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Thursday's Most Active Threads

by Jeff Steele — last modified Nov 17, 2023 11:09 AM

The topics with the most engagement yesterday included a demonstration at the DNC, a troll thread about high schools and college admissions, personal battles, and TikTok and bin Laden.

Again the Gaza war thread was the most active thread of the day yesterday. The most active thread after that one was somewhat related. Titled, "Capitol currently in lockdown" and posted in the "Metropolitan DC Local Politics" forum, the thread is about a lockdown of the US Capitol building that resulted from a demonstration at the Democratic National Committee headquarters. Both this thread and much of the media reporting of the story show how a distorted understanding of events can become widespread. Semafor reporter David Weigel was at the DNC when events occurred. He posted a considerable amount of video of what took place on X (formerly Twitter). In addition, other witnesses also made video available. Based on first-hand reports which are supported by video, what occurred was that a group of peaceful demonstrators consisting of members of mostly Jewish peace groups who support a ceasefire in Gaza blocked all or almost all doors of the DNC headquarters. This building is located about 3 blocks from the Capitol grounds and is not part of the Capitol complex. The protesters stood with their backs to the doors and locked arms in a human chain. They made no attempt to enter the building. Police tried to pull the protesters away, but this was made difficult due to their interlocked arms. Police appeared to get frustrated and angry and became more violent as time went on. In addition, at least one of the doors was at the top of a set of stairs. As police pulled protesters away from the door and shoved them down the steps, some protesters fell. The scene grew very chaotic as police struggling with protesters who were resisting being removed intermixed with one another with police doing a lot of pushing and shoving. Video and photographic evidence shows one police officer unleashing pepper spray at the protesters. None of the protesters were shown to be using pepper spray and none of the witnesses reported such a thing. Other than Weigel, I don't think any reporters from major media outlets were on the scene. They, therefore, had to rely on second-hand information and many led with an account by Congressman Brad Sherman that was extremely misleading. Sherman accused the protesters of being "pro-terrorist" and "pepper spraying police officers and attempting to break into the building." None of this is supported by either first-hand accounts or photographic evidence. In fact, as I have said, the opposite appears to be true. This sort of misleading report was circulated widely and became the basis of many people's understanding of the event. Right-leaning posters in this thread seized on the misleading account to compare the protest to the January 6 insurrection led by former President Donald Trump. Pro-Israel posters challenged the authenticity of the Jewish organizations behind the protest. But, soon enough the thread went completely off-topic in several different directions. At that point, I locked the thread.

The next most active thread yesterday was posted in the "Private & Independent Schools" forum. Titled, "Public School Son Has Far Better College Prospects Than Private School Daughter", the original poster purports to have a son at Washington, DC's Jackson-Reed High School and a daughter at the National Cathedral School. The original poster claims to have hired "a top college admissions consultant" who has said that even though both children have fairly good grades (the boy's are better), her son has a much better chance of being admitted to a top 20 college. The first several posters correctly identified this poster as a troll but, sadly, none of them reported it to me. Therefore, I was not aware of the thread until just now. This poster has been a fairly prolific poster lately, creating several controversial threads. She may or may not have a son who may or may not be gay who may or may not be either applying to a private high school or already attending one. She has shown no indication of having a daughter. Nor have her previous threads suggested that she has a son who will be graduating this year. The original poster does not appear to have posted further in this nine page thread. The point that the original poster was apparently trying to make, that a top public school student might have better college prospects than a not quite top private school student is almost conventional wisdom in our college forum. But, such a contention is sure to stir up trouble in the private school forum. Moreover, the original poster claimed that her daughter's best prospect was the University of Wisconsin. This caused significant controversy among posters who apparently don't hold that school in particularly high esteem. A good troll post has to contain plenty of bait and this one certainly did, but often a troll post can be too good, as this one seems to have been. Therefore, it was easily spotted. What I don't understand is why so many posters continued to post in the thread even knowing that it was the work of a troll.

Next was a thread titled, "What personal battle are you currently fighting?" and posted in the "Off-Topic" forum. The original poster asks others to unload their problems so that posters can send each other "love and strength". I assumed that this thread would go off the rails pretty quickly but was happy to have been proven wrong. Posters listed a number of issues that are giving them difficulty including financial problems, health challenges, and relationship struggles. A considerable number of those responding seem to have children with special needs and are finding themselves in difficult situations. Almost universally, responses are sympathetic and supportive. DCUM has always had this sort of Jekyll and Hyde personality wherein posters can be both particularly supportive and especially mean. I sometimes picture DCUM posters as all having a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other with each encouraging them how to respond. It looks like the angels won the day in this thread. While not entirely relevant to this thread, I think it is worth mentioning DCUM's recent growth in users. Since I redesigned the site, we have had over 30% growth in unique users. Most of these find the site via a search engine, read a few posts, and leave. But, a few stick around and become regular users. Forums like DCUM develop cultures and new users don't always respect or even know about existing behavioral norms. They can change things for either the good or the bad. But, threads like this suggest that any impact has been for the good. The thread is currently 11 pages long and even on the last page posters continue to be polite and supportive. That's very encouraging.

The final thread at which I'll look today was posted in the "Political Discussion" forum and titled, "young people on tiktok now like Osama Bin Laden". The original poster embedded a tweet by journalist Yashar Ali that claims that "thousands of Tiktoks (at least)" have been posted in which "people of all ages, races, ethnicities, and backgrounds" discuss the so-called "Letter to America" written by Osama bin Laden in November 2002. The original poster suggests this is an indication that our society is "going to crumble" and he puts blame firmly on "the youngs". What struck me about this thread is how most of those replying with criticism of young people, including the original poster, seemed to be guilty of exactly what they accused young people of doing. As one poster wrote, "Critical thinking skills are lacking in young people whose brains haven’t finished developing and who seemed easily swayed". I don't know the state of brain development of the posters in this thread, but a significant number demonstrated a lack of critical thinking skills and appear to have been easily swayed. First, like the original poster, most of those responding seem to have ignored Ali's attribution of the TikToks to "people of all ages" and only criticize young people, apparently based on the belief that only young people use TikTok. For the record, published estimates suggest that half of TikTok's American users are over 30 years of age. Moreover, in the compilation of TikToks that Ali provided, none of the users expressed admiration or any indication that they "liked" bin Laden. Rather, they simply seemed to suggest that his letter had opened their eyes in some manner with regard to US foreign policy. Isn't the acknowledgement of a different point of view one aspect of critical thinking? Moreover, most of these TikToks included invitations for further discussion of the letter which would allow alternative opinions about bin Laden and his letter to be provided. Being open to alternative viewpoints and welcoming debate is what I personally would hope for from anyone, not just the young, but it is the exact opposite of how most of those responding describe young people. In contrast, most of those responding seem to have accepted Ali's tweet completely without the slightest hint of doubt or critical evaluation. Whereas Ali claims there were "thousands" of such TikToks, a spokesperson for TikTok said the ""#lettertoamerica" hashtag was only attached to 274 TikToks. I am not sure where Ali came up with "thousands". The hashtag was never a trending topic and TikTok says that the videos only received 1.8 million views whereas Ali's tweet was viewed more than 28 million times. If there is someone responsible for bringing attention to bin Laden's letter, it is Ali. Until Ali spotlighted it, the "Letter to America", far from infecting the brains of our youth, was essentially being ignored. This entire thread mostly consists of posters who are failing to think critically complaining about young people not thinking critically and it is sort of embarrassing.

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