legal labyrinths online

This post is about an example of how legislation and privacy are being dealt with in Australia. I’m talking about Fairfax journalist Ben Grubb and his arrest after posting this article online. He was covering AusCERT, a tech convention in Queensland where a security expert demonstrated how he could access photos with high security settings on Facebook. In front of an audience, Christian Heinrich showed how quickly and easily he could find the photos of the wife of Chris Gatford (another security expert, apparently the two are not friends).

Grubb was arrested, not for reporting on the event, but because he got Heinrich to send him the photos after the demonstration – according to Queensland police, this was accepting stolen goods, just like a stolen car. He reported on his experience here, talking about how scared he was. Wouldn’t we all be scared? Police let him go, and eventually gave him his iPad back too. They said that they were still learning how to react in the online world to security issues of this nature. This also ties into the Brocial Network that I have also blogged about.

This incident brings up many issues and questions.

-What is private and what is not? Will anything ever be private?

-The people making and enforcing legislation online don’t always understand what they are doing and are often falling behind the times.

-Anyone who publishes or re-publishes something needs to be ready for the legal implications.

This is a quick wrap up of the Australian laws pertaining to this issue:

Facebook’s Privacy Policy states that users can use the copy and paste functions to capture any information from Facebook. The men in the Brocial Network group may have infringed the privacy rights of the women whose photos they had appropriated, but the property was not unlawfully obtained. Presently, there is no right to privacy at common law or under legislation in Australia.

Companies like Facebook are subject to the Commonwealth Privacy Act 1988 which governs the use, disclosure, collection and storage of personal data of Australian residents by companies. The Privacy Act does not, however, apply to individuals, and there is also an exemption for the media (though there is a set of Privacy Standards which have been developed by the Australian Press Council which its member media organisations are committed to observe).

It comes from this article by Veronica Scott and Kate Ballis.

Blogs or elite media?

Week 4.

Russell (et al.) compares elite media and institutions with bloggers and ponders the following question: “Do bloggers, with their editorial independence, collaborative structure and merit-based popularity more effectively inform the public?” (Reader, page 136). Do you agree? Use examples to illustrate your point of view.

Informing the public is the main tenet of journalism. Without a public to inform, and without publishing important information, there is no point in following up a story or putting pen to paper, or typing anything. In the past, we relied solely on elite media institutions to report what was going on in the world, in our country and in our city. Murdoch, Packer and Fairfax were powerful names in Australian media with almost unwavering control over the industry. These names are still undeniably powerful. Murdoch owned media reaches 75% of the world’s population. They’re influence and power, however, is also a shadow of what it once was. The arrival of web 2.0 technologies and an increasingly networked public culture has resulted in a downfall in the power of traditional media monoliths.

The arrivals of bloggers and avenues for independent media have challenged the authority of the media elite – something that was essential to the trust audiences placed in them, and their profits. It is unlikely that blogs will overtake elite media institutions as the main provider of news but they do serve an important function, and in some cases inform the public more effectively than elite media institutions. This is especially clear when the issues being reported infringe on the media organizations other commercial interests.

Russell et al argue that “people are actively resisting the content and practices of mainstream news” (2008:66) and ask “do bloggers, with their editorial independence, collaborative structure, and merit-based popularity more effectively inform the public?” (2008:67). I believe that in general, blogs, especially news and political blogs, which I will focus on, serve an auxiliary function to the main media institutions. Most successful political commentary blogs have positioned themselves in this way because their authors understand that politically informed people who take the time to seek out and read their blogs have already got the basic facts and overview from mainstream media.

There are some cases, however, where independent bloggers are vital to informing the public. These are in situations where it is against the mainstream media’s economic interest to report on an issue and the bloggers take up a cause. Of course, in countries where the media is censored, the ability of blogs to communicate the truth is absolutely paramount. Recent protests and deaths of civilians in Syria at the hands of the state military are not being broadcast by state media, but bloggers are keeping people inside and outside Syria informed.

Locally, the issues not being reported are not issues of life and death but they are in the public interest. In the past 2 years, buying and selling of shares in media companies has been an issue of contention. Lachlan Murdoch and Gina Rinehart significantly invested in Channel 10 last year, meaning that they had significant control over the corporation. This was reported on in mainstream media, but analysed fully in blogs such as Crikey. Crikey is a collection of blogs and news articles that acts as a watchdog for much of the media.  They can analyse media ownership in a way that elite media cannot, due to the ways in which most media owners have their fingers in multiple pies, or that seemingly different news sources are all pieces of one pie.

Crikey also reported last year that The Age’s circulation figures were artificially bolstered by school and university bulk subscriptions. Although the papers are sent out and paid for (some for only $1 for the year like MUSU offered this year) many are left unread. This may seem like an innocuous bit of news, but for advertisers who pay big money to get in those pages, and people who are interested in the fate of the media industry in general, this is important.

More recently, Crikey has reported on industrial action and stop work meetings happening at Fairfax about the proposed outsourcing of sub-editors. Fairfax wont report on the people they are sacking, so Margaret Simons (a freelance journalist) has here, and this website is also keeping people up to date.

Elite media need a watchdog, just as they too are a watchdog. Blogging is not the perfect way to keep the public informed, as mostly it is a ‘seek and find’ medium. Blogs are often more editorialized, by nature, but those interests are usually personal and declared, unlike in the mainstream media. The elite media and anti-institution media both serve a purpose, but bloggers and independent online media is becoming more important in effectively informing the public.

References.

Russell, Adrienne et al. (2008) ‘Culture: Media Convergence and Networked Culture’, in Kazys Varnelis (ed.) Networked Publics (pp. 43-76), Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

I have an opinion, therefore I blog.

Week 7.

Lovink argues that “No matter how much talk there is of community and mobs, the fact remains that blogs are primarily a tool to manage the self.” Discuss.

I have to admit that I don’t read many amateur blogs – I read my friends’ travel blogs, or one or two literary blogs that I get linked to on Twitter, but overall I get sick of the irrelevant, ignorant, and inane that makes up the content of a lot of blogs out there. Geert Lovink’s assertion that “blogs are primarily a tool to manage the self,” (28) is exhibited in most amateur and professional blogs. Blogs are a way of publishing our daily diaries and blog cultures have made millions think that not only are their daily doings important, but that other people not only care, but they need to know all the details. The “wider culture that fabricates celebrity on every possible level,” (Lovink, 28) is displayed in the blogs of Perez Hilton and Tavi Gevinson who blog about celebrities and fashion respectively. Both have garnered huge followings and become a kind of meta-celebrity. Gevinson is really known just as Tavi and within 18 months of starting her blog she had designed her own t-shirt with some American designers!

Mia Freedman’s professional blog MamaMia highlights both the culture of celebrity and the culture of the self in the blogging world. Freedman moved online after a career in magazine publishing and has created a brand which now includes a book and television show. Freedman writes about her experiences as a mother and her opinions on news and current affairs. Lovink disputes David Weinburger’s argument that “Blogs are not even primarily a form of individual expression. They are better understood as conversations,” but the element of conversation is vital to the success of Freedman’ s site. Interactivity is a major part of the site, with hundreds of comments and comments on comments sharing experiences, opinions and advice. The blog basically brings the Mother’s Group online (this is not meant to be a derogative statement I think the site is pretty cool). Some of the more dedicated followers have their own blogs and use the comments to advertise themselves in a way, they have also become guest bloggers. Freedman and her staff often link to other blogs that write on similar themes (usually not professional ones) .

The challenge for bloggers, according to Lovink, is “how to overcome meaninglessness without falling back into centralised meaning structures,” (30). Some bloggers are are quite happy to post 20 photos of their cats each day without pondering a greater meaning but professionals and semi-professionals do have to grapple with the question of  how much of a difference they can make by blogging and how insightful they really are. The value of a blog is in the influence it has on its readership and on the greater industry or area of interest. The three blogs mentioned here are highly influential and have created celebrity images for themselves. Although they do manage the self in a big way they do create conversations within the blogs and comments but also influence the conversations and issues in the wider media world.

References:

Geert Lovink (2008) ‘Blogging, The Nihilist Impulse’, in Zero Comments: Blogging and Critical Internet Culture (pp. 1-38), London: Routledge.

Journalism and Facebook

 

This links to the page about how Facebook helps Journalists which is interesting because it shows how collaborative practices can work in a practical sense. I find that ethically, this page may have issues for many writers. The idea of ownership and exclusivity is ultra important in the journalism industry which is massively competitive.  Open Source sites like IndyMedia and bloggers-as-journalists would like this but I can’t see this working for the average News Ltd paper. This idea is good but works against some of the most ingrained principles of old style journalism. Axel Bruns believes that a product produced by a large group of unqualified individuals can be better than something by a small group of professionals but in some cases we need the professionals!