Chapter 10: Joining the Conversation: Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, and You
Let’s look at some examples of these mistakes and then examine ways to remedy them.
The first mistake involves acting like a domineering, interrupting, and inattentive conversation partner—the sort of person who finishes other people’s sentences, most often in ways the interrupted person did not intend. This sort of mistake most often manifests itself in essays in which the student paraphrases the sources, making them say things they are not really saying for the sake of proving their own argument, or using minimal, even one-word citations and plugging them into their own argument out of context. In this way, the writer ignores what either source is saying because the primary concern is making the conversation arrive at the desired conclusion no matter what the cost. Here is an example of this sort of “bullying” of sources using our primary evidence and our secondary article:
As McCosker and Johns confirm in “Productive Provocations: Vitriolic Media, Spaces of Protest and Agonistic Outrage in the 2011 England Riots,” “aggressive, antagonistic behaviour” like the “unchecked flow of racial bigotry” and the “vitriolic expression and aggressive interaction” found in the comments section of the Occupy Wall Street Homepage demonstrate how such pages “simply give voice to and perpetuate forms of bigotry and incite hatred and further violence.” As commenters call each other “idiots” and “terrorists” and “Zionist pigs,” they demonstrate how “volatile debates erupting online” serve as “modes of incitement” for real world violence. When one commenter accuses another of having a “racist God,” or when one calls another’s religion a “fake story,” they demonstrate the “angry, adversarial and provocative speech” that fosters only divisiveness and violence. The original message and intent of the Occupy Wall Street movement is lost in the “angry tenor of speech” dominating the comments section as people reply to each other’s comments with “simple people like simple slogans” or “lol dumb post.”
Here we see the author using McCosker and Johns’s article as if it is about the Occupy Wall Street page, which it is not, and as if it agrees with the author’s assessment of the primary evidence. This secondary source is misused to support what the author wants it to say about the subject. Also, the citations are short snippets used without context. Exactly what are McCosker and Johns referring to when they describe “aggressive antagonistic behaviour?” Exactly what are they referring to when they discuss “angry, adversarial and provocative speech?” And what is the context of each of the harsh phrases the author has lifted from the comments page? If you review McCosker and Johns’s article, you’ll see there are several times here where the author has clipped a citation to make it serve the desired argument. McCosker and Johns’ point is a little more qualified when describing the “volatile debates erupting online.” They write of the “dense and volatile debates erupting online,” implying a more nuanced reading of online discussions than simply pointing at their potential for danger. The author needs to decide how to read the primary evidence then determine if McCosker and Johns’ argument as it exists in their essay can support that reading.