All the fun of “citizen journalism” with none of the ethics and responsibility

19 02 2009


This type of arson is wrong, too.

This type of arson is wrong, too.

Popular social networking strategist and commentator Laurel Papworth was fairly well savaged on Sunrise this week by its hosts and David Galbally QC. I’ve a lot to say about the standard of debate on Sunrise but snideness aside: discussing controlling content on a network like Facebook requires at least an understanding of what Facebook is. David Galbally might be second only in eminence to his father as a criminal lawyer but it appeared that what he understands about Facebook could be etched on a small pair of handcuffs. 


Even the conversation was badly billed. Taking down Facebook posts about an alleged arsonist is not about the arsonist’s “online privacy”, it’s about his right to a fair trial.

The Silicon Federation blog has already taken Sunrise to task for asking the wrong questions. Asking the right questions would have been the start of a better discussion.

Online privacy

But was either side asking the right questions?

Laurel has subsequently posted:

“So calls to turn Facebook off in Victoria or to insist Facebook removes photots and videos and material relating to alleged suspects is [naive] at best. Irrespective [of] what the courts say.”

Respectfully (and I wouldn’t approach @SilkCharm any other way), that’s not the point either. 

The point remains an accused person’s right to a fair trial. She is absolutely right that it is ludicrous to expect Facebook even to be aware of every trial in every jurisdiction in the world with internet access. It boggles the mind to suggest that, once it had amassed this legal knowledge, Facebook could or should filter every post that might touch on a matter. I wonder if Galbally is envisaging an unimaginable number of human editors or an algorithm so sophisticated one’s mind would snap just thinking about it.

But it is not ludicrous to expect individuals in the appropriate jurisdiction to obey the law or face the consequences. Sites like Facebook link every activity to a user so it is possible to find and prosecute an individual, even if you couldn’t get Facebook to do anything about it. Sure, the long arm of the law won’t catch everyone, but a high profile contempt case for a ringleader on Facebook would send a message.

Of course there are sites that allow anonymity and the activity might move “underground”, as criminal activity often does; of course you can’t catch everyone; of course people posting outside Australia wouldn’t be breaking the law; but to admit defeat because you can’t prosecute everyone is like saying Coles might as well start selling booze, porn and drugs to kids because they’ll always be able to get their hands on them anyway. 

As a community — the word that trips most easily off the lips of all who talk Web 2.0 — we have decided on certain standards of justice. If we want something different, it should be we who decide it, not Facebook and its TOS (cf argument on the Silicon Federation blog). 

Laurel goes on to write about the 88,000 webpages referencing her:

“How many links will I have in another 3 years? A million? And what about the upcoming generation? Removing their baby photos, graduation videos whenever they end up in court? The photos their relatives and friends and strangers have taken? Even if YOU don’t use Facebook, someone in your social network does – betcha they have a birthday party photo with you in it.”

But who is asking that the arsonist’s baby photos be removed? No one. If the alleged arsonist had been written about in the newspapers for winning a gymkhana as a child or as chairman of last year’s fete committee, no one would be asking them to purge their archives. The request to Facebook, according to the Age, was aimed at “Facebook vigilantes” who published the alleged arsonist’s photo and address after the charges were laid and because they were “frustrated at a court order protecting him”. 

That is an altogether different beast than trying to erase information innocently published about this about this man before he became an accused arsonist. This was a court-ordered request to prevent a lynching and must be obeyed by us all, regardless of Facebook’s stance.

Liability here is at the very least on the individual and if individuals think Facebook will be the only target of lawyers, they’re in for the rudest shock.

This is the age of the citizen journalist and his and her new responsibilities.


BTW if you’re in any doubt that we’re all journalists now, see the row in the comments section of the Silicon Federation post on this, where one of Melissa Doyle’s assistants insists she is a journalist. If chatting about the events of the day is journalism, we’re certainly all journalists now online and off.


Hurricane-force communications

2 09 2008


A family evacuated to a shelter

A family evacuated to a shelter

A colleague pointed me to an article in IT News about the social media and networking sites used by New Orleans residents, aid groups and the media in preparation for the arrival of Hurricane Gustav.


They included:

If these tools can contribute to the organisation of a whole city in a time of mass crisis, what could they do for your business?

Are you too young to appreciate social media?

8 05 2008


Gen Y at work“That doesn’t happen to digital natives,” a Gen Y (how I’m coming to loathe that label) colleague smirked at me the other day. I’d been telling him how I’d got frustrated fumbling around with a new piece of software. One minute I could get it to do what I wanted; the next minute, I couldn’t even find that function I’d just used. I was trying to describe that fog that falls on you as you end up in a Kafkaeqsque struggle with some application you’ve not used before. Apparently that doesn’t happen to 23-year-olds.

It’s a saw that technology is moving faster. My grandmother had plenty of time to get to grips with “the wireless”, as she still calls it, before she had to master a television, and she had decades between TV and the VCR. In music I’ve moved from LP to tapes to CD, dabbled in the minidisc, and landed on the MP3. I remember Betamax; I had a pager before I had a mobile phone; and the first computer game I played came on a cassette tape.

The pace of change has made generation gaps smaller. My girlfriend, only six years younger than I, had a mobile phone at school. I didn’t have one till I was well into my first job after university. She’s quite happy with text contractions and abbreviations (“See u”) while I will go deep into the SMS menu to find a semi-colon.

The teenagers I used to work with laughed at me as a dinosaur when I mentioned LPs. I used to tell them it was one thing to laugh at me — a whopping 10-odd years older than they — but their younger brothers and sisters would be laughing at them.

My cocky young colleague got me thinking, though. Yes, I didn’t grow up with all the toys tools he did but that makes me appreciate them more.

Growing up English in Hong Kong in the late-70s and through much of the 80s meant international phone calls were a birthday treat. Letters took a week to arrive. Photographs were expensive to print, a pain to duplicate and were rarely sent.

My appreciation of the immediacy of today’s communication is something I feel every day. I’m grateful to be able to keep in touch with so many people so easily. Yes, I understand that looking at an old friend’s status message on Facebook isn’t as intimate or informative as a letter but I’m more in touch than I would be if we had to write to each other. I know who has children, who’s been on holiday and who’s celebrated a special occasion.

How many people would I know that about if I were still relying on finding time to write a letter? How many pictures of my new nephew in London would I have seen if my sister had to develop extra prints and post them to me? And how long would I have to wait for them?

To be a Gen X is to appreciate these things, my son.

My grandmother’s Facebook page: