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When crisis survivors[1] of begin to face the public, often they appear on the TV interview circuit: Anderson Cooper, The Today Show, Good Morning America, etc.  Every host asks the same half dozen questions and every interview is punctuated by the same news footage; the only thing that changes is the set and who was asking the questions. Hannah Anderson[2] threw broadcast journalism into a bit of a tizzy last week because she (unintentionally) flipped the script.

Prior to her kidnapping Anderson maintained an account on the website Ask.fm.[3] As soon as she got home, she took to that site and answered questions from anyone who asked directly and with no filter. She also made a point to tell those identifying themselves as journalists that she would not answer their questions and that they should leave her family alone.

Why Hannah went to that site only she can answer, maybe she wanted to do something mindless, maybe this was an effort to get back to normal, maybe she wanted to see if people had questions for her. What we do know is that the questions and comments ran the gamut from flirtatious to sympathetic to prurient. At times her answers were blunt:

[q] Why didn’t you tell your parents he creeped you out?

[a] In part, he was my dad’s best friend and I didn’t want to ruin anything between them….

[q] Are you glad he’s dead?

[a] Absolutely”(Wian, 2013).

Almost right away, news organizations began hitting up every psychologist, social worker and social media “expert” they could find to comment on this. Some handwringing sob sisters took to the airwaves and Internet questioning why she did this and about how inappropriate it was for her father to allow her access to social media. Others recognized that as a child of the Electronic Social Media Age, Anderson’s actions were not surprising and in fact, could even be considered healthy.  Others still just published screen caps of her account and wrote scant commentary around it. (I’m not including a bunch of citations here as the online commentary is easily googled).

This was different and I’m not sure that the media knew what to do. With her blunt talk, selfies and shots of her new manicure, Anderson didn’t fit the model of “what a victim does”. Was some of the the traditional press squawking at the thought of being pointedly and publicly, cut out of the picture? It is certain that Matt Lauer wouldn’t ask some of those questions that she answered.

According to Baym and boyd, “[P]eople… use the public and quasi-public qualities of social media to carve out safe identities for themselves in the face of legal troubles, create public memorials for the dead, [and] narrate their own stories….(Baym & boyd, 2012). Isn’t that just what Anderson did? In immediately taking to social media, Anderson (quite unknowingly I’m sure) did just that. She put her unedited narrative out there without the help of a broadcast media outlet. If you asked her why she did it, her answer might not be the same as Baym and boyd’s in letter but I bet it would match the spirit.

References

Baym, N. K., & Boyd, D. (2012). Socially Mediated Publicness: An Introduction. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 56(3), 320–329. doi:10.1080/08838151.2012.705200

Wian, C. (2013). Friend: Hannah Anderson discusses kidnapping on social media. CNN.com. Retrieved August 18, 2013, from http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/14/us/hannah-anderson-social-media


[1] I use the term survivor with great intention. I refuse to call anyone who gets through something like this a victim. Increasingly I find that term diminishes the individual by casting them in the role of the captive, the sufferer. The word “survivor” looks towards their future. You are only a victim until it is over.

[2] In August, 2013, Hannah Anderson was kidnapped by a family friend who killed her mother, brother and dog. After an Amber Alert and multi state search, the two were found about a week later and she was rescued. Her kidnapper was killed after firing a gun at police.

[3] Ask.Fm is a European based site where users, who can choose to remain anonymous, can ask other users questions about pretty much anything. The answers to every question appears on the user’s home screen in the form of an extended Q&A

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