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.


More Australian iPhone apps, please

6 02 2009



OzWeather one but only 😦

My friend and erstwhile collaborator, Kate Carruthers, is organising a seminar  for companies thinking about developing an Australian iPhone app through her Silicon Federation. And it’s not a moment too soon. I can’t call it a disappointment because nothing disappoints me about my iPhone but I would like more Australian content. Within less than a day of iPhone ownership I’d downloaded Graham Dawson’s brilliant OzWeather app, which takes data from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. Then I stalled: there wasn’t any other great local stuff to install. And I’m still stalled!

Westpac has an app that helps customers find its ATMs but are ATMs really that hard to find? What about one that helps me with my banking, finances, expenses or something? Kraft in the US has managed to convince customers to buy an app that recommends Kraft products. This is a platform that could make you money, corporate Australia, as well as entertaining me.

Graham Dawson is going to be speaking at the seminar and Kate promises it is going to be practical information, giving marketing/technology types the information they need to get on with building something I’d like to have on my iPhone — who to speak to, what needs to be done, what’s hard, what’s easy, and how to be successful.

I wish I had a cool discount code to give you but I forgot to ask. I know there’s some super-duper-early-bird special on at the moment so book now.