The McLeveson Group’s Stealth Attack on Social Media

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The Draft Press Standards (Scotland) Bill will no doubt be analysed and criticized for its call for the creation of a regulatory body to oversee the press in Scotland. I want to focus on a particular definition in this draft that is particularly troubling to anyone who cherishes the freedom of expression and values the use of social media for news retrieval and expression of opinion. Just for the record, I can’t find regulating social media in the Terms of Reference.

The effects could be disastrous for freedom of expression in Scotland. This draft bill goes right to the heart of social media and individual users publishing “micro-blogs” and “tweets”.

First some context from the briefing note –Defining “the press” in the age of social media.

“Of relevance to the Irish, Labour party and Hacked Off models are that some of the online press is clearly linked to print equivalent publications. The DCMS proposals however state that it is irrelevant if websites containing news-related material are or are not related to a newspaper or magazine.”

To be clear, this uses my quote from submissions written alongside Aamer Anwar highlighting to the Scottish Parliament Justice Committee in its examination of the role of social media in criminal trials that balance might not be achievable because of the nature of underlying technology regardless of the most impartial journalist’s intentions.

“a Journalist who in [is] in good faith tweeting both sides of a trial in a fair and impartial manner might have one tweet [retweeted] hundreds of times, but a tweet describing the cross examination might never get seen by anyone remotely interested in the case. In this manner, the technology is not meant to be fair and impartial, even though the journalist may be.”

This was on a specific point of using cameras and social media during live criminal trials. This quote is taken completely out of context and missed the point about protecting witnesses for retribution for testifying against a particularly menacing crime boss, accused rapist, or violent spouse. The entire submission was relating to criminal trials!

To prove my point, I refer you to a little experiment I did this week. I tweeted the following story and picture. It has been Rt’ed nearly 2000 times and favourited 560. The problem is it is completely false. The whole scene was fabricated and I knew it when I posted it.

Image

Here is the problem that this highlights:

Lets say I am what the McLeveson group labels social media users/bloggers as “relevant publishers”.

Clause 8 (1) (b):

8 Interpretation

(1) In this Act, “relevant publisher” means a person (other than a broadcaster) who

publishes in Scotland—

(a) a newspaper, magazine or periodical containing news-related material, or

(b) by electronic means (including a website), news-related material (whether or not related to a newspaper, magazine or periodical)

If blogs and tweets are regulated does that mean anyone referred to on a blog or tweet is a ‘person in the news’? I reject this purely on common decency and public policy grounds. How is it at all possible or acceptable to subject a blogger or tweeter to a regulator which has the power to impose a financial sanction based on ‘turnover’ (from Leveson recommendation 19) as a backstop following non-compliance with some other instruction? For example, an apology?

Furthermore, how does one identify a blogger’s ‘turnover’? Is the private blogger to be scrutinized for his personal income to determine his ability to pay a fine? This is completely incompatible even with Leveson’s proposals. It appears the McCluskey Group forgot the whole “necessary in a democratic society” and “proportionality” tests that must be satisfied before any restriction on freedom of expression to be ECHR compliant.

Finally – talk about drafting the turning to Clause 8 (2) (c):

“news-related material” means—

(a) news or information about current affairs,

(b) comment about matters relating to the news or current affairs,

(c) gossip about celebrities, other public figures or other persons in the news

What are the definitions of ‘celebrity’, ‘public figure’ and ‘person in the news’? Tom Hanks is a celebrity. But so is Alex Salmond. Are Gerry and Kate McCann? The effects of this are very problematic.

If blogs and tweets are regulated does that mean anyone referred to on a blog or tweet is a ‘person in the news’?

Lastly, there is already some disagreement about the effect of Clause 1(4). It seems to restrict challenges of the Scottish Ministers to judicial review. Currently as the law stands, the press (or anyone else affected) can challenge the validity of any act by (a) Scottish Minister(s) on the basis that it is incompatible with ECHR under s57(2) of the Scotland Act. Clause 1 would seem to me to run in parallel with, rather than add anything to, s57(2).

Finally, there’s Clause 7 which calls for Scottish Ministers to appoint members to the role of Recognition Commissioner/Regulatory Body. Of course, this would never lead to cronyism, could it?

The great irony here is that I am writing a blog criticizing a draft bill that is effectively criticizing the Draft Press Standards (Scotland) Bill and if passed; therefore, would be subject to regulation. What is I saw a celebrity out on the town being naughty and tweeted a picture of the act? Am I subject to the regulation? Looks like it.  My ‘turnover’ is zero. I am a PhD student. How would I defend myself? No doubt Mr Hanks is a celebrity, but he appears to be in a pub minding his own business and I just published a picture of him acting the fool with a fellow patron. Does that I have violated his privacy? What about the non-celebrity? Possibly. Why should I or anyone else be subject to the regulator’s whims here?

Want a sheet of fresh E.coli? There’s a printer for that

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Want a batch of fresh E.coli? There’s a printer for that. #3DPrinting A group of bio-hackers has built an affordable 3-D printer that can churn out sheets of bacteria to order. But that’ s just the beginning of a quest to print a leaf.

Gigaom

We know that 3-D printers can spit out products from jewelry to digital devices. Then we started hearing about technology that could print out human organs. The concept is proven but the technology remains too expensive for most mortals. Now, a group of hackers at Biocurious  has built a device that can print out cells. Its cost? About $150, according to this MIT Review report.

That means you too, if you so desire, can churn out a sheet of E.coli bacteria using a machine built of some custom-built parts and recycled  inkjet cartridges and CD-drive components. And, before you panic, remember only a few strains of E.coli are harmful.

The initial model works just in two dimensions, printing out sheets of fluorescent E. coli cells that read “I  heart BioCurious.” But, according to the story, project organizer Patrik D’haeseleer’s longer-term plan is:

“… to print plant cells and build…

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Social fourth-quarter 2012 analysis

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Social fourth-quarter 2012 analysis: Interest may be weakening in consumer social media businesses. But social technologies are working their way deeper into enterprise computing, and social media is playing a bigger role across advertising and marketing sector.

My Piece entitled “The Gun Control Gatekeepers” originally printed in thefirmmagazine.com

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On December 8, 2004 a guitarist for a heavy metal band called Pantera (amongst others) named Dimebag Darrell was shot on stage during a performance in Columbus, Ohio. A concertgoer videotaped the incident. A man ran across the stage and shot Dimebag multiple times in the head. A bouncer was also shot and killed. A police officer can be seen with a shotgun coming onto stage and killing the attacker, ending the ordeal. The murder seems to happen so fast and in spite of a police presence at the concert, makes a mockery of the NRA argument that the lack of armed guards and teachers allowed the Newtown, Connecticut shootings to happen. 

It seems routine now. I used to go drinking in a pub in Blacksburg, Virginia, the home of Virginia Tech and the scene of one of Americas most deadly campus shootings, where 33 people were gunned down in their classrooms. When one’s drinking hole appears in the background of footage of a University mass murder, it hits home, believe me. I’ll be honest and as damning as it sounds, nothing really surprises me about Newtown, Connecticut. I know that is shocking in its brutal honesty, but I have seen too many of these types of incidents. I am only shocked at the age of the victims, not the number. Columbine, Blacksburg, Newtown.

 

As of 2009, the United States had a population of 307 million people. Based on production data from firearm manufacturers, there are roughly 300 million firearms owned by civilians in the United States as of 2010. Of these, about 100 million are handguns. Having lived in the southern US for 15 years I can tell you unequivocally guns and, more importantly, the rights of gun ownership are a way of life. Here are two cases in point. One of my rather glamorous female friends recently posted a picture of herself on Facebook in a shooting stance while holding a Colt 45 handgun with the caption, “This is my stance on gun control”. Another friend posted a series of pictures of his young son firing a semi-automatic rifle at a target on a farm with his proud father and grandfather looking on. He is eight years old.

 

After the Newtown tragedy, everyone with a computer seemed to have an opinion on gun control and furthermore, published it or tweeted it. People started asking the same old questions – why and how can someone get access to 6000 rounds of ammunition? What will Congress do to toughen the gun laws? Even Piers Morgan used his CNN pulpit to demand changes in the gun laws. (He was rewarded with a White House petition with 70,000 signatures demanding his deportation back to the UK). President Obama promptly reacted, promising a new set of laws to ban assault weapons and to ensure people suffering mental health get tough restrictions on accessing guns. As we all know, mentally ill Newtown shooter Adam Lanza didn’t access guns illegally. He gained access to his mother’s weapons and killed her with them. He left the family home and went to the school where he murdered another 26 people before taking his own life. 

I read Alistair Bonnington’s piece in the Firm magazine. Mr Bonnington, former principal solicitor to BBC Scotland and former Honorary Professor of Law at Glasgow University, has unfortunately placed too little emphasis on understanding the legal position of the Justices of the Supreme Court placing too much faith in their ability to “rise above the self-interest of politicians”. The law of the land in America is clear. Gun ownership is a constitutional right. In the US, States and municipalities have tried and passed gun control laws. If there ever was a democratic need to pass sensible gun control, it was in Washington DC – the murder capital of the US. The DC council passed the Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975 which restricted residents from owning handguns, excluding those grandfathered in by registration prior to 1975 and those possessed by active and retired law enforcement officers. As stated by the local council committee that recommended its adoption, the major substantive goal of the District’s handgun restriction is “to reduce the potentiality for gun-related crimes and gun-related deaths from occurring within the District of Columbia.” DC Regulations also required that all firearms including rifles and shotguns be kept “unloaded and disassembled or bound by a trigger lock. Seems reasonable. 

A lawsuit challenging the Regulation Act was brought by six residents of Washington DC with vague connections to the effects of gun control. It was a manufactured lawsuit. It was dismissed by the District Court. Lawyers appealed and the ban was ruled unconstitutional by the Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court ruling, which can be read in its entirety here enlightens the reader as to how current Supreme Court Justices think. Justice Scalia, for example, states: 

“The Constitution was written to be understood by the voters; its words and phrases were used in their normal and ordinary as distinguished from technical meaning.” 

In other words, Justice Scalia doesn’t see any ability to construe the language of the Constitution vested in the Court. Scalia is an old-fashioned conservative Justice. Give the words their ordinary meaning, in their initial context. Yet Justice Scalia did exactly this in DC v Heller. He suggests the Second Amendment could be reinterpreted to sound better: 

“The Second Amendment is naturally divided into two parts: its prefatory clause and its operative clause. The former does not limit the latter grammatically, but rather announces a purpose. The Amendment could be rephrased, “Because a well-regulated Militia is necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” 

In DC v Heller, Justice Scalia wrote the majority opinion where the Supreme Court ruled that the District of Columbia’s Regulations Act was an unconstitutional banning, and struck down the portion of the regulations act that requires all firearms including rifles and shotguns be kept “unloaded and disassembled or bound by a trigger lock”. Furthermore, he dismissed the “well-regulated militia” argument in Justice Stevens’ dissenting opinion: 

“Justice Stevens is of course correct … that the right to assemble cannot be exercised alone, but it is still an individual right, and not one conditioned upon membership in some defined “assembly,” as he contends the right to bear arms is conditioned upon membership in a defined militia. And Justice Stevens is dead wrong to think that the right to petition is “primarily collective in nature.” 

I have sat uncharacteristically quiet in the aftermath of the Newtown Connecticut murders. I don’t publically express my arguments for tighter gun control or thoughts on these types of shootings anymore. I admit I am probably very jaded. When two 13 year old kids shot their own classmates in Jonesboro, Arkansas, I heard people screaming for tighter gun control measures. That was in 1998. There have been 37 mass shootings since then including Columbine and Fort Hood, where 13 members of the military where killed. Think about the NRA’s argument now. It really is silly, isn’t it?

Despite donating $22 Million to Congressional Members, (at the rate of 6-1 Republican donations to Democratic Party), it is not the NRA that is the biggest voting bloc in opposition to gun control; it is the US Supreme Court. If Americans want to have any meaningful change in that country’s gun laws, then they have to change the make-up of the Supreme Court. I just don’t see any other way. Single issue voting is infamously prevalent in the US. Look no further than the abortion debate. If you want to ensure a good portion of the electorate votes for you, you could run as Satan himself, but if you are pro-life, I would estimate 30-40% of the electorate in some districts will vote for you regardless of Hell being your domicile. If the right wing can make one’s position on abortion a litmus test of appointment to the US Supreme Court, then why can’t the moderate middle and left ensure candidates pass a gun control litmus test for appointment to the Supreme Court? 

Social media sites give people an outlet for their opinion, and there will no doubt be pressure on lawmakers to do something, anything to prevent another mass murder. Unfortunately, I fear the Newtown story will just fade away. Try and name a victim from Columbine. Name a victim from the Batman Theatre shooting in Aurora. The victims’ faces will disappear. There will be another crisis and another shooting. A law or two will pass Congress, but as long as Justice Scalia and other members of the Supreme Court continue to construe the Second Amendment in a manner that allows for these types of weapons with extra capacity clips to be “routinely” kept around the house for self-defence, expect no change to the gun laws.

Want meaningful gun control laws? Clear out the gate-keepers, America. Demand to know the position of any nominees to the highest court in the land. You do this on pro-life matters, and after all, what is more pro-life than sensible gun control?

Using Twitter for Curated Academic Content

Reblog: Using Twitter for Curated Academic Content: The job of the humanities academic has always been to absorb large amounts of content, evaluate it, synthesize it, and portray the results in a way that will be relevant and engaging to an audience (whether that audience be students, peers, or the wider society). In the information age, we have a vast array of new tools to not only help us sort through this content, but also to shape it and share it.

Allan Johnson

The job of the humanities academic has always been to absorb large amounts of content, evaluate it, synthesize it, and portray the results in a way that will be relevant and engaging to an audience (whether that audience be students, peers, or the wider society).  In the information age, we have a vast array of new tools to not only help us sort through this content, but also to shape it and share it.

I am a big fan of the ‘whole-person’ style of tweeting, with a mixture of general chatter (e.g. “it’s Thai for dinner!”) and valuable curated content (e.g. “great article at http://…”).  A mixture of about 30% chatter and 70% content is seen as a golden standard by those in the brand and digital media world, and seems to suit academic tweeting down to a T.  This blend of chatter and content situates the academic lifestyle in…

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