Salon Gets The Energy Collective Wrong
Social Media Today--the name of our company as well as this site--manages a number of other communities that adhere to the same model of user-contributed content as this one.
Over the course of the last several days, one of those communities, The Energy Collective, has become a go-to source of information about the anatomy of the Fukushima nuclear plant, and has hosted an extended conversation about the human, technological, and political implications of the serious problems unfolding there against a backdrop of great tragedy in northern Japan.
One post in particular has been a lightning rod, attracting more than 100,000 visits since it was published last weekend. It was submitted by Barry Brook, a respected blogger on nuclear energy who writes at BraveNewClimate. The body of the post was written by MIT economist Joseph Oehmen, providing technical background on the Fukushima crisis and arguing, based on information available to him at the time, that the reactor failures did not represent a significant risk to human health.
You can read more about the sourcing of that post here.
The post was originally written as an email to a relative and it was designed to reassure. Amidst detail about the structure of the Fukushima plant, the architecture of the containment layers, and the decay rates and threats posed by potential radioactive releases, the post was overly-sanguine about the way the problems at Fukushima would progress.
The Energy Collective published that post not because of its rosy perspective, but in spite of it. Because the vast majority of that text contained more good information about the technology and science involved than was available from any mainstream news source we knew of.
As the situation at Fukushima deteriorated, and it became apparent that large numbers of people were turning to this post for information, the author's account was revised by members of MIT’s Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering (NSE). We replaced the original text with that revision as soon as we were aware of it. You can also read it on the NSE site.
But what is of interest to the observers of social media in this community, is the way SMT's motivation and intent have been spun in some quarters of the blogosphere without regard for accuracy.
Yesterday, Salon.com published this piece by Justin Elliott, titled "Debunking a viral blog post on the nuke threat." In it, he asserted that the Energy Collective post was part of a conscious campaign of pro-nuclear advocacy, and that our community was "run by" our sponsor, Siemens AG.
Both claims are utterly baseless.
The Energy Collective was (and still is) a labor of love for us at Social Media Today. We built it to be a safe haven for smart, pragmatic and civil discussion of the critical issues surrounding energy and climate. Our dedication to transparency and our integrity have attracted some of the most recognized, thoughtful and credentialed thinkers in the space to become contributors. We have no agenda but to cultivate a respect for facts and for members to demonstrate respect for each other, even in disagreement.
We ran the Energy Collective without sponsor support for almost two years before we found in Siemens a partner that shared our ideals and saw value in being the steward of what we do. Siemens has no ownership stake in our company, has never been invited to participate in our editorial process, and has never requested to do so. Periodically, their own experts blog on the site or participate in Webinars. We are transparent about the affiliation of Siemens contributors.
Mr. Elliott could have clicked on the site's "About" link to figure all this out. If he was still uncertain, he could have contacted us.
But here's what really validates The Energy Collective's integrity. With the exception of occasional special event or topic coverage, our member-bloggers participate with us for only one reason: because they choose to. Because we provide a platform for their best thinking. And because they are proud to be associated with the other members of our community.
We know that our integrity is the only real asset we have.
Which is not to say we don't make mistakes. We do. But that's the beauty of online media. You always have the opportunity to own up when you fall short of the standards to which you aspire.
I hope we at Social Media Today will always have the courage to admit it when we screw up.
The question is, will Salon?
I'm the CTO at Social Media Today, home of the world's best thinkers on social media.
For fifteen years, I've mashed-up content and technology to deliver great customer experiences in news, gaming, 3-D CAD, interactive television and distance learning.
A one-time writer and editor for Time Inc. and others, I made the new media leap in 1995 when I was selected to spearhead digital product ...
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