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I know this is hardly the first diary on this, but being one of the ones who had been in a lot of discussions in a lot of the original "techie" diaries in the opening weekend, I thought I would chime in on the whole Weiner thing.

What I observed - even at the time everything was going on - were two important problems about how people operated:

1) People were presenting evidence as being more important as it actually was

2) People were accepting of evidence and treated it as absolute (when it helped their side, anyway)

I thought I'd go through some thoughts and possible things to learn:

1) Credibility: No, I don't think people were wrong treating this story with extreme skepticism considering the source.  Breitbart is known to just make shit up and we didn't have any particular reason to believe that Weiner was lying to begin with.  However, a credibility gap should be treated more as a starting point, not something that can be used to prove something right off the bat.  

Sure, Breitbart is rarely right, but that doesn't mean he is never right.  Saying "but...but...Breitbart!" is not a legitimate counter argument to evidence.  I certainly think the burden of proof was much higher considering the source, but it should never, ever, be considered insurmountable solely based on the source.

2) "Initial" Analysis: I found pieces of evidence such as the initial image analysis, the claim about why no one else saw the tweet (which was one thing I pointed out early on), among other things interesting.  However, one should treat an initial analysis as just that - initial.  It could be wrong, there might be evidence that pops up later that verifies it or proves it wrong.  One should not take the initial report as evidence as the final and definitive report on that evidence.

The "faked screenshot" analysis and the fact that almost no one saw the original tweet are two great examples of it.  The image analysis looked interesting, especially given the explanation that went along with it.  However, several people, including myself, didn't think that the testing was thorough enough. So I decided to do a control test, and low and behold, the "anomalies" that were used to show that the screenshot had been tampered with weren't anomalies at all, it's just how a screenshot of the page looked when it was sent through that analysis.

On the issue of the tweet, I found it odd right away that very few people had seen the tweet, and considered this as initial evidence that the tweet wasn't real.  However, it soon came out that the tweet was legitimate, so then I started asking the question, if the tweet was legitimate, was was linked, and if it was the picture, why didn't it more play on twitter.  The answer was finally provided when someone pointed out that, when a tweet begins with a @reply to someone else, only those who follow both people will see the tweet in their timeline.  The person who reported this story to Breitbart was probably one of a very few people who was following both people and thus was probably one of the very few who would have seen the tweet before it was deleted.  Once I realized that, the problem of no one else retweeting the original tweet was no longer a "problem."

These were just a couple examples of pieces of evidence that looked convincing at first, but fell apart upon further analysis.  As a result, people should never accept as absolute, unalterable truth, an initial reporting of evidence.

3) "How it could have happened" does not equal "proof": This has to do with the yfrog issue.  People did a good job demonstrating how, under certain conditions, a person could have posted - and tweeted - a picture on yfrog through Rep. Weiner's account.  The scenario rested on one assumption: that someone had gotten hold of his yfrog email.  Given the fact that yfrog does zero checking that the picture came from the email address associated with the account, if that assumption was true, it was a compelling demonstration of how it could have been done.

However, many people took the fact that it could have been done that way as proof that it was done that way.  However, that's an improper logical leap to take.  And, in the end, while the yfrog demonstration was interesting - and exposed a serious flaw in how yfrog works - it didn't "prove" anything.  There was also the issue with the photo information, showing that the photo wasn't taken with the same phone he took other photos with.  However, again, people took this as proof that he couldn't have taken the photograph, which was an improper conclusion. It just meant he didn't use his usual camera.

4) Don't ignore counter-evidence: There was very little discussion about another piece of evidence on here, and there was a good reason: it was a piece of evidence that pointed to the idea that the story was possibly legitimate.  This piece of evidence was the fact that the tweet in question was the first in a series of otherwise legitimate tweets by Weiner, after he hadn't been tweeting for several hours.

Now, just like other evidence, this was just circumstantial and could be possibly explained away - maybe it was just a coincidence.  Maybe Weiner had seen the tweet and that got him on twitter and he started tweeting himself after deleting the tweet in question.  It wasn't "proof" just as other things wasn't "proof," but it was evidence nonetheless - and a piece of evidence many here ignored because they didn't like it.

5) But he's not that stupid!: I always thought this was a silly line of reasoning.  We've had too many examples of supposedly smart people doing really stupid things.  I hope this event finally permanently buries this argument as evidence of anything.

In the end, I guess a good way to look at things is by looking at them like a Vulcan (sorry, nerd alert).  Regardless of our own personal interests in what we hope the truth is, we need to look at evidence dispassionately.  Otherwise one runs the risk of falling into the trap of only using evidence that supports your side while ignoring or discounting everything else.  That may be fine if you're a lawyer arguing your side in a court case, but it's counter-productive if your goal is finding the truth, whatever the truth may be.

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