Monthly Archives: September 2020

“Steers the narrative” almost always means “has an opinion that differs from mine”

“Steers the narrative” almost always means “has an opinion that differs from mine.” – Redditor

People talk a lot about “narrative steering” in this community.  It seems to be shorthand for “I don’t like you” or “I don’t like your theory” or “I don’t like the topic of your recent post/blog/podcast”.  Most of the time it’s used purely as an insult “he’s a steerer from way back”  whereas other times it is used almost incomprehensibly “They are not “official” steerers, just clueless/illogical coincidence theorists that get triggered.”

The steerer designation also suggests that our discussions are very, very important.  Whether or not the case is solved depends on stopping the steerers!  Undoubtedly Cold Case is tracking us closely, ready to arrest any of us who say the wrong thing or make a post that tries to change the topic.  But in fact, by all indications, LE doesn’t care much about our discussions calling them simply “not detrimental” to the extent we spread awareness of the case.  

With that introduction, I jotted down my “top 10 reasons why police are not going to show up at your doorstep for “narrative steering” in the Maura Murray case” — and to be clear, I am not speaking of calling up someone with a fake lead but rather of the online discussions in the case:

MY TOP 10 REASONS WHY POLICE ARE NOT GOING TO SHOW UP AT YOUR DOORSTEP FOR “NARRATIVE STEERING” IN THE MAURA MURRAY CASE

1. Narrative steering as used in the MM community has no real or consistent meaning.

I scoured the professional literature for a definition of narrative steering and came up with very little.  I acknowledge that in debate, politics and other fields we have various types of spin and propaganda.  But in this community it has come to mean either “I don’t like you” or “I don’t like your theory” or “I don’t like the topic of your post/blog/podcast”.  There might be relevant uses of the term (a recent episode of the Prosecutors Podcast had an interesting discussion in another case).  But that is not this.

2. We have developed false dichotomies

One common use of the narrative steering insult in the community seems to be the dichotomy between Maura as “All American Girl” vs. Maura as an “extremely flawed person”.  I think most people recognize that the truth is somewhere in the middle and that when Maura went missing she was a 21 year old college student with ups and downs in her life.

If we want to call those who see the good in Maura as “steerers” then we should do the same at the other extreme – those who are intent on exposing her skeletons, mistakes and family secrets. 

3. UMass vs. New Hampshire is not a real thing

We also hear that there is a dichotomy between “Amherst” and “New Hampshire”.  Somehow we are told that whenever someone tries to discuss “U Mass” they are met with significant pushback.  But really, people who want to discuss UMass should discuss UMass.  There are no rules of any group or sub as far as I know that “Amherst” is off limits.  Simply go to a reddit sub and go to “create a post” and write about UMass and then discuss it.  It’s really that easy.  However, if you propose a theory you might be asked to back it up with evidence. And being asked to provide evidence for your theories is also not “steering”.

The truth is that many of the people accused of “steering” away from UMass have actually frequently discussed many aspects of Amherst and UMass.

I’ve seen suggestions that this dichotomy refers to people who think she was/wasn’t at the Weathered Barn Corner. I respect many people who make the case that we have scanty evidence that Maura was the driver, or that Maura left Amherst, or that Maura was seen by Atwood. Now I personally think that it was Maura at the WBC and that my time is best spent with that assumption. These are complex decisions about how different people weigh and interpret evidence and use inference. But it’s not steering.

If you think it was not Maura in New Hampshire, then develop that case. I (as a surrogate here for the community) could be persuaded but reasserting over and over that there is no proof beyond the ATM video just keeps us at a standstill.

4. People have a right to disagree; people have a right to ask for your evidence

Here is the tricky part: people do not have to agree with you.  I know that is a difficult concept.  People are free to disagree with the theories of others.  People may insist that you provide evidence for your theories. They may also provide evidence to contradict the theories that you put forward. This is not “steering”.

5. People have a right to talk about what they choose

Related to the previous point, people have the right to research what they think is important (and to NOT research topics they deem not important).  If someone wants to talk about the accident timeline, they can.  If someone wants to talk about Vasi, they can.  If someone wants to talk about Butch Atwood (rest his soul), they can.  But people do not have to engage with your post or podcast.  There is no law that people interested in looking at search maps have to engage in a post about the damage to the Saturn.  

I personally try to avoid discussions of the accident timeline and tree vs. snowbank.  I figure that there are other minds on these topics combined with too much animus in getting in the fray.  And my interests and aptitudes are elsewhere.  I guess that’s my right.  I also have personally eliminated/resolved many things in my own mind although I could reconsider if new evidence emerges or if someone offers a compelling new theory.  

6. Don’t go “real life” here

In a different case, someone made a set of suggested guidelines for the community and one was “don’t go real life”.  That statement is a joke in the Maura Murray community where we are gnawing at one another’s limbs in some perverted version of Dante’s 6th Circle .  When I stumbled upon this case in 2017 I never dreamed that people would be friending me with fake accounts, scouring my personal photos, running credit and background checks, and far worse – and I am just me.  One reddit poster had an interesting observation as to why this community has gone cannibalistic:

This is […} symptomatic of what seems to be happening in this community. Without very much to discuss regarding the actual case, people have to look elsewhere for drama/conflict/content to discuss. And if they can’t talk about the case itself, they turn to the next best thing–they look for drama and intrigue among the people talking about the case.

Redditor 2020

We probably could benefit from a good “community sociologist” to try to decode what is happening here. But investigating each other is just silly. Investigating the volunteers and posters is silly. Now, whether or not you can post these things depends on the specific guidelines of whatever group or forum or subreddit. But people can and will push back and that does not make them steerers.

7. No leads generated by the online community have panned out

We talk about narrative steering as if our discussions are extremely important to the course of the investigation.  But in fact, Strelzin et al. indicated in Missing Maura Murray episode 27 “Questions and Answers” that no leads from the online community have actually panned out – at least by that time:  

“The attention this case has garnered has generated some leads, although none have panned out when investigated.  However, efforts to keep people’s attention focused on the case are not detrimental if they have the potential to generate new leads.”

Missing Maura Murray episode 27: Questions and Answers

Let me reiterate: no leads from the online community panned out when investigated.  We’ve had family forums, topix, websleuths, facebook, reddit, twitter, and probably others not to mention tv shows and podcasts … and yet nothing panned out.  And so where do we get the idea that talking about x vs y is a matter of top secret security clearance? I hate to break it to everyone but “not detrimental” doesn’t suggest that they take these discussions extremely seriously.

8. Law enforcement is not going to knock on your door for your topic of choice

Likewise it is inferred that law enforcement is watching us and will charge people guilty of narrative steering with obstruction. [I’m not speaking here of someone faking a lead or witness]. Again, I don’t get the feeling that law enforcement cares a whole lot about what we’re discussing.  Who here has sent them an email?  Did you get a response back?  As someone pointed out: they didn’t even call Linda Salamone for 9 months – and we think they care that we are “steering the narrative” in 2020?

9. This community is not made up of professional steerers and CIA agents

I found one person who tried to list the types of steerers in the Maura Murray case – technically this person gave 3 but then mentioned the 4th so I added it:

  • 1) circle of friends/professionals/DC people that run the steer for EL/BR and possibly other agencies
  • 2) non-affiliated with EL/BR, and mostly just covering up upper agency “stand-down”.
  • 3) Also it seems there are steerers that are not affiliated with each other, but are exercising their agendas (1 and 2) separately without knowledge of each other. 
  • 4) Then there’s a separate circle of clueless coincidence theorists obsessed with “civility” instead of truth.

No, this community is not made up of a network of professional propagandists.  Some people have ties to the family.  Some are interested in true crime.  Some like puzzles.  Some have other reasons for being involved.  There are definitely all different types of people but … this is a missing persons case not a national security operation.

I used to live in DC but moved away over a decade ago. I somehow don’t think the National Science Foundation’s atmospheric science division is interested in “steering the narrative” in the Maura Murray case.

10. Keeping the conversation going is probably the most important thing

There IS value to the community.  We might come up with a clue or lead.  We might do searches and find Maura or one of her possessions.  We might share a post that reaches someone who didn’t know they had a valuable piece of information.  We might put pressure on someone involved in Maura’s disappearance.  We might put pressure on LE to do more or release records.  We might help the family simply by our interest, dedication and encouragement. There IS value but we are simply not as important as we think we are.

Someone I respect a great deal phrased it well:

This case should be a collaborative effort to help the Murray family find their missing loved one. A select few have lost sight of that principle. They’ve been blinded by hate, greed, and obsession. It’s become a circus of endless drama. Redditor 2020

Honestly, a post asking about Maura’s favorite color is probably just as valuable to the big picture as one looking at suspects. We are just keeping the conversation going in the hopes that it leads to something. Elevating our conversations to national security status is a little silly.