Mariamz

Posts Tagged ‘legislation

Aside

Posted on: February 4, 2013

[I am just testing out the WordPress ‘aside’ format] – To say that whereas journalists have traditionally been paid by revenues which come through advertising (by their institution) – newer purveyors of news and opinion: bloggers, and other social media stars in their own right, can earn money from publishing on an individual basis. Personally organising their own advertising or sponsorship to appear on their blogs or other social channels. They hope or even expect to be paid in exchange for covering stories from brands, and why shouldn’t they? OFT rules on this are clear – it is prohibited to use editorial content to promote a product, where the trader has paid for the promotion, without making that clear in the content. Disclosure is key.

As an aside: individual publishers deserve paying too

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This appeared in a Daily Mail piece yesterday in relation to Sally Bercow’s latest mis-tweet. (Bercow – whose Twitter account has now been sucked down the memory hole – had identified an under-aged person in a tweet that a UK court order had banned from being named.)

I’d just like to focus in on the unnamed ‘legal experts’ here stating that using Twitter constitutes publication. In my view it is rather odd and irresponsible for Sally to have named the person in the way she did (and if this was knowingly done, is clearly in ‘contempt of court’). But overall, I maintain we need different rules for sharing and discussing on social media.

On social media, individuals should be treated as citizens, with special protections for their freedom of speech and right to share, until they write or speak with the authority of a collective, institutional platform.

First of all, because restrictions on public civic discourse are generally harmful and counter-productive, and secondly, because collective media institutions have a special legal status (and usually access to far superior legal counsel) which means they can be pursued by authorities (and wronged individuals like Lord McAlpine) as institutional collectives.

Without separate rules for individuals on social media, people will frequently foul of the law at great expense just for airing their views or unwittingly sharing problematic items they have come across in public environments or from bigger media. Or fall silent – and we surely don’t want that..

This is the read-write-edit web, and when we make mistakes, we are told. We are told by our followers, our fans, our enemies, by people we’ve never met, from all around the world. We can correct ourselves, and be easily and swiftly corrected online.

Lord McAlpine, there’s no need to sue so many of my fellow tweeters, we’re all over eachother’s mistakes, and we will lose so much more than we gain as a society if your action means we start pre-emptively restricting what is shared. It is unimaginable to be accused of something so terrible as you have been, and I can only sympathise with the unfortunate situation you find yourself in. But you and your lawyers should take into account Twitter’s unique properties as a peer to peer communications platform, and high value for our civic present and future, before threatening it, and quite specifically threatening the act of reacting to a television programme, discussing it, and sharing what has been said by others (a standard and highly popular way of using Twitter in the UK).

Previous moral panics and outrage about incorrect information being posted on the web have been countered by the fact that as quickly as false information is passed around the Internet, so too is it corrected. Quite famously, this has been used to demonstrate the value and accuracy of Wikipedia as an encyclopaedic resource. And stands in stark contrast to the slower method which has to be used in print media: printing a correction in a subsequent edition to apologize for any error.

Lord McAlpine, I’m afraid your case is one for all of us who care about UK civil liberties to watch as it risks being muddled by those who neither use Twitter or understand how it is used and / or are driven by ruling-elite-political posturing, quite specifically in relation to Sally Bercow – a tweeter whom it is no secret that your side (the Tories) of our political spectrum love to hate. It would be a travesty for us all if this adds up to fundamental curbs on the way Twitter is used in the UK – via legislation and self-censorship driven by fear.

Last week this small commentary that appeared in London’s Metro newspaper shocked me – declaring that internet service providers (presumably Robin Thompson means Twitter here(!!) not the people who run the pipes) should give right of reply (a journalistic pre-publication norm) before something is tweeted – in other words, we may as well pack up tweeting altogether as I’m sure Twitter would rather flip the UK switch off than become some sort of uber-real-time-editor-in-chief-on-steroids. 

In my view, (and, granted, this may be quite obvious to Twitter-natives, but let’s remember we are a statistical minority), we need different rules for social media, because social media is different. And indeed there are some in development at the moment for the UK.

We must beware of the traditional lobby which will straightjacket the democratisation of public political discourse online just as it is beginning if we are not very careful.

We must make the argument and fight for a legislative environment that facilitates a world where everyone can be informed and critically thinking citizens… citizens that make mistakes, of course, but mistakes that should be contrasted with those made by institutions, and mitigated by the fact we can quickly apologise, and put them right.

We must win the argument that it is a better media environment when we can have our eyes and ears and mouths open, and unprecedented capabilities to communicate with one another.

Sure, we should be responsible. But we should cater for errors in different ways when it comes to public, peer-to-peer discourse. A good rule is individuals should be treated as citizens, with special protections for their freedom of speech and right to share, until they write or speak with the authority of a collective, institutional platform.

Libel laws in the digital realm should be focused on policing institutions, or failing this, at the originator of offensive online materials, not on everyone who shares or discusses them.

Our rapidly evolving communications environment may distribute more widely the potential for error, but it also redistributes our chances to learn fast, to hear others, and to be corrected. We don’t need to be gagged Lord McAlpine, we all knew the story was wrong, really, really fast. So please end this revengeful race to the bottom, for all our sakes.

Image Credits: Censorship image by Tyler Menezes; Twitter illustration by Edwards McGowan

Bloggers and sites need revenue to survive… so sponsored content and links are a norm we have become used to. Most web users understand and appreciate its place to help support the content and engagement they love… they grasp that flexible online business models are integral to quality and innovation. But the key from a publisher’s perspective and any brand placing content – is disclosure. iVillage is currently doing this in a neat way on its home page – highlighting, and tactfully disclosing content on its site that provides a revenue stream via sponsorship:

For formal guidance on staying within the law when sponsoring content or bloggers online, follow the links below:

Today I’m going silent over social media in support of the SOPA blackout. My only activity will be adding links here on why proposed SOPA and PIPA legislation in the US is bad news for the open web. (Which should be trapped behind my WordPress blackout setting anyway – under Settings in your WordPress.com dashboard). See you on the other side.


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