Monthly Archives: April 2011

Blocking content sites by ‘self-regulation’ – a recipe for easy censorship

At the start of this month I said that journalists were failing to “protect the public sphere”. Well, here’s just one example of this in action that we need to be watching.

Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, has confirmed to the Open Rights Group “that discussion are ongoing between rights-holders and Internet Service Providers about ‘self-regulatory’ site-blocking measures.”

For journalists any move in this direction should be particularly concerning, as it provides a non-legal avenue (i.e. without due process) for anyone to suppress information they don’t like.

The point is not blocking sites, but the ease with which it might be done. If distribution van drivers ‘self-regulated’ to stop delivering newspapers whenever anyone complained, publishers and journalists would have a problem. An avenue to appeal doesn’t solve it, because by then the editorial moment will likely have passed – not to mention the extra costs it incurs for content producers.

Here are some precedents from elsewhere:

If you want to write to your MP, you can do so here.

Communities of practice: teaching students to learn in networks

One of the problems in teaching online journalism is that what you teach today may be out of date by the time the student graduates.

This is not just a technological problem (current services stop running; new ones emerge that you haven’t taught; new versions of languages and software are released) but also a problem of medium: genres such as audio slideshows, mapping, mashups, infographics and liveblogging have yet to settle down into an established ‘formula’.

In short, I don’t believe it’s wise to simply ‘teach online journalism’. You have to combine basic principles as they are now with an understanding of how to continue to learn the medium as it develops.

This year I set MA Online Journalism students at Birmingham City University an assignment which attempts to do this.

It’s called ‘Communities of Practice’ (the brief is here). The results are in, and they are very encouraging. Here’s what emerged:

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The Charlie Sheen Twitter intern hoax – how it could be avoided

Jonny Campbell's Charlie Sheen internship hoax

Image from

Various parts of the media were hoaxed this week by Belfast student Jonny Campbell’s claim to have won a Twitter internship with Charlie Sheen. The hoax was well planned, and to be fair to the journalists, they did chase up documentation to confirm it. Where they made mistakes provides a good lesson in online verification.

Where did the journalist go wrong? They asked for the emails confirming the internship, but accepted a screengrab. This turned out to be photoshopped.

They then asked for further emails from earlier in the process, and he sent those (which were genuine) on.

They should have asked the source to forward the original email.

Of course, he could have faked that pretty easily as well (I’m not going to say how here), so you would need to check the IP address of the email against that of the company it was supposed to be from.

An IP address is basically the location of a computer (server). This may be owned by the ISP you are using, or the company which employs you and provides your computer and internet access.

This post explains how to find IP addresses in an email using email clients including Gmail, Yahoo! Mail and Outlook – and then how to track the IP address to a particular location.

This website will find out the IP address for a particular website – the IP address for is, for example. So you’re looking for a match (assuming the same server is used for mail). You could also check other emails from that company to other people, or ideally to yourself (Watch out for fake websites as well, of course).

And of course, finally, it’s always worth looking at the content the hoaxer has provided and clues that they may have left in it – as Jonny did (see image, left).

For more on verifying online information see Content, context and code: verifying information online, which I’ll continue to update with examples.