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Believe It! Warbloggers and How They Try to Appear Credible

Page history last edited by saschadenneler@... 11 years, 6 months ago

Unbelievable? How Warbloggers Try to Appear Credible

 

 

Abstract: The war in Iraq spawned hundreds of so-called warblogs, be they from US soldiers or Iraqi civilians. This essay shows that an US soldier and an Iraqi civilian employ similar strategies to create the credibility effect. Cornerstones of those strategies are a) construcing an image of one’s personality people believe to be true, b) the presentation of factual, yet usually unverifiable, content and c) the projection of external credibility onto oneself.

 


  

  1. Introduction
  2. What is the „Credibility Effect“?
  3. Comparing strategies of achieving credibility
    1. Introducing the blogs 

                               i.      L.T.Smash 

                                                            ii.      Salam Pax

    1. Comparison of Salam Pax and L.T. Smash
  1. Conclusion
  2. Bibliography 

 

  

1. Introduction

  

For many the internet is the Mecca of information, and in a way that is true. Information floats free and, in a time of Google and Wikipedia, is available in seconds anytime, anywhere. As a consequence the question arises what to do with this endless torrent of information, and even more importantly how to decide which information is credible and which is not. To make this task even more challenging the internet presents a vast variety of information sources such as news websites and blogs, the latter of which will be the focus of this essay; more specifically, warblogs from Iraq.

The methods a blogger employs to convey credibility will be observed and the ultimate aim of this paper is to examine if differences between L.T. Smash (a US soldier stationed in Iraq) and Salam Pax (an Iraqi citizen) exist in regard to strategies of how to appear credible. Generalizations, however, cannot be drawn since only a fraction (two) of the massive amount of warblogs will be covered.

 

 

2. What is the “Credibility Effect”?

  

Stripped of the authority which is often attributed to news websites (especially if they are part of a larger news corporation, such as CNN or BBC NEWS, or is paralleled in print (Flanagin, Metzger: 516)), warbloggers have to find other ways to appear credible. The idea is to adopt strategies that create the effect of being credible, which makes the reader believe that what is written is true.

Of course, different media sources call for different credibility effects. Through an editorial process, major news networks cloak themselves in an aura of objectivity, thereby establishing authority. Furthermore, information published on such websites is usually easily verifiable, thus the website is labeled credible. Blogs on the other hand are personal, which renders an editorial process in the same vein as those of news networks impossible. As a consequence, bloggers aspire to depict themselves as real (authentic) individuals the reader can relate to and ultimately trust. By the same token they try to add a smack of factuality to their writing, which, however, can rarely be verified (Roering: 193). Nevertheless, credibility effects are being created and examining as well as contrasting them are the subjects of this essay. For this purpose the following two categories will be used:

  

  • believability: how each blogger tries to prove his authenticity
  • factuality: how each blogger tries to appear credible through allegedly (since hard to verify) factual content

 

 

3. Comparing strategies of achieving credibility

  

a.      Introducing the blogs

  

First, both blogs will be briefly introduced. In a second step strategies of creating the credibility effect will be examined and contrasted. March 2003, the month when the war in Iraq began will serve as a time frame for the following observations.

  

                               

                              i.    L.T. Smash: Live from the Sandbox

 

Not much is know about  L.T. Smash, however, clues to who he is and what he does are scattered all over his blog. He is a US soldier and team leader of a unit which is stationed in Kuwait and has not been in active combat since the Iraq war that started in 2003. He mainly writes about daily life in the army camp. He appears to be married since he refers to a Mrs. Smash several times throughout his blog. Today, the blog is not available on the internet anymore.

 

 

                ii.    Salam Pax: Where is Raed?

  

In June 2002 a 29-year old Iraqi man from Baghdad started writing the blog Where is Raed? under the pseudonym Salam Pax. He started the blog to keep his best friend Raed, a fellow student and Palestinian-Jordanian, updated while Raed was in Jordan doing a Masters degree because “Raed was at best an infrequent email correspondent.” At first he only wrote about “stupid stuff” as he called it in an interview with The Guardian, but gradually began writing about the “unspoken hardships of life in Iraq under the paranoid regime of Saddam Hussein” and later how daily life was like in a post-Saddam, American occupied country  (guardian.co.uk). On April 10th, 2004 he wrote “I think Hiatus is the word. Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen“ and consequently stopped updating his blog.

 

 

b.     Comparison of L.T. Smash and Salam Pax

 

Believability

  

There are no means to prevent fictitious blogs. Individuals can pretend to be of another social status, another educational level, another age, even another gender. While most blog templates provide the option to make such details available, bloggers can choose not to do so, or to post fictitious data (Jones, Alony: 441).

  

This is the reason why bloggers try to convinve the reader that they are who they claim to be. The following part will examine how both, L.T. Smash and Salam Pax, try to create the effect of being perceived as real. 

 

 

Part 1: L.T. Smash

 

L.T. Smash writes in one of his postings that “this is an anonymous journal. I’m being intentionally vague about who I am and what I’m doing. Those who know me can fill in the blanks. The rest of you will have to use your imagination”. He further explains that “I am voluntarily observing my own. Stricter guidlines in regards to operational security” (L.T. Smash: March 13, 2003). His refusal to give detailed information about who he is works for and against him. Of course, one is sceptical when asked to believe in someone’s authenticity without knowing any personal details of this person. On the other hand, it is understandable that a soldier, stationed in Kuwait, has to protect himself as well as his fellow soldiers in a time of war. He attempts to reason with the reader.

Since providing detailed information is not possible (other than saying that he is a man), he wants to show that he is someone people can relate to. He greets his mom in one post, claiming that he has to seize the opportunity to do so during his fifteen minutes of fame (L.T. Smash: March 13, 2003). On another occasion he depicts himself as a normal, down-to-earth guy:

  

March 06, 2003

[...]

After work today, a buddy and I grabbed a couple of cold beers, sat down on a park bench, and talked about football while watching the girls walk by.

OK, the beers weren’t cold. They were room temoerature. And they were alcohol free. Oh, and the park bench was actually a concrete barrier. And there weren’t many girls in the vicinity.

But we did talk about football.

It was a nice break, anyway. 

 

Although he immediately destroys the picture he conjures up with the first sentence he manages to show that despite the circumstances he is in, he still enjoys the same things as his civilian counterparts at home. Additionally, he emphasizes that he actually is a soldier stationed in Kuwait. 

He uses pop-culture references to further prove that he is a normal guy. He, for example, mentiones Tijuana, a Mexican border town fun-loving Californians frequently go to (L.T. Smash: March 25, 2003), or how he wears green on St. Patricks Day (L.T. Smash: March 17, 2003). 

Emphasizing his feelings helps in the construction of the image of a real, feeling person:

 

March 23, 2003

[...]

Reports of deaths and casualties bring mixed emotions. Sadness at the injury or loss of feloow warriors. Relief at the low numbers reported.

Hope this ends quickly.

[...]

 

March 24, 2003

[...]

I’m a bit sad today.

[...]

 

By the same token the use of military jargon emphasizes that he in fact is a soldier. Quoting a policy bulletin does, too:

 

March 04, 2003

[...]

Excerpted from a policy bulletin:

‘The Force Commander has issued a Personal Relationship Policy for all personnel “in country.” That policy is: “No sex.”

[...]

 

 

Part 2: Salam Pax

  

Like L.T. Smash, Salam Pax reveals only little detail about who he really is. Voicing his opinion, especially when it is anti-government was a risky endeavour in Saddam’s Iraq. The Guardian wrote that “he could hardly have taken a greater risk if he had tried. More than 200,000 people went missing under Saddam, many for far lesser crimes than the open criticism of the regime that Salam voiced in his writings” (guardian.co.uk). The refusal to provide detailed information about who he is works, as was the case for L.T. Smash, for and against him. Of course, one is sceptical when asked to believe in someone’s authenticity without knowing any personal details of this person. However, it is understandable that if someone criticizes an oppressive government that this person wants to protect himself. He, too, attempts to reason with the reader.

 

Salam Pax tries to show that he is a relateable person and uses his family to do so, since having a family and spending time with other family members is something most poeple can relate to. He writes:

  

Thursday, 20 March 2003

[...]

Today, in the morning, I went with my father for a ride around Baghdad and there was nothing different from yesterday.

[...]

  

Sunday, 23 March 2003

[...]

Today before noon I went out with my cousin to take a look at the city.

[...]

  

Furthermore, he uses pop-culture references to show that he is just a normal guy.

  

Sunday, 16 March 2003

[...]

No human being in his right mind will ask you to give him the beating of his life – unles you are a member of Fight Club, that is – and if you do hear Iraqis (in Iraw, not expat) saying ‘Come on, bomb us”’ it is exasperation and ten years of sanctions and hardship talking.

[...]

 

Through the display of emotion he wants readers to realize (and believe) that he is an actual person, experiencing something that only few readers have experienced: being in the middle of a war.

 

"Thursday, 20 March 2003

[...]

The worst is seeing and feeling the city come to a halt. Nothing. No buying, no selling no people running after buses. We drove home quickly. At least inside it did not feel so sad.

[...]"

 

Part 3: Comparison

 

It has not yet been mentioned that both bloggers published their email addresses on their blogs, thereby opening themselves to a dialogue with readers. Offering this option is an effective way to create the effect of credibility as it adds a very personal level to the blog.

 

Both bloggers use similar strategies to create credibility effects:

  • both use their anonymity to their advantage (they are in a difficult situation)
  • trying to appear relateable
  • use of pop-culture refrences to show that they are 'just like the reader'
  • display of emotion

 

 

Factuality

  

Part 1 : L.T. Smash

 

By including quotes and conversations in his postings L.T. Smash creates the feeling that the reader is not only reading his words (which he actually is) but also those of others. Thus, L.T. Smash manages to create the effect that he expands his one person view by including those of other people. “In a study of user’s attentiveness to sources of online news stories” it was “found that users noticed quotes and actively used them in judging story quality and crediblity” (Flanigan, Metzger 2000: 520). Here is an example of how L.T. Smash transfers this to his blog:

 

“March 15,2003 

‘You wouldn’t believe what happened to me the other day, Sir, ‘ said Tim, an E-5 who was giving me a lift. 

‘Tell it’ 

‘I was driving my vehicle (in a certain area) when a couple of soldiers flagged me down and took my keys out of the ignition. Then this gull bird, female, comes charging up to my window and screams at me about driving recklessly. She said the speed limit’s TEN CLICKS in HER area. Ten clicks! I can almost walk faster than that!’ 

Oh no, not again. ‘What happenbed next?’ 

[...]”

  

His conversation partner has a name and a rank, thus he is fleshed out on a most basic level rendering him more real. Another posting one day later reads:

  

“March 16, 2003

SWEET VINDICATION 

A group under my supervision found themselves in a tense situation. They reacted as they were trained, quickly and professionally. 

I reported the incident to the senior officer on duty. 

‘WHY DID THEY DO THAT?” He was furious. 

‘I don’t think they had any choice,” I replied calmly. ‘ I would have done the same thing, in their shoes.' 

‘They didn’t follow all of the proper procedures!’ 

‘They didn’t have time. They accomplished the objective of their mission, and nobody got hurt’ 

[...]”

  

Although the reader has no way of knowing what actually transpired that led to the conversation with the senior officer, who for anonymity’s sake remains nameless, the reader is offered a glimps of the chain of command that is commonly known to exist in the military. He mixes available information (chain of command) with his experiences. In addition to conversations L.T. Smash also quotes a letter, complete with the name of the sender.

  

March 19, 2003

  

[...]  

Hi-

  

My daughter gave me your email address...I’ve been reading your journal and love your sense of humor, rationale and reasoning. My husband was on Flt. 175, the 2nd plane to hit the WTC. Of course we’re all missing him so much and sometimes can’t believe what happened that day. You have my prayers every day. And I’m grateful for your incredible sacrifices, just living in the desert, anticipating this war, being away from home for so long, etc. Etc. Is more than I can imagine doing.

  

May God be with you!

  

Cathie Jalbert

Wife of Robert A. Jalbert

United Flt. 175 

[...]”

 

 

This letter is striking in so far as that the woman’s story can be verified by checking if her husbands name is among those of the victims of 9/11, which he is: http://terroristattack.com/messages.php?id=1387. Additionally, posting a letter which marginally deals with 9/11 is smart because few, if any, people are going to doubt a woman who lost her husband that day. What happens here is that L.T. Smash projects the credibility of Cathie Jalbert onto himself.

  

In yet another posting he writes:

  

“March 25, 2003 

[...] 

THOMAS MULLEN ADAMS 1975-2003 

Adams, a Lietutenant in the US navy, was killed early Sturday morning when two British Sea King helicopters collided shortly after takeoff fromma ship in the Persian Gulf. 

A descendant of two presidents and a graduate of the US Naval Academy, Adams was a Naval Flight Officer participating in an exchange programm with the Royal Navy. He was 27 years old. 

Among many other things, he was a good friend to my brother. 

[...]”

  

Again, L.T. Smash delivers easily verifiable facts: http://www.fallenheroesmemorial.com/oif/profiles/adamsthomasmullen.html. Whether the connection to Admas via his own brother is there, or whether he pulled this info off the internet cannot be assessed. However, the credibility effect was created, since at least part of this particular posting can be verified.

 

 

 

Part 2: Salam Pax

  

Salam Pax offers a first hand account of what live in Iraq is like. In the days before the invasion he writes:

  

Monday, 17 March 2003

Impossibly long lines in front of the gas stations last night – some even had two police cars in front of them to make sure no ‘incidents’ occur.

The price of bottled water jumped treefold.

[...]

The dinar is hovering around 2,700 per dollar and the hottest items after the ‘particle masks’, are earplugs – they can’t be found in shops and you have to pre-order.

  

On the eve of the invasion he posted the following:

  

Thursday, 20 March 2003

It is even too late for last-minute things to buy – there are too few shops open. We went again for a drive thru Baghdad’s main streets. Too depressing. I have never seen Baghdad like this. [...]

  

Salam Pax writes about how life in a country at the brink of war is like. He offers a view of a city preparing for invasion. He mixes information that can be verified, such as the exchange rate, with information that is hard to verify as a reader living in remote Europe or America, such as the price of water. Also, he adds information that depicts the atmosphere in Baghdad:

  

Wednesday, 19 March 2003

[...]

The radio plays war songs from the 1980’s non-stop. We know them all by heart. Driving thru baghdad now, singing along to songs saying things like ‘we will be with you till the day we die, Saddam’ was suddenly a bit too heavy. No one gave that line too much thought, but somehow these days it sounds sinister, since last night one of the most played old ‘patriotic’ songs was the song of the youth alfituuwa: it is the code that all Fedayeen should join their assigned units. And it is still being played.

[...]

  

He attempts to achieve credibility by showing an intimate picture of Baghdad as seen through his eyes. The reader is unable to refute what is written and this kind of information, even “if inaccurate, is [not as] detrimental to the user than other inaccurate information” (Flanagin, Metzger: 519). As a consequence the verity of this information goes unchecked for two reasons. First, it cannot easily be verified; second, the reader has no reason to assume that this ‘light’ information is false, thus accepting it as true. Thus, proximity creates credibility.

Furthermore, Salam Pax writes about what he sees on the news on Iraqi TV:

  

Friday, 21 March 2003

[...]

On BBC we are watching scenes of Iraqis surrendering.

[...]

 

Much like L.T. Smash, Salam Pax projects someone else’s credibility onto himself.

 

 

Part 3: Comparison

  

Both bloggers use similar strategies to create credibility effects:

  • Projecting external credibility onto oneself
  • Appearing credible through proximity to what is going on
  • Mixing easily verifiable with almost non-verifiable information
  • Quoting various sources (e.g. news on TV, fellow soldiers)

 

 

5. Conclusion

 

This essay has shown that L.T. Smash and Salam Pax use similar strategies to create the credibility effect. However, minor differences exist. Whereas L.T. Smash, a soldier, uses military jargon, Salam Pax, a civilian does not. However, both use their anonymity to their advantage (they are in difficult situations), both try to appear relateable persons, both use pop-culture refrences to show that they are 'just like the reader' and both display emotion. They do so because they want to present themselves as real, authentic and credible persons.

By projecting external credibility onto themselves and their writing, by appearing credible through proximity to what is going on, by mixing easily verifiable with almost non-verifiable information and by quoting various sources they create credibility effects on a factual level. Both aim to make the reader believe that they are real and what they write is true. The content of their writing may vary, but their strategies to create credibility effects do not.

 

 

6. Bibliography

  

Flanagin, A. J., and Metzger, M. J. Perceptions of Internet information credibility. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 77 (3), (2000): 515-540.

Jones, M., and Alony I. "Blogs – The New Source of Data Analysis." The journal of Issues in Informing Science and Information Technology, 5, (2008): 433.446.

L.T. Smash. Weblog: Live from the Sandbox. LPS: New Media and the Iraq War. 130-156.

Roering, J. "Getting the Word Out: Warblogs als Kriegsberichterstattung." Kriegskorrespondenten: Deutungsinstanzen in der Mediengesellschaft. Ed. Barbara Korte,    Horts Tonn. Vs Verlag: 2007. 181-196.

Salam Pax. Weblog: Where is Raed. 2 October 2008 <http://dear_raed.blogspot.com/>.

"Salam's Story." The Guardian. 30 May 2003. 2 October 2008 <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2003/may/30/iraq.digitalmedia>.

 

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