imaging the truth

Like many, I’ve been appalled at yesterday’s turn of events in the southern ocean, in which the Sea Shepherd vessell Ady Gil, and Japanese whaling vessel Shonan Maru 2 collided.

The result of the violent collision is the probably destruction and loss of the Ady Gil, with salvage efforts problematic in the wild waters so remote from civilisation.  Fortunately the crew of both vessels escaped serious injury.

Predictably, each organisation has blamed the other.  Sea Shepherd claims that their boat was stationary, and was deliberately rammed by the Shonan Maru, while the whaling organisation insists the more agile Ady Gil moved in front of its ship far too late for anything to be done.

With eye-witnesses to the incident all heavily invested in one side or the other of the conflict, the question for the rest of us becomes “how do we tell who to believe?”.  It can’t be as simple as siding with Sea Shepherd if you’re a good Australian who thinks whales are cute, and believing the Shonan Maru crew if you’re Japanese or like seafood.

Putting aside the rights and wrongs of the actions of Sea Shepherd, the attitude of the Japanese government to whaling, or the mechanics of this actual incident, what is interesting to me is the way in which the battle for public support is now played out using modern technology.  Within what seemed like minutes of the accident, news of the collision erupted on social network Twitter – with users tweeting and re-tweeting news and updates almost by the minute.  Twitter once again beat the traditional news media to the punch when it came to getting the word out fast.

Only a couple of hours later, both ICR (the Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research – the organisation that runs Japans whaling program) and Sea Shepherd took the tech battle full steam ahead – releasing video from the incident.  So far both organisations have released just short clips, one from the deck of the Shonan Maru,and the other from Sea Shepherd’s nearby vessel the Bob Barker.

Both have released video, followed by commentary that they claim supports their version of events.  The clip taken from the Bob Barker appears to show the Japanese vessel turning in toward the smaller Ady Gil before the destructive collision.  Alternately, ICR’s clip seems to indicate that the Ady Gil moved into the path of the larger ship at the last moment.

ICR’s video:

Sea Shepherd’s video:

Both are being selective with the images released.  With cameras rolling all the time on all three boats in an effort to capture footage that will garner public support, there is no question that both organisations have footage from the minutes leading up to the incident.  Both, it would seem, have at this stage only published the particular images that support their version of events and paint them in the best light.  None of us who are armchair commentators have a full picture of what occurred.

And media outlets similarly seem to be selecting the particular video extracts that most support the editorial direction they have chosen for the story.  The truth, subjective as always, is probably hidden somewhere in between.

The whole story is a powerful indicator of the changing nature of communication in our world.  The power of the internet, of viral communication, social networking, and of course the ever-important power of the image.

Both organisations know this well and are on the front foot, battling for the hearts and minds of the global public using every tech tool at their disposal.  It’s too soon to know just how this secondary battle will play out, but it’s a clear indication of the shifting sands for all sorts of organisations in terms of marketing, and of the emerging power of social media such as youtube and twitter.

Whether you’re a whaling organisation, an eco-protest movement, or something a little closer to home like a local church community, social media is one aspect of our society that cannot any longer be ignored.

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