Tag Archives: comments

7 laws journalists now need to know – from database rights to hate speech

Law books image by Mr T in DC

Image by Mr T in DC

When you start publishing online you move from the well-thumbed areas of defamation and libel, contempt of court and privilege and privacy to a whole new world of laws and licences.

This is a place where laws you never knew existed can be applied to your work – while other ones can come in surprisingly useful. Here are the key ones:

Continue reading

When is an online comment defamatory?

Rob Minto looks at two recent cases that leave the field of libel online as confusing as ever.

For several years, newspapers, bloggers and other online publishers have been waiting for a landmark case to clarify defamation online.

The unanswered questions have been along the lines of: who’s responsible – the author or publisher (or even ISP)? What jurisdiction will it fall in? What kind of audience is required (if at all?)

In the UK, in quick succession, there have been two cases which have, if anything, muddied the waters. Continue reading

Serene Branson: The Sun changes its story – but not the URL

Serene Branson Grammys Stroke story 3am

It appears last week’s guidance from the PCC on correcting URLs as well as the contents of stories has not reached The Sun. Serene Branson’s on-air slurring was initially mocked by the tabloid with the headline “Grammy’s reporter goes gaga”. When it emerged that the presenter may have* suffered from a stroke the article was rewritten – but not the URL:

sun_SereneBranson_URL

The Daily Record, meanwhile, have changed their URL as well as the headline (or their content management system has done it for them). 3am haven’t changed anything (see image at top).

A further issue occurs here too: comments posted on the original Sun story remain, but now – under a now more sober report – these appear insensitive.

More recent commenters can be seen criticising these older comments, and without any notice on the article that it has been updated, those commenting under their real names could argue that their reputations are being damaged as a result.

Certainly there’s an ethical issue here: if you change a story so substantially that original comments now no longer apply, should you remove them?

Via Dave Lee, whose post ‘Serene Branson: The disturbing viral that shames us all‘ should also be read.

*UPDATE: The station website says she was examined by paramedics but not hospitalized. “Her vital signs were normal” and “she says that she is feeling fine this morning”.

‘UGC’ and journalism: the Giffords shooting and Facebook page moderation

SarahPalinFacebook

The Obama London blog has a post looking at the moderation of comments on Sarah Palin’s Facebook page (following the Giffords shooting) which raises a couple of key points for journalists dealing with user generated content.

Editorially selected, not UGC

The first point is that it can be easy to assume user generated content is an unadulterated reflection of one community’s point of view, but in many cases it is not. A political page like Palin’s is, in many ways, no different to any piece of campaigning literature, with quotes carefully selected to reflect well on the candidate.

Political blogs – where critical comments can also be removed, should be subject to the same scepticism (MP Nadine Dorries’ claim that 70% of her blog was fiction is a good example of blog-as-political-pamphlet).

Taking a virtual trip to a Facebook page, then, is not comparable to treading the streets – or even a particular politician’s campaign team – in search of ‘the feeling on the ground’.

Inaction can be newsworthy

The second point, however, is that this very moderation can generate stories itself.

The Obama London post notes that while even constructively critical comments were removed almost instantly, one comment was left to stand (shown in the image above). And it appeared to condone the killing of 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green:

“It’s ok. Christina Taylor Green was probably going to end up a left wing bleeding heart liberal anyway. Hey, as ‘they’ say, what would you do if you had the chance to kill Hitler as a kid? Exactly.”

Drawing on the campaign literature analogy again, you can see the newsworthiness of Palin staffers leaving this comment to stand (even when other commenters highlight its offensiveness).

Had Obama London been so inclined they could have led more strongly on something like: ‘Palin staff endorse comments condoning killing of 9-year-old’, or chased up a response from the team on why the comment was not removed.

But regardless of the nature of this individual example, you can see the broader point about comments on heavily moderated Facebook pages and blogs: they represent views that the politician’s camp is prepared to condemn or condone.

Comments

By the way, the extensive comment thread on that post is well worth exploring – it details how users can flag comments for moderation, removing them from their own view of the page but not that of others, as well as users’ experiences of being barred from Facebook groups for posting mildly critical comments.

Dylan Reeve in particular expresses my point more succinctly for moderators:

“The problem with the type of moderation policy that Sarah Palin (and others) utilise in places with user-contributed content is that they effectively appear to endorse any comments that do remain published.”

In the case of Facebook pages, admins are not named, but security lapses can lead to them being revealed and recorded, as is the case with Palin’s Facebook pages.

Oh, and on the more general thread of ‘analysis’ in the wake of the Giffords shooting, this post is well worth reading.

UPDATE: More discussion of the satirical nature of the comment on Reddit (thanks Mary Hamilton)

h/t Umair Haque

Why it pays to respond to your comments

This story was originally published at Poynter. Republished here for archiving purposes.

http://www.birminghampost.net/news/politics-news/2009/08/04/cost-of-new-birmingham-city-council-website-spirals-to-2-8m-65233-24307674/

Newspapers take a lot of flak when they or mis-attribute or fail to acknowledge the work of bloggers and members of the public in reporting a story, so it was refreshing to see my two local newspapers quickly respond to amend online reports following a number of corrective comments. But more interesting was to see how they reaped the benefits of that responsiveness. Continue reading

When the lack of comments damages your news brand

If you want to skip the background, go to the next subheading

Last week the BBC Education website published a piece about a report into the use of technology by schoolchildren: “Tech addiction ‘harms learning'”:

“Technology addiction among young people is having a disruptive effect on their learning, researchers have warned,” the intro led, before describing the results of the study. No one other than the study authors was quoted.

But GP and Clinial Lecturer AnneMarie Cunningham, hearing of the report on Twitter, felt the headline and content of the article didn’t match up: “The headline suggests a causal relationship which a cross-sectional study could not establish, but the body of the text doesn’t really support any relationship between addiction and learning”, she wrote, and she started digging:

“It … was clear that none of the authors had an education background. The 2 main authors, Nadia and Andrew Kakabadse, have a blog showcasing their many interests but education doesn’t feature amongst them. They descibe themselves as “experts in top team and board consulting, training and development”.”

AnneMarie bought the report for $24.99 – the only way to read it – and started reading. This is what she found: Continue reading

Do blogs make reporting restrictions pointless?

The leaked DNA test on 13-year-old alleged dad Alfie Patten has revealed a big problem with court-ordered reporting restrictions in the internet age. (NB This is a cut down version of a much longer original post on blogging and reporting restrictions that was featured on the Guardian).

Court orders forbidding publication of certain facts apply only to people or companies who have been sent them. But this means there is nothing to stop bloggers publishing material that mainstream news organisations would risk fines and prison for publishing.

Even if a blogger knows that there is an order, and so could be considered bound by it, an absurd catch 22 means they can’t found out the details of the order – and so they risk contempt of court and prison.

Despite the obvious problem the Ministry of Justice have told me they have no plans to address the issue. Continue reading

Could moderators collect potential leads from comments?

Guardian community moderator Todd Nash* makes an interesting suggestion on his blog about the difficulties journalists face in wading through comments on their stories:

“there is potential for news stories to come out of user activity on newspaper websites. Yet, as far as I know, it is not a particularly well-utlised area. Time is clearly an issue here. How many journalists have time to scroll through all of their comments to search for something that could well resemble a needle in a haystack? It was commented that, ironically, freelancers may make better use of this resource as their need for that next story is greater than their staff member counterparts.

“The moderation team at guardian.co.uk now has a Twitter feed @GuardianVoices which highlights good individual comments and interesting debate. Could they be used as a tool to collect potential leads? After all, moderators will already be reading the majority of content of the publication they work for. However, it would require a rather different mindset to look out for story leads compared to the more usual role of finding and removing offensive content.”

It’s an idea worth considering – although, as Todd himself concludes:

“Increased interactivity with users builds trust, which in turn produces a higher class of debate and, with it, more opportunities for follow-up articles. Perhaps it is now time for the journalists to take inspiration from their communities as well.”

That aside, could this work? Could moderators work to identify leads?

*Disclosure: he’s also a former student of mine

Removing Nofollow on blog links and meta – and invisible comments

A couple months ago I installed a plugin on the blog that meant search engines would index links in comments: by default WordPress uses ‘nofollow‘ on comments to stop spammers abusing them to boost search engine rankings, but that prevents genuine commenters getting credit for their contributions.

One problem: as one commenter pointed out, the blog as a whole was set to ‘noindex-nofollow’ “which equals a no trespasing sign for search engines for ALL of the site’s links. It’s Google suicide.” Continue reading