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.


Laurel Papworth is self-obsessed…

26 05 2008

… says the Australian media. Laurel’s got a funny post up about journalists who don’t get blogs, wikis and all these new-fangled channels. Evan Maloney, who blogs (irony?) for from Poland, has put up a post mocking Laurel’s chosen business title, social networking strategist.

Maloney must be one of the few in Poland without enough plumbing talent to go elsewhere. He certainly doesn’t have any writing talent. To wit:

“I think the PC term for milkman would be dairy product distribution technician…”

The hilarious creation of PC job titles should have gone out with, I don’t know, Wham! While I’m at it, could we also bin: “Last time I checked…”

Maloney will probably never read this — he’d have to find someone else’s blog first — but, if he were to, he would no doubt think I was supporting Laurel because we’re all terribly PC in the blogosphere or because she’s a friend of mine. If you do read this, Evan, it’s not because I don’t have sense of humour, it’s because you don’t. If it were funny, we’d all be laughing.