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Social Media: Not Your Best Guide To Truth & Understanding

June 18, 2013

I’ve been doing some work for The Rumpus, which features a diverse mix of essays, profiles, and interviews.

The illustration below was for an essay which referenced the recent Boston Marathon bombing, and reflected on the fact that while tragedy travels fast via social media, truth and understanding come slowly, if at all.

illustration about terrorism and Boston Marathon bombing charred running show burning in pool of blood tiny flames with word Why in cloud of black smoke

A close-up detail:detail of illustration about terrorism and Boston Marathon bombing charred running show burning in pool of blood tiny flames with word Why in cloud of black smoke

Photoshop users have access to lots of fancy fonts, but I actually drew the word “Why?” with a mouse, using a “smoke effect” Photoshop brush. I used the same brush for the
black smoke.

Here’s what it looked like originally. I decided it was a little too small, sharply etched,
and easy to see.

Boston Marathon bombing running shoe with word Why hand drawn in cloud of black smoke

So I duplicated the layer, hid the original, and used Edit>Scale to enlarge the writing. Then I reduced the opacity of the layer to fade the writing and emphasize the point that it’s difficult to perceive the truth, the Why, behind the smoke and noise of a tragic news event. Boston Marathon bombing running shoe after word Why scaled up and blurred with reduced opacity

Here’s the same again, with the relevant portion of the Photoshop Layers Window:Boston Marathon bombing running shoe with Layers Window showing revised word Why in black smoke

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Do you rely on social media sites like Twitter for “news bulletins”?

Do you think the lines between fact, rumor, and opinion get more blurry every day?

Hope you’ll leave a comment.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

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41 Comments leave one →
  1. June 18, 2013 12:03 PM

    I despise news outlets. I have never considered social media any more reliable than news outlets because they are merely an aping of whatever the bobbleheads have said.


    • June 19, 2013 8:13 AM

      Now there’s a concise summation! I hear you, Red. Bobbleheads, indeed. News outlets seem focused on keeping us all agitated, rather than informed. You’d think they’d be worried about their credibility. Apparently not.

      Many thanks for your comment and support! : )


  2. June 18, 2013 12:28 PM

    Great illustration, Mark and up to the point!
    I agree about truth coming slowly [if at all, as you say].
    I don’t trust any social media for information. Most of them are nothing more than gossip. It would take hours of browsing to get just a rough idea, but is it worth the effort?
    Your illustration however, says a lot more than many many many posts on the subject put together!
    Happy Tuesday!


    • June 19, 2013 8:21 AM

      Ah, dear Marina, how very kind you are. Thank you for that lovely comment. A very insightful comment, too. Your writing most social media off as “nothing more than gossip” did my heart good. Diversion masquerading as information, and sucking all our precious time away as well.

      Thanks for your kind words about the illustration. Coming from a wonderful artist like yourself, that means a lot. : )


  3. Steven L. Campbell permalink
    June 18, 2013 12:49 PM

    I never rely on social media sites for “news bulletins.” Even when I post a funny rumor or fake news story at Facebook marked “Rumor” and “False”, someone mistakes it for fact. Reading comprehension among the social media crowd is, in my opinion, very low. Everything on the Net (and TV, I see) is abbreviated: WHAM, POW, KA-BOOM.


    • June 19, 2013 8:39 AM

      What?? You’ve been posting rumors and fake news stories again?? Well, no one does it better, of course… : )

      Many thanks for your perceptive comment, Steven. The packaging of “news” as Wham-Pow-KaBoom has been going on for quite some time now, but I’ve never heard that fact so colorfully and accurately summarized. Beautiful.

      I hadn’t considered reading compensation. Lack of same certainly makes it so much easier to be led astray. There seems to be a strong “wish to believe” factor at work, too. We believe social media (or any media) because we want certain things to be true.

      Thanks as always for your kindness and support! : )


  4. June 18, 2013 5:27 PM

    When I hear the phrase, “Trending on Twitter,” I am reminded of the phrase, “You know what they say…”


    • June 19, 2013 8:54 AM

      What a great comment, Mary! You’ve summed up the gossipy nature of social media in a single line. When I was a kid, I used to hear the expression, “A little birdie told me…” Nowadays, it’s a little blue birdie– Twitter!!

      Many thanks for your kind and good-humored support! : )


  5. Margie permalink
    June 18, 2013 5:27 PM

    You are right Mark – truth and understanding come way later, if at all.
    I don’t use Twitter. I’m too long winded!


    • June 20, 2013 8:47 PM

      Long-winded? Nonsense! It’s just that your wisdom and insight are so expansive, they can’t be restricted to 140 characters or less– that’s the way I see it!!

      Thanks for your support, O wise and esteemed clicker of the shutter!! : )


  6. June 18, 2013 5:42 PM

    Loving the style buddy, good work 🙂


  7. June 18, 2013 7:46 PM

    There will always be a place for face-to-face discourse, and for books, no matter what the modern futurists may say (that print is dead). Books did not kill the oral storytelling tradition, despite the fears of Greco-Roman philosophers; they also worried about the corruption of youth as so many modern-day equivalents of village elders do today. Some mediums may move to a niche or a specialized place, but the scholars among us will discuss things as they have for centuries, even millenia. The rumor mill may be sped by technology these days, but we will merely shift and adapt, and learn to decide for ourselves what voices are authoritative, and what are not. Such as it has always been, and always will be.


    • June 20, 2013 9:02 PM

      Thanks, Jak. I appreciate your broad and worldly perspective. I really like your expression (I’m condensing it slightly here), “rumor mill sped by technology”– I think you’ve just come up with one of the best-ever definitions of Twitter, and perhaps social media in general! Well done, and thanks so much for your support! : )


  8. June 18, 2013 10:15 PM

    Hi Mark,

    I enjoyed reading through this super tutorial.Working with layers provides such interesting ways to achieve effects digitally that deliver the message.

    Q:Do you rely on social media sites like Twitter for “news bulletins”?
    A: No

    Q:Do you think the lines between fact, rumor, and opinion get more blurry every day?
    A: Not for me.

    Best wishes always


    • June 20, 2013 9:14 PM

      Thanks, TT. A visit from you always makes my day. Can’t say your answers surprised me. Your “Not for me” made me laugh. It’s that clear-sightedness and healthy skepticism that have helped make you a blogging and social media authority who inspires great confidence in her readers.

      Always a pleasure, thanks so much for your support! : )


  9. June 18, 2013 11:01 PM

    I don’t use Twitter, but my husband (a reporter) does. As a former reporter, I can only say that it’s better to be right about the report than be the first (and later find out – whoops! – that was wrong).

    Your beautiful illustration is perfection, Mark. It tells the whole story and uses only one word – a question we might never have the answer to. Excellent!


    • June 20, 2013 9:37 PM

      Your “better right than first” rule sounds so right, Judy. Making sure of the facts and presenting them without embellishment should be a reporter’s first duty. I’m sorry so many active reporters don’t seem to share your view. They seem oblivious to their loss of credibility.

      Thank you for your truly lovely comment– it’ll definitely keep me goin’ long after I run out of liverwurst sandwiches!! : )


  10. June 19, 2013 10:43 AM

    Very true about the social media. They sensationalize every news and lose the crux of the story in the process.
    Powerful illustration. The blood beneath the shoe is so haunting.


    • June 25, 2013 7:21 AM

      Many thanks, Vandy. You always seem to notice details, and it’s very gratifying. Always great to see you, thanks so much for stopping by! : )


  11. SingingTuna permalink
    June 19, 2013 12:14 PM

    That’s a stunning image…very, very powerful. Your words in the smoke are super, Mark. I like how you did them, too. Not using a font makes the writing real.

    Twitter. Gah. I’ve tried Twitter sooooo many times, set up and deactivated several accounts. I loved it when it was new, when people were still running around yelling, “Can you see me??” and when there were little maps so we could see where we all thought we were. But it quickly tanked. I do think there’s some utility in it when it’s used sensibly. It’s a decent kind of chatty thing with a long reach. But as a news source? Nah. Not for me.

    Wait! I have to run! There’s URGENT BREAKING NEWS on CNN!!!!!!!!!!!!!


    (Great post!!!!)


    • June 25, 2013 7:36 AM

      Thanks, Robin! People are always telling me I’m blowing smoke, but sometimes I write it as well… : P

      Twitter’s a funny animal. I look at my “tweet stream” a couple of times a day, but not in an organized way. I just see what’s been posted within the last few minutes. I have found links to some helpful blog posts that way, but like yourself, I don’t consider Twitter a reliable news source. These days, it’s hard to find a reliable, balanced news source, period!

      Forget singing blue birds– I prefer Singing Tuna!!

      ::jumps on sea horse, rides like Mr. Limpet, gets thrown into clam bed, decides to take a nap, zzzzzzz::


  12. June 20, 2013 2:09 PM

    Mark, I nominated this post for Best Moment Award. The rules and my comments are on my post.


    • June 20, 2013 2:19 PM

      Who is this sweet and wonderful Judy Berman?? I demand an explanation!! I shall look into this at once!!

      Oh, wait– I remember now: she’s a dear friend of mine known for her sweetness, light, puns, delightful prose, and, of course, her impeccable taste in illustration… : )

      Thank you, dear Judy, sincerely appreciated. I’m honored, and that’s no joke. Thank you, my friend! : )


  13. June 23, 2013 7:18 AM


    For myself when I saw the illustration it communicated the need to understand why such a horror happened. I went to read your post figuring you’d write about how social media may skew reporting and the blog post didn’t seem to reflect on either of those topics. It wound up falling a bit short for me for that reason. From the image & title, I was expecting a piece on the Boston tragedy and some of the truth behind it and what was presented in social media.

    Thanks for posting.



    • June 25, 2013 7:56 AM

      Hi Evelyn, thank you for your comment. I’m sorry the post was a disappointment for you. I was trying to convey how elusive truth can be– can we ever really understand the complex motivations that drive people and events, how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together?

      Social media really doesn’t help us there, because it’s designed for short attention spans. Good for rumor and conjecture, not so good for fact-finding and thoughtful reflection.

      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. Hope to see you again! : )


  14. June 24, 2013 12:44 PM

    Your PS tutorials are always appreciated and thanks for keeping them simple for the techie challenged like us. Social media users who spread ‘news drama’ reveal more truth about themselves than about the stories they’re posting … in our humble opinion.


    • July 1, 2013 8:20 AM

      Ha! I keep my tutorials simple, because, as a simpleton, I have little choice… : P

      Wonderful to see you chaps checking in, and I shall definitely be making a return visit to your studio-at-sea. And thanks for sharing your humble o.; like the ant transporting the piano, it carries a lotta weight! : )


  15. June 25, 2013 10:26 PM

    Excellent illustration, Mark! Luckily, there are those of us smart enough to take social media for what it is: one great non-truth :).


    • June 28, 2013 8:57 PM

      Thanks, Brandy. Social media can be a lot of fun, and it certainly gets the word out, but it’s wise to acknowledge its limitations.

      I really appreciate your support! : )


  16. June 28, 2013 8:56 AM

    You’re just so genius Mark 🙂 You’re a great illustrator! xoxo


  17. June 29, 2013 1:22 AM

    I don’t use Twitter nor Facebook for news.

    I should point out that many governments worldwide use twitter, facebook in addition to their news web sites. Simply to spread the URL to the news web site. This I don’t have a problem with.


    • July 8, 2013 1:00 PM

      Thanks, Jean, I always appreciate your stopping by.

      It does make sense for governments (or anyone else who wants to increase the odds their content will be found) to use social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Those sites have their limitations, certainly, but there’s no denying their clout, thanks to their enormous subscription base.

      Wishing you lots of happy summer cycling! : )


  18. July 16, 2013 3:01 PM

    Mark, a follow up comment to say how haunting your image of the running shoe is: a powerful aid to truth and understanding, wethinks.


    • July 20, 2013 12:32 PM

      That is high praise indeed from my favorite sailors, who navigate both the briny sea and the sea of ink and pigment with equal aplomb. Ahoy, heave to, hard a-port, come about, haul away, and thanks a heap!! : )



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