My 9/12 Blog

Everyone except me did 9/11 blogs yesterday. A ten year anniversary of a day that truly changed life in NYC and the USA (hello department of Homeland Security and TSA pat-downs) gave a lot of people something to say. Jeff Jarvis, a journalism professor at the CUNY Graduate Center and media expert (twitter: @JeffJarvis), spent the day tweeting out memory after memory of all that had happened to him on 9/11 when he went to a meeting at downtown just about the time the planes hit the towers. Some people got annoyed he was tweeting a lot. But I found each tweet fascinating, and his story was more grueling than mine.

Ten years and one day ago I was puttering around, about to sit down at my computer to write something or other, when I heard neighbors yelling on the street about a plane hitting the World Trade Center and about terrorists. I turned on the television just as the second plane hit. It took the next hour for TV news to become focused on what was going on. By then the towers were about to collapse, a plane had gone down in Shanksville, PA, and another one had crashed into the Pentagon. My landline wouldn’t work: the main Verizon facilities were at the WTC and had been knocked out. My son was safe at college (though calling every few minutes to check on the safety of people we knew downtown); my husband was safe at the college where he teaches in Queens. My daughter was in high school up in the Bronx, which the FBI and NYC police closed off from Manhattan as soon as security measures began being implemented. (A recent article in the New York Times underscores how no one knew what was going on. The Airforce did not scramble until all the planes had hit, and at that point, our jets were flying without weapons. http://nyti.ms/qfKSwp.) The phone at her school was busy, busy, busy. Her Verizon cell did not work. At that point I had AT&T, so mine did. And eventually I got through to one of her friends with an AT&T phone. This was my drama: not knowing if my 15-year-old would be able to get home.

Meanwhile, I went outside into that beautiful day everyone remembers with its clear, remarkably blue sky. I offered my AT&T phone to passersby so they could make calls to loved ones. (And AT&T actually gave me all the minutes for that day for free.) Eventually we learned that doctors could get over the bridges. One of her friend’s mom’s drove up to the school with her MD plates and packed her car with over a dozen kids. Bewildered, they continued to hang out at each other’s apartments for the rest of the evening. Mayor Guiliani, in perhaps the most human moment he ever had, told us that the loss was going to be more than we could bear.

I went to the computer this morning to find a tweet from the wise and clever Amy Vernon (@AmyVernon, aka The Bacon Queen). It’s September 12th, she said. We got through that one.

And she was right in so many ways–the chance of an “anniversary” attack, the kind of paranoia that led to brown-skinned people being pulled off planes. (If you want to get riled up, read this: Some real Shock and Awe: Racially profiled and cuffed in Detroit | Stories from the Heartland http://bit.ly/pavTUM.) And all the sentimentality–though I must say that I was riveted by the article in Esquire about “The Falling Man” picture. (“The Falling Man – Tom Junod – 9/11 Suicide Photograph” – Esquire http://bit.ly/ncpNr1. Read the links after the article too.) Yesterday evening we took a walk out after dinner to see the “Memorial Lights” that fill the sky. Only it was too overcast. Looking downtown we could see that the sky was more aglow than usual, but there were no twin light towers.

If you had asked me about the Twin Towers on any day before 9/11/01, I probably would have snidely said, “bad architecture.” Sure, Windows on the World, had a spectacular view, but the food wasn’t even all that good. No one went to the World Trade Center except to work. Tens of thousands of people did that, every day.

I’m a runner, and my favorite route goes around the reservoir in Central Park. It used to be that from the north end of the loop one could see those ugly towers sticking up into the skyline. The view has changed–the photo at the top of this post shows what I see when I run. It’s jarring each time I jog around that stretch. Something is still missing. Like Amy, I’m glad it’s September 12th. But I think I wish even more it were still September 10, 2001, that the Towers still stood, that this act of terrorism had never happened, that more than 3000 people hadn’t died, that we hadn’t gotten into a couple of long, arduous wars because of our fears and the hatred we harbor toward others, hatred they happily return. I don’t mind that 10 years have passed. I, and millions like me, just wish it had all never happened.

So, in your comments let me know:

1.What’s changed for you in this decade? Yeah, we’re ten years older, but what else?

2. Did 9/11 affect Baby Boomers as a group? If so, how?

3. Will we ever be able to put 9/11 aside? How will this happen? What would it mean?

The comment box is right below. I love hearing from people on Twitter, Facebook and by email. But if you comment on this page, it helps with my “search” rating.

Two Girls Missing, One Real, One Fake

For the past week or so my Twitter feed has lit up with two stories: the unmasking of “Gay Girl In Damascus,” who turns out to be a 40-year-old white heterosexual guy from Atlanta currently studying in Edinburgh, and the disappearance of Lauren Spierer, a very real 20-year-old from Greenburgh, NY, who has been studying at the University of Indiana. How different these circumstances, and, yet, how well both illustrate the power of social media.

The first, the so-called Amina, was actually an invention of social media. Eager to combat what he misreads in our society as “liberal Orientalism” (yes, this Tom MacMaster fellow has evidently turned the pages of Edward Said’s influential—and I believe wrongly reasoned—book, Orientalism, but not much understood their content), MacMaster drew out a character, an American-born gay girl living in Damascus who claimed that she was the victim of more overt hatred when she appeared in America wearing a hijab than when she announced her sexual proclivity in Syria, a country under the thumb of a brutal dictator where homosexuality is against the law. He created a blog for her. When this character “Amina” was supposedly kidnapped (MacMaster said he wanted to end the blog), the Twittersphere went nuts. The American government got involved—she was, after all, supposedly half American. The FBI quickly concluded she didn’t exist, never had. The Twittersphere dragged it out for days and days more until they had final, conclusive evidence that no one had ever seen her or spoken to her voice-to-voice. MacMaster, not the most devious hoaxster, was easy to track down. He hadn’t even masked his IP address account. Everything could be traced to him.

Lauren is a real flesh and blood American girl. There’s no doubt she exists. I knew her when she was a child. She has a mom, a dad, a sister. She seems to have a lot of friends, and in the days since she’s gone missing, has amassed 20,000 “virtual” friends, people who are following the progress of the search on Facebook and Twitter. I am furious with the lawyers of some of the young men considered “people of interest” who have underscored that Lauren was drinking the night (morning) she disappeared, who have emphasized that she liked to party with boys. Oy, that’s what young people do these days. And I wish they didn’t. I wish they were playing chess or something else. But they’re not. And it’s so wrong to blame the victim.

At the beginning of the Find Lauren ordeal, I was struck by the professionalism of the person running the @NewsOnLaurenS Twitter account. She managed to get the most information into 140 characters or less—leaving room for retweets. She attached photos of Lauren, of the “missing” poster. She “live-blogged” the press conferences. She had a good hashtag (#FindLauren). She had a wonderful voice and a positive manner that has remained appropriate as we got past the 48-hours missing, one-week missing, and other timeline milestones. She had the good idea of contacting celebrities and asking them to retweet—and many did. Eventually all the major news organizations picked up the story. I asked my daughter who this person could be, and she conjectured a friend of Lauren or Rebecca (Lauren’s older sister, my daugher’s friend). When the Twitter-Master seemed to be having some problems setting up a feed blog, I contacted her. She described herself as, “just a woman from Indiana with some experience with social media, but nothing like this.” She is a true heroine of the digital age.

One thing about the social media community: they’re often generous with their time and knowledge. So when I contacted two ultra-super-amazing social media geniuses I know, Mo Krochmal (@Krochmal) and Amy Vernon (@amyvernon), they both came up with blogging solutions, and for Lauren’s Twitter manager, one of them worked.

The Facebook community that grew up with a page begun by Lauren’s friends quickly devolved into disaster. People expounded theories, called each other names, talked about other crimes. It provided very little real information about Lauren—though it did give people a place to vent and a space to offer love and support to her family. I’m not overlooking the importance of that. But it became too much drama, and to counteract that group (which I exited), her parents had someone set up a page where people could not leave comments and would only give information. But there is no information.

The parallels between the real girl and the fake girl have been bugging me for days. While people were using social media to seek real clues about Lauren, those burrowing into the Amina story were, in my opinion, largely navel gazing. Yes, MacMaster did something potentially harmful. The Syrian government now claims all anti-Syrian blogs are “false” in one way or another. He possibly also endangered the gay/lesbian community in Syria as they revealed themselves in comments on the “Gay Girl in Syria” blog. MacMaster stole the identity of a beautiful young English woman by scraping her Facebook page for photos. And, reportedly, he stole the heart of a Canadian woman with whom he exchanged flirtatious and sexually explicit emails. Compared to MacMaster, Anthony Weiner was dialing 411. Sadly, he is bound to make money off of this, something he says in a Skype interview with The Guardian that he deserves (Gay Girl in Damascus hoaxer: I did it out of vanity – video | World news | guardian.co.uk http://bit.ly/jQeQdz). But the efforts to ferret all this out—what do you have in the end? A lying asshole, a Syrian government as repressive as ever (and horribly uncaring and cynical, opening their border with Israel to “protestors” who will, of course, be repelled by some means eventually violent and thus deflect attention away from a government killing children), a woman with a broken heart? And a social media community that knows it was punked.

To those Twitter people involved with the Arab Spring and Middle East news, people with many followers who took the time to retweet Lauren’s information, thank you. And those of you who did not, to borrow Charlene Spierer’s words, “Shame on you.” You especially know the import of crowd sourcing. At this time, I believe, the police in Bloomington are trying to ID a car. Someone out there saw something, and perhaps a tweet, a link to a poster can help jog a memory of something half seen, not considered important then, but . . . . .

The hours tick by and reporters are still talking about Amina and those who “uncovered” the hoax are speaking to interested audiences. Go away, Amina. You never existed. Lauren Spierer does, and her family wants her back. Sure, maybe Lauren doesn’t have the social significance of a “Gay Girl in Syria” blogging about the revolution. Lauren just wanted to go into fashion. Have fun. Be a young person. She also probably wanted to grow up and have a job she loved and a husband and kids. Normal stuff that wouldn’t have changed the world, except for those who love her. Lauren would never have made this kind of social media splash, except that she went missing.

The woman doing the Twitter—she’s heroic and clever, linking the feed to the Twitter trending map. That’s also wishful thinking because, as the time draws out and the police have nothing new to say, fewer people will turn out for the searches, fewer people will spread the word. The news cycle is changing. Amina is hanging on, but Lauren might disappear from the public consciousness. And that’s why it’s so important that someone right now turns up something important so that the media refocuses its spotlight on Lauren.

I have no tips except:

  • Use Facebook or Twitter to get the message out. For information, go to Twitter.com and search #FindLauren or @NewsOnLaurenS.
  • Or just google Lauren Spierer. Email her picture and information about the reward and contacts to everyone you know. And people you don’t know.
  • Join Facebook or Twitter. Something like Lauren’s disappearance is a great argument for the importance of social media to people of all ages. A friend in Israel wrote to me, “your family is my family,” and then reposted my last blog about Lauren. (Oh, Ellen, what great values you have.) Yes, this is especially poignant to those of use who are parents and grandparents. Both Twitter and Facebook have enough tutorials so you can probably join yourself. Remember that google will lead you to VIDEO tutorials. And soon, when I have time, I’ll do a Baby Boomer special rundown so that soon we’ll all be tweeting. My dream: in our Twitter feeds now and then a young blond will turn up, saying something like, “Just had the best burger ever.” Earth moving news. Because we’ll know she’s alive.

Finally, please leave your comments.