Mother Jones reporter Mac McClelland has spent the afternoon interviewing a young Haitian woman named Kerby who was brutally raped. But McClelland, rather than recording the interview to later write an article about it, has been using an application called TweetyMail to describe the interview as it's happening on her Twitter account. The bursts of information range from the reportorial ("Kerby is 24, tall, slim, mother of 3. Husband died in the quake. She was kidnapped at gunpoint by 5 men and taken to a car for the rape.") to the somewhat oddly casual ("So, they're gonna have to do tongue reshaping, rather than reattachment, because the guy who bit it off swallowed it"). The style is unusual and the medium unconventional, but McClelland effectively communicates Kerby's story and how it represents the plight of rape victims in a country where crime, health services, and women's rights remain deeply troubled issues.
But is there something inappropriate, whether by journalistic standards or simply in the way McClelland handles a traumatic and complex situation, about live-tweeting her interview with a traumatized rape survivor? What about live-tweeting the medical examination? Journalist Jina Moore, writing on her personal blog, expresses doubts. "Should we tweet rape?" she asks. "I have three problems -- huge, huge problems -- with this:"
1. Basic 101 of interviewing trauma survivors is to make sure they're in control of the experience that is the interview. ... That includes, I think, letting them tell the whole story before you broadcast it to the world. There may be details that they don't get right the first time and they call you to correct. They may tell you something that later they regret and ask you not to use -- and it's within your rights as a journalist to grant that request, if it doesn't compromise the story. The point is, they need to have the power to ask.
2. ... For the trauma survivor ... time is not sequential. The story does not come out in a chronology. ... Why's that relevant here? Two reasons. One, Because presumably you're asking the survivor to share her story for some larger purpose -- presumably there's something others need to understand by listening to her. Otherwise it's just voyeurism, and you should go home. (I'm not accusing Mac of voyuerism.) But you need to listen through the whole story to understand what that is, and then you need to frame it for us. Two, you just un-ordered her story because the medium demands it. The nature of her experience may also have un-ordered it.
3. ... If she felt that her story were best served by live-tweeting, she could do it herself. Journalists presumably bring editorial skills to a survivor's story that the survivor values. If tweeting the rape story is the way to tell the rape story, then we don't need the journalist.
Moore links to the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, which she calls an "absolutely essentially professional resource for journalists covering stories of trauma and survival." She concludes, "as cool as this whole social media thing is, we need to be extra careful about using it responsibly. Because if we're not, then we are getting dangerously close to voyeurism, whether or not we intended to."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.