat down in their restaurant.

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Blurring news and views: RNS dissects cardinal's quotes on gay marriage

Blurring news and views: RNS dissects cardinal's quotes on gay marriage

A week after praising Presbyterians for endorsing same-sex marriage -- and scolding United Methodists for not doing the same -- the Religion News Service caricatures the views of  a Catholic cardinal about gays.

This week, the target is Cardinal Raymond Burke, who was moved from a powerful Vatican post to patron of the Knights of Malta. When LifeSite News sought him out, he agreed to an interview.

An interview that displeased RNS, which summarized Burke's views in a startling headline: "Cardinal Raymond Burke: Gays, remarried Catholics, murderers are all the same."

Whoa. Keep that guy away from electric chairs, right?

What Burke told LifeSite, of course -- again, after he was asked -- was that the Catholic Church still considers some deeds to be grave sins.  He continues:

And to give the impression that somehow there's something good about living in a state of grave sin is simply contrary to what the Church has always and everywhere taught.
LSN: So when the man in the street says, yes, it's true these people are kind, they are dedicated, they are generous, that is not enough?
CB: Of course it's not. It's like the person who murders someone and yet is kind to other people…

RNS writer David Gibson acknowledges that the comments "break little theological ground; the church has always taught that sin is sin, and some sins are especially serious." But he presses his case:

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Charlotte Observer offers a mega nice gesture to its local megachurch

Charlotte Observer offers a mega nice gesture to its local megachurch

Is the Charlotte Observer trying to be nice to Elevation Church?

Sure looks that way in two articles: a friendly feature last weekend, with a shorter item this past Saturday.

The first one is 1,500 words of mostly "Huzzah!" on the megachurch's 13-campus expansion, 17,000 attendees, weekly income of $484,000, and explosive growth since its first 121 people in 2006. We get stats a-plenty from chief financial officer "Chunks" Corbett. We learn from Outreach magazine that Elevation is the nation's 11 fastest-growing Protestant church and its 15th largest.

And we get some reasons for the growth, starting with Pastor Steven Furtick:

The main draw is Furtick, whose dynamic preaching style, casual persona and fluency with Bible verses and pop culture references are popular with many people, including teenagers and those in their 20s, who are turned off by more formal and traditional churches. Elevation’s congregation also appears to be more racially diverse than most Charlotte churches.
Other attractions: The Christian rock music, its investment in multimedia messaging, and its history of funneling several million dollars and many volunteers to charities such as Crisis Assistance Ministry.
Plus, like a lot of megachurches, Elevation tries to steer its regulars into small groups that meet and pray in homes. Each site has its own full-time campus pastor, its own live band, and a staff that works with children during the weekend services.

The follow-up column, about 350 words, appears to be what people in the trade call a "Reporter's Notebook": bits and pieces that are interesting but didn't survive trims in the larger story. It has bulleted paragraphs on the symbolism of the church logo, the origin of Corbett's nickname "Chunks," and the fact that the newest site was bought from members of the family that launched the Amway company.

Ah, but something is missing in this lovefest: quotes from Furtick himself. As the Observer acknowledges, he hasn't given the newspaper an interview since 2008.

Thereby hangs a tale.

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RNS calls out United Methodists as same-sex marriage holdouts

RNS calls out United Methodists as same-sex marriage holdouts

"Looking at you, Methodists," says yesterday's "Slingshot," the newsletter of the Religion News Service -- about an event that isn't even about Methodism. It's about Tuesday's action of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships.

"With Presbyterians in the yes column, mainline Protestants solidify gay marriage support," RNS says after PCUSA's Tuesday decision. And right from the lede, the story turns up the heat on United Methodists:

(RNS) With the largest Presbyterian denomination’s official endorsement Tuesday (March 17), American mainline Protestants have solidified their support for gay marriage, leaving the largest mainline denomination — the United Methodist Church — outside the same-sex marriage fold.

The story acknowledges that the Methodists are unlikely to accept gay marriage, especially because their African brethren strongly oppose it. But then RNS tries to show how abnormal that's becoming:

But the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ and now the Presbyterian Church (USA)  sanctify the marriage of two men or two women. The 3.8 million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America gives congregations the autonomy to decide for themselves.

The story piles it on, quoting a researcher for the Public Religion Research Institute saying that support for same-sex marriage among "white mainline Protestants" has grown drastically over the last decade -- 67 percent among U.S. Methodists, compared with 69 percent of Presbyterians. And it gets even more vehement:

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When will ‘three-parent babies’ come to the U.S.?

When will ‘three-parent babies’ come to the U.S.?

The headline above is borrowed verbatim from a Feb. 6 Scientific American article (coverage here) after the House of Commons voted by 75 percent to make Britain the first nation to legalize “three-parent babies.” The House of Lords gave the final approval Feb. 24.  Newcastle University researchers are already paying women to be genetic donors, and the first such births are expected next year.

The hope here is to avoid babies with devastating “mitochondrial” birth defects and related ailments like muscular dystrophy.  So these experiments have the best of motives, though scientists and theologians alike question the means.  Reporters should note good online coverage of pros and cons by Sarah Knapton in the London Telegraph.

News media take note: The U.S. debate will gain prominence with a March 31 – April 1  “public workshop” in Washington by the  panel that’s advising the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Institute of Medicine on this. Its delightfully bureaucratic name: “Committee on Ethical and Social Policy Considerations of Novel Techniques for Prevention of Maternal Transmission of Mitochondrial DNA Diseases.” 

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Strange tea leaves (and silent lighthouse guns) in latest Baltimore Sun story about DUI bishop

Strange tea leaves (and silent lighthouse guns) in latest Baltimore Sun story about DUI bishop

The sad story of the DUI Bishop Heather Cook rolls on here in Charm City, even when appears that there are few if any concrete developments to report. But is the drama continuing behind the scenes at the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland and in the national Episcopal Church?

Maybe. Thus, it should be noted that The Baltimore Sun published a rather strange, and thus interesting, feature story the other day that focused on the role that may or may not have been played in this story by U.S. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. The goal appears to be to place the Cook tragedy in the context of recent Episcopal warfare (while avoiding global angles and, at the same time, cutting the Anglican wars timeline very, very short).

But toward the end of this story there are some interesting moments of silence. I cannot tell if the Sun editors simply do not realize the implications of some of their own reporting.

This brings me, once again, to the parable of the old lighthouse keeper. Remember that one?

Once there was a man who lived in a lighthouse on the foggy Atlantic. This lighthouse had a gun that sounded a warning every hour. The keeper tended the beacon and kept enough shells in the gun so it could keep firing. After decades, he could sleep right through the now-routine blasts.
Then the inevitable happened. He forgot to load extra shells and, in the dead of night, the gun did not fire. This rare silence awoke the keeper, who lept from bed shouting, "What was that?"

Yes, readers may substitute the famous Sherlock Holmes image of the dog that didn't bark at this point. Either way, what is the loud silence in this story?

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Hey Washington Post editors: Rick and Karen Santorum are (still) Catholics

Hey Washington Post editors: Rick and Karen Santorum are (still) Catholics

A decade ago, the editors of Time magazine decided -- during one of the many "Who the heck are these born-gain people?" moments in the recent life of the mainstream press -- to do a cover story focusing on the 25 most influential evangelical Protestants in American life.

It was an interesting list. However, one name in particular raised many eyebrows -- Sen. Rick Santorum. The issue? Santorum was and is a very conservative Roman Catholic.

This struck me as interesting, so I did some background research on this issue. The consensus was that the Time team realized that Santorum was not a Protestant -- and thus, not an evangelical -- but the larger truth was that he, well, "voted evangelical."

Frankly, I have no idea what that means -- in terms of doctrine. The point seemed to be that "evangelical" was a political term, these days. Moving on.

This brings me to an article that has been in my "GetReligion guilt file" for some time, a stunning recent Washington Post story about Rick and Karen Santorum and what they have learned about marriage, family and faith during the life of their daughter Bella, who was born with Trisomy 18, a usually lethal condition also known as Edwards syndrome, which is caused by a error in cell division.

It's complicated. However, most infants born with this condition -- many parents choose abortion when this defect is detected -- live a few days, weeks or at most months. Bella will soon turn seven.

There is much to praise in this very human and even raw story. However, it is obvious that at the heart of the piece is -- to be blunt -- the right-to-life beliefs that anchor this family. Thus, while dealing with faith issues in many ways, it is very strange that the piece never mentions that the Santorum are, you guessed it, Catholics.

What is the message there?

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Interfaith leaders drone about airstrikes, and media let them

Interfaith leaders drone about airstrikes, and media let them

Military drones got bombarded by a squadron of religious leaders, and the controversy got dutiful coverage.  But it's only a controversy, you know, if people disagree.

On that count, I give a B+ to coverage of the recent Interfaith Conference on Drone Warfare at Princeton University. The media quote the conferees but acknowledge that not everyone sides with them. Who and why, though, isn't always spelled out.

A gold star to the Religion News Service for crisp, wire-style reporting, packing facts and balance in less than 500 words. Here are the first two paragraphs:

For the Obama administration and the Bush administration before it, drone strikes kill terrorists before terrorists can kill innocents, and the strikes keep American soldiers out of harm’s way.
But for a group of faith leaders, drones are a crude tool of death that make killing as easy as shooting a video game villain, and they put innocents in harm’s way.

The story has a wealth of details, including the "150 ministers, priests, imams, rabbis and other faith leaders" at the conference. It notes that many of them also met at Princeton in 2006 to denounce American torture against suspects. And it has some stark quotes like one from the Rev. Richard Killmer, project director: "Drones have become a weapon of first resort and not last resort. It has made it a lot easier to go to war."

RNS also uses the time-honored method of bulleted paragraphs to highlight what the conferees want:

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