Mariamz

Posts Tagged ‘news

Rob Manuel gave what seems to have been an impassioned defence of “the bottom half of the internet”, saying that “troll” had become the equivalent of “chav” — a word used to demonise and silence people who don’t have power. Rob’s argument appears to echo the joke of defining a “troll” as “the least famous of two people arguing on Twitter.” Rob seems to have equated the disdain felt for the “proles” by the upper echelons of society with the disdain felt for the “commentards” by the chattering columnist classes of the media.

Rob Manuel via Martin Belam

Since way before my first big project at openDemocracy.net I’ve been interested in the line. Separating ‘author’ and reader, broadcaster and receiver, powerful and powerlesser. In the physical world innovators are moving to challenge the authority / audience divide also, to “turn museums into social, participatory organisations – with all the challenges this entails.”

In online forums, we write for positive and negative response, for the conversation, for the pursuit of deeper understanding, for the feedback we get and the resulting whole. I love this line on Gransnet which sums it up neatly:

 it isn’t my thread. Once I’ve pressed the “post message” button, it belongs to everyone on gransnet

Bags

This sentiment is endlessly difficult to sell or even explain to those whose livelihoods have depended on the commodification of information, ideas and opinion. As the recent Leveson report has shown, the advent of the industrial press has led to cultural particularities both positive and negative, but ultimately a participatory attitude is hard to adopt, by people below and above the line(PDF), when equity is not appreciated or sought.

While there is any inbalance of financial and reputational consequences for what is written, the public conversation cannot be the best, most inclusive, most honest version of itself. But we can attempt to aid it in this direction, starting with:

  • Payment for both starting and continuing the conversation
  • Pseudonymity so that one participating individual’s reputational and legal liability does not outweigh the others
  • A standard for clear and attributable apologies / corrections for inaccuracies and mistakes by those on any side of any lines

Just quick props to Nieman Journalism’s new design feature (well new to me anyway) that quietens the right-hand nav as you scroll down to read. It’s all too easy to become tempted away, or just annoyingly destracted by what’s going on around your focus, to the left or right of a web article. Nieman deals with this neatly here – the right hand nav’s suggested links are faded out – becoming dark, with text coming into sharp focus, whenever the user hovers over. Nice detail, helps you stay on the article at hand, whilst allowing the site to keep their desired / suggested next steps on your visit just a nudge of the mouse / finger away.

Nieman Journalism Lab faded right navigation

Is it context? Is it content…..? What is communications royalty this week…? Or shall we dispense with three word hyperbole and give ourselves over to wanting, and the reality of needing to manage, it all?

In this case we will need structure, and structure which takes us beyond flat content calendars… toward integrated engagement across all of our earned, owned and paid channels. This can be captured in a calendar which orders our engagement themes and channels and enables us to plan (simply, visually) for balance in what we say and do, in line with our communications strategy.

The purpose of writing on blogs, community sites like Comment is free, and much of social media is to start or further a conversation – not to share a few writerly pearls of wisdom… Too much of the conversation about comment threads is about how writers – people paid to serve an audience – feel.

James Ball

A few weeks ago I saw Wael Ghonim at LSE speak about his new book Revolution 2.0. I found the talk most enjoyable – his authenticity and passion were a pleasure to listen to. The discussion afterwards was mainly on the political situation in Egypt – understandably given the session was run by the LSE’s Middle East centre (not the Media and Communications school where I recently studied).

But when I fortunate enough to have the chance to ask a question I dived in with a social media one… asking him about anonymity in relation to his administration of the Facebook page credited with being a catalyst for the Egyptian revolution… given the success he described with bringing people together would have been impossible if real names were used throughout the process (he had mentioned earlier that working with others on the “We are all Khaled Saeed” Facebook page .. they did not reveal their true identities to one another during several months of organising). I also cheekily asked that he comment on the Google+ policy on real names in relation to this vital civic question..

Wael did not answer at great length – he said he was not on Google+ (nothing if not apparently honest to a fault!?) and that anonymity on the Facebook platform did not matter so much to his activities, since whilst running a Facebook page no one can publicly see who the admin is. He also said he trusted that Facebook would not have done anything dangerous with his data… that they could have traced him via IP anyway (I will cover this in a later post).. and he trusted the platform would not have misused what it knew about him.

I was grateful for this answer – but to pick back up on it… I would argue our brief exchange leaves wide open a rich and urgent territory for consideration in relation to online participation, democracy and identity:

  • In a short-term ‘revolutionary’ situation – using a social platform hosted in one country to discuss issues, organise and challenge the state of another may well be highly possible (for now)
  • But anonymity / pseudonymity which enables citizens to develop understanding and contribute to political commentary (particularly over extended periods of time) without fear of judgement or consequence from peers, colleagues, employers and state powers is not being built into the major social platforms in popular use by the mainstream in western democracies (for example, when you comment on the wall of a Facebook page – your real name is publicly visible)
  • As Sanna Trygg, myself and many others have argued, online comments can contribute to healthy public debate in general and open our media up to a more diverse and democratic discourse
  • However any social platform which stores real identities with political commentary may be used as a ‘technology of power’ which enables users’ opinion and interest data to be used against them for state or commercial purposes
  • Furthermore, contrary to the attitude of much ‘big media’ towards lowly unidentifiable commenters, on average, it has been found that online participation using pseudonyms often results in higher quality participation than that conducted using ‘real names’

This indicates the need for urgent attention to ways in which identity can be handled differently, more sensitively, by all using, designing, hosting and regulating participation online. If anonymity / pseudonymity as an option is more valuable and indeed safer for individual safety and liberty in any online forum where critical civic dialogue takes place… the case must be made and won, the software adapted and norms altered… while they still can be.

Legislative bodies at both the national and EU level need to ensure… that press freedom is ‘mainstreamed’ across all initiatives so that advances in one field are not undermined by developments in another. A particular area of concern is the potential impact of anti-terrorism legislation at both the domestic and EU levels, which, if inappropriately applied, could give security services extensive access to journalists’ materials or contact details, thereby restricting their ability to obtain information or even putting reporters’ lives at risk.

Rachael Craufurd Smith and Yolande Stolte (PDF)


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