The Leveson inquiry into press standards couldn’t be credible if it didn’t begin to look into the implications of social networks upon the press and privacy landscape.
With the talk of ‘phone hacking’ being blown out of all proportion (and let’s be honest, it’s not really hacking is it?), online communication tools really have to come into focus – online is the future of the medium and considering it now, rather than later, could help avoid adding to the current ‘mess of the press’.
Lord Justice Leveson himself said that he wants a “level playing field” between print and online press. With the online world now having so much of an influence into the distribution of stories, news and opinions (many stories in the papers these days are just lifted from online conversations or posts), it is clear online needs to fall under any proposed press regulation.
However Leveson has also admitted that he sees Facebook and Twitter as being distinctly different – “pub chatter” between friends. But is this really the case? And does leaving these networks out of any regulation undermine the whole process?
chatting to friends…
Facebook is primarily a tool for connecting friends, however connecting friends doesn’t make Facebook much money. So it’s become just as much about connecting people with businesses; with business profiles, company pages, a plethora of ads and posts visible to the world.
For many companies and even press outlets their Facebook presence is as important as their website. Can these official postings from companies or ‘verified’ personalities be casually dismissed as banter? When viewed in this light, can this chatter be independent of regulation?
Generally Twitter posts and status updates are available and published for the entire world to see. This is the equivalent of blaring your pub chatter through a megaphone, or daubing the walls with your so-called inane chat as a permanent memorial to your musings. Is it really that different to posting your thoughts or ‘news’ on a blog? No, it’s not. It’s called micro-blogging for a reason.
And with the recent examples of the breaking of superinjunctions through Twitter can you seriously exclude it from considerations without losing credibility? Even if we acknowledge some sort of distinction between the social networks and news/blog sites, is it not pointless if the news can migrate between them with impunity?
The web is multinational, with every principality and state even seemingly represented. If news can move between social networks and blogs to avoid regulation, it can also be moved to places beyond the control of the British government, Press Commission and the spineless Press Complaints Commission.
Cutting the exposure through search engines is one option. However Google are not keen to restrict information and become what Daphne Keller, legal director of Google, describes as “The lowest common denominator of lawful speech”. Should the search engines be responsible for this anyway? The argument is that they are simply linking to content: they are not responsible for it.
Leveson faces a hugely difficult task when it comes to controlling the press and news online. With social networks allowing individuals to build huge followings, break news and potentially reveal fatuous secrets that damage personal lives, press regulation is becoming less about keeping an eye on the big publishers and more about becoming an all-seeing eye to protect the rights of those in the reports.
With so many outlets and so many considerations, is it possible to control and regulate? It’s potentially only possible to keep tags on the big press outlets, however that would amount to unfair regulation of only certain representatives of the press. Is there a logical and implementable solution?
Leveson could be on a hiding to nothing in the grubby world of celebrity titbits and political revelations. As Samuel Butler once said:
No mistake is more common and more fatuous than appealing to logic in cases which are beyond her jurisdiction