Category Archives: social media

Causing offence on social media – the best overview yet

Susanna Rustin has written one of the best overviews I’ve yet seen of the growing number of legal cases involving individuals being put in jail for being ‘offensive’ - vital reading if you’re interested in media freedom and media law, given the obvious implications for journalism.

The key law here is the Communications Act 2003, specifically Section 127, which I’ve written about previously in 7 laws journalists now need to know.

Rustin summarises a number of cases where individuals have been prosecuted and jailed under the Act, and focuses in particular on two recent cases relating to social media updates posted following the stabbing of a school teacher.

“The cases of [Jack] Newsome and [Robert] Riley are different. They did not target or menace individuals, and lawyers and human rights campaigners have this week raised concerns about their being jailed for causing offence.”

Former director of public prosecutions Keir Starmer, provides some useful legal context and raises his own concerns around how “too many prosecutions for these kinds of offences can have the effect of chilling free speech”:

“There always used to be a protected space, so you could say things in private you could not say in public. With social media there is no protected space, and that’s what there needs to be a debate about. The notions around place and reaction just don’t work with social media. You could have a situation where two people in their living room make remarks to each other for which they would never be arrested, but if they make these remarks by email, they could be, as the legislation covers any public electronic communication system.”

Read the article in full here.

How hashtags made puns acceptable in SEO

For some time now basic SEO advice on puns has been simple: don’t do it*.

But the Huffington Post story below (brought to my attention by Christina Kenny) shows how hashtags can make puns SEO-friendly as well – as long as they’ve been adopted by a larger audience, not just coined by the headline writer.

That headline: #Poonami Flows Through Kennington, South London After Sewage Pipe Burst (PICTURES)

That headline actually has 7 keywords in total – it’s extremely heavily SEO’d for people searching for “sewage pipe burst” and “Kennington” or “South London”.

But it also recognises that many people will be searching for more on this story having seen the #poonami hashtag on Twitter. Continue reading

Launch of new survey on the legal experiences and views of journalists and online publishers

A new survey for journalists, bloggers and online publishers, which can be found at this link, aims to collect information about their experiences of and views on libel and privacy law

A system of arbitration is at the heart of Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations, and different versions are included in the the government’s draft Royal Charter and the industry’s own proposals [PDF].

The suggestion is that an arbitration service could deal with libel and privacy complaints that would otherwise go to court.

Last minute amendments to the Crime and Courts bill (now Act) would allow for bloggers to opt into the regulatory arbitration system and receive costs benefits.

Additionally and separately, recommendations have also been made for Mediation and Early Resolution in defamation disputes.

However, there is very little solid data about the nature and quantity of legal claims made against the media, including small bloggers. Because the majority of libel claims, for example, are believed to be resolved out of court, there is no complete record of disputes.

In short, little is known about bloggers’ and journalists’ actual legal experiences and opinions.

In an effort to build a better picture and to help inform the development of new alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, I am launching a survey as the final part of my doctoral project at the Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism (CLJJ), City University London.

This questionnaire is open to all types of journalists and online writers who expect their readership to be predominantly based in England and/or Wales.

Please take part and share your experiences and encourage your colleagues and friends to participate as well.

All data will be collected anonymously with no identification of organisations or individuals.

The questionnaire can be found here:

Many thanks for your help! If you have any questions you can email me: (judith.townend.1@city.ac.uk) or tweet  (@jtownend).

About the project

This survey is part of Judith Townend’s doctoral project at the Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism (CLJJ), City University London. The research project, which has been given ethical approval by the CLJJ, explores how journalists and online writers are affected by libel and privacy law, as well as other social and legal factors. It will draw attention to the issues faced by online writers and journalists, and help inform the development of resources in this area.

About this questionnaire

  • The questionnaire is open to all types of journalists and online writers who expect their readership to be predominantly based in England and/or Wales.
  • It should take between 10 and 30 minutes to complete, depending on your experiences and views. Some questions require an answer so you can be taken to the next relevant question.
  • All data will be collected anonymously with no identification of organisations or individuals.
  • The information you have submitted will included in a final report to be published in 2013/14, which may be used for future online and print publications.
  • Please contact Judith Townend with any questions, or to obtain the final results.

Contact details:

Judith Townend, c/o Peter Aggar, Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism, City University London, Northampton Square, London EC1V 0HB, Tel: +44 (0)20 7040 8167

E-mail: judith.townend.1@city.ac.uk

Gagging orders old and new

The Minister giveth, and the Minister taketh away. Last week health secretary Jeremy Hunt ‘banned‘ gagging clauses in NHS contracts – even though they’d already been banned in 1999.

A week later his equivalent in the Ministry of Justice Chris Grayling was issuing a rather less generous directive, gagging probation officers from making any comments “in criticism or designed to undermine the justice secretary’s policy or actions”.

And in the police force Operation Elveden ‘crossed a Rubicon‘ as it expanded its scope to include police officers who had leaked information without payment – in other words, speaking to a journalist. (Outside of the operation itself, officers who have spoken to journalists were reported to have found themselves subject to disciplinary investigation, and two suspended.)

Tomorrow I chair a panel on whistleblowing, social media and accountability at an event on reporting the new health system. The last year has seen a raft of guidance on using social media in the NHS, including documents from NHS Employers and from the Royal College of General Practitioners to name just two. These are welcome – but I am sceptical they will have any more impact than that 1999 law.

More broadly, I am concerned about the ability to have an open public debate when sources feel they cannot express any opinion that is ‘off-message’, and journalists cannot protect their sources.

Doubtless a lack of trust in journalists is a factor, but also the desire for control exercised by PR departments and spin doctors documented by Heather Brooke. I know of one NHS trust, for example, which emailed all employees banning them from commenting publicly on a hospital docusoap.

PR is one thing, but many public sector employees are feeling co-opted into a media management campaign they neither support nor believe to be in the best interests of public health, justice, safety, or service.

The NHS is just the most visible example of how public institutions can confuse their own interest with the public interest. Disciplinary policies can set this out particularly barely. This one from United Lincolnshire Hospitals gives examples of “gross misconduct” that include:

“using social networking sites or similar, where employees in their own time using personal computer equipment can be identified as NHS employees and make comments relating to the Trust or the wider NHS which bring the Trust into disrepute.”

You hear the same conflation of institutional interest with pubic interest in statements from the Ministry of Justice:

“If you associate yourself with London Probation Trust through the publication of details about your role as an employee, or Board member, you must not make or endorse any postings or tweet that may bring LPT, the secretary of state for justice or officials acting on his behalf into disrepute.”

Even retweeting such sentiments from others would, apparently, be taken as “incitement or approval” and lead to possible disciplinary action.

Defenders argue that “There are channels for people to express their views”. Presumably a quiet corner of a blacked-out room. The experiences of health workers and whistleblowers are not promising in this regard.

We are living through the first flushes of a new form of public life where the newfound ability to distribute information is tempered by the growing awareness that anything we say (or the connections we make even in private) may be used against us.

As institutions seek to control their employees’ social expression, journalists will have to work harder to establish trust, to protect sources, and establish private channels of communication. A 1999 West Wing episode saw it coming:

A guest post on dealing with whistleblowers written by a Staffordshire whistleblower is here on Help Me Investigate.

Interactive journalism for students – on air

Around this time last year I wrote on this blog about ‘Generation Audioboo’ and the opportunities for anyone entering the field of digital journalism.  A year on, there are more free tools, and more editorial choice. Google Hangouts are now ‘On Air’ for all, for example.

Students on the Interactive Journalism MA course at City University London have been setting up their own live events. Yesterday’s group ran a Google Hangout, themed around social media use for journalists. It was live on air; you can view it – and the class discussion below the video – here.

Rob Grant, a student on the course, led the discussion with to Sarah Marshall, technology editor at Journalism.co.ukAdam Tinworth, journalist and consultant (and a visiting lecturer at City) and Nick Petrie, social media and campaigns editor at The Times about journalism and social media in a Google+ Hangout. Continue reading

A lesson from Superstorm Sandy: How to find sources using social media

By Ian Silvera

In a world where an extraordinary amount of people own smartphones, it’s easier than ever to connect instantaneously with those affected by significant news events wherever you happen to be based. But what tools can help reporters find those affected?

Simple searches on Twitter or Facebook may present too many ‘junk leads’ to wade through. Tools like TweetDeck are better, but what if you were able to find social media users more quickly through geolocation? Surely that would be a much more efficient method?

There are numerous websites out there that offer this functionality.

Continue reading

Is Facebook Advertising charging more to ‘mugged profiles’?

Are Facebook quoting different prices for the same ad based on your profile? Guest contributor Desi Velikova thinks so. In a cross-post from her own blog, she writes how the same ad campaign would have cost her employer 8 times more depending on which user account it was purchased from.

Continue reading

FAQ: Social media and journalism: dehumanising?

As part of my semi-regular FAQ series, here are some answers to a series of questions posed by someone as part of their research.

To what extent do you believe social media has removed the barrier between journalists and the public?

Significantly. Journalists are trained to find regular sources of news – that mostly means formal organisations such as government bodies, unions, press officers, and a few community figures such as the local vicar, postmaster etc. Continue reading

Schofield’s list, the mob and a very modern moral panic

Someone, somewhere right now will be writing a thesis, dissertation or journal paper about the very modern moral panic playing out across the UK media.

What began as a story about allegations of sexual abuse by TV and radio celebrity Jimmy Savile turned into a story about that story being covered up, into how the abuse could take place (at the BBC too, in the 1970s, but also in hospitals and schools), then into wider allegations of a paedophile ring involving politicians.

Continue reading

Hurricane Sandy: how does the media serve the public interest?

This tweet from Daniel Bentley deserves a post all on its own:

 

While some news organisations take down paywalls and others help sort hoax images from the genuine article, what role should ‘common carriers’ like Instagram play? Any at all?