Russian influence in 2016 US election a social media facilitated democratic and social war

Foreign interference in a country’s election is a serious matter. A US Senate Intelligence Committee report details Russian efforts to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election using social media.

NY Times: Russian 2016 Influence Operation Targeted African-Americans on Social Media

The Russian influence campaign on social media in the 2016 election made an extraordinary effort to target African-Americans, used an array of tactics to try to suppress turnout among Democratic voters and unleashed a blizzard of activity on Instagram that rivaled or exceeded its posts on Facebook, according to a report produced for the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The report adds new details to the portrait that has emerged over the last two years of the energy and imagination of the Russian effort to sway American opinion and divide the country, which the authors said continues to this day.

“Active and ongoing interference operations remain on several platforms,” says the report, produced by New Knowledge, a cybersecurity company based in Austin, Texas, along with researchers at Columbia University and Canfield Research LLC. One continuing Russian campaign, for instance, seeks to influence opinion on Syria by promoting Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president and a Russian ally in the brutal conflict there.

The New Knowledge report, which was obtained by The New York Times in advance of its scheduled release on Monday, is one of two commissioned by the Senate committee on a bipartisan basis. They are based largely on data about the Russian operations provided to the Senate by Facebook, Twitter and the other companies whose platforms were used.

The second report was written by the Computational Propaganda Project at Oxford University along with Graphika, a company that specializes in analyzing social media. The Washington Post first reported on the Oxford report on Sunday.

The Russian influence campaign in 2016 was run by a St. Petersburg company called the Internet Research Agency, owned by a businessman, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, who is a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. Mr. Prigozhin and a dozen of the company’s employees were indicted last February as part of the investigation of Russian interference by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel.

So it would seem that Mueller has been doing some important and successful investigations.

Both reports stress that the Internet Research Agency created social media accounts under fake names on virtually every available platform. A major goal was to support Donald Trump, first against his Republican rivals in the presidential race, then in the general election, and as president since his inauguration.

This wasn’t an anti-Democrat pro-Republican campaign of interference in the election, but also a pro-trump anti-Republican opponent campaign. So it started with interference in democratic selection processes of the Republican Party, and once that was successful it became an anti-Hillary Clinton and Anti-Democrat campaign.

US democracy was already in a poor state, dominated by monied interests, but it has now been trashed further by a foreign government.

And because some people got the election outcome the wanted they make excuses and ignore the serious nature of this interference.

The Russian campaign was the subject of Senate hearings last year and has been widely scrutinized by academic experts. The new reports largely confirm earlier findings: that the campaign was designed to attack Hillary Clinton, boost Mr. Trump and exacerbate existing divisions in American society.

The interference aims also included trying to divide and trash US society.

Questions still need to be answered about why Trump was aided in the candidate selection process and the presidential election. There are claims and indications that the Trump side saw financial and power rewards.

Did the Russians see a potential puppet whose strings they could pull to get US policies that favoured Russia? Or did they see an opportunity to diminish the power of the US by dividing their society? Possibly both.

The threats of nuclear war and the standoff of the Cold War are now history. Russia versus the United States has become a social media facilitated democratic and social war.

But Trump is president and that’s all that matters, the end justifies the means?

The problem with this is that the end is nigh, not done and dusted.

Impact of social media on mental health of young people

This is from The Economist on showing the effect of various social media platforms on young British people.

According to a survey in 2017 by the Royal Society for Public Health, Britons aged 14-24 believe that Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter have detrimental effects on their wellbeing. On average, they reported that these social networks gave them extra scope for self-expression and community-building. But they also said that the platforms exacerbated anxiety and depression, deprived them of sleep, exposed them to bullying and created worries about their body image and “FOMO” (“fear of missing out”). Academic studies have found that these problems tend to be particularly severe among frequent users.

From How heavy use of social media is linked to mental illness

Social media on election day

From Reddit: Anyone seen anything from the Electoral Commission about what to do with social media on polling day?

The High Court made a ruling last year that might mean the guidance the Electoral Commission has previously given regarding social media use during the election period and on polling day is no longer accurate. Has anyone seen any updated advice on this?

I can’t see a High Court decision from 2016 that seem address this. Perhaps related but on a different matter is THE ELECTORAL COMMISSION v WATSON & ANOR [2016] NZCA 512 [20 October 2016] but that looks at what constitutes an election advertisement (it related to the ‘Planet Key’ song).

Is anyone aware of anything else?

In 2014, the Electoral Commission put out guidance saying that if you posted something online before election day, and you’re not doing anything to make it reappear on polling day, you’re not going to be considered to be electioneering on polling day. For anyone not aware, it’s illegal under the Electoral Act to electioneer on polling day, with the exception of wearing a rosette.

Anyway following the 2014 Election, Winston Peters made complaints to the Electoral Commission about certain content online that he considered to be in breach of the Electoral Act. The Commission decided not to refer the content to the Police as they did not consider it had been published on polling day, as per the guidance I mentioned before. Winston Peters undertook a judicial review of that decision, and last year the High Court held that the decision of the Commission was based on an incorrect interpretation of the law.

I’m guessing the guidance will therefore be, if you’ve discussed the election on social media, you should deactivate your account before midnight on polling day until the polls close, but I’ve not seen anything to that end by the Commission. Have I missed that, or is this actually something the Electoral Commission hasn’t covered?

The Electoral Commission has two advisories on the use of social media on election day.

USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA

Social media on election day

There are additional restrictions on election day.  On election day (from midnight on 22 September until 7pm on 23 September) there is a general prohibition of the publication of any statement that is likely to influence which candidate or party a person should, or should not, vote for.

Election advertising does not have to be removed from social media so long as:

  • the material was published before election day
  • the material is only made available to people who voluntarily access it, and
  • no advertisements promoting the page or site are published on election day.

If you use social media, do not post messages on election day that could breach these rules.  The Commission recommends candidates and parties temporarily deactivate their Facebook campaign pages to avoid the risk of supporters committing an offence by posting on your page.  For other forms of social media where others can post comments the Commission recommends that where possible security settings are changed so that other people cannot post messages before 7pm on election day.

Posts on social media that are not connected in any way with the election can of course be posted on election day.

Last updated: 09 May 2017

And:

ELECTORAL COMMISSION AND SOCIAL MEDIA

Prior to Election Day

Prior to election day, there are a number of requirements that apply to election and referendum advertising.  These rules apply to election advertising in all media.
However there is a specific exemption in the legislation for any publication on the Internet, or other electronic medium, of personal political views by an individual who does not make or receive a payment in respect of the publication of those views.
Individuals expressing personal political views on their own site or through social media sites are covered by this exemption.

On Election Day

There are different rules that apply on election day.  For example, it is an offence, at any time on election day before the close of the poll at 7pm, to publish any statement intended or likely to influence any elector as to the candidate or party or referendum option for whom the elector should or should not vote.

These rules reflect the long-standing feature of New Zealand electoral law that voters should be free from interference and influence on election day.  They are the reason, for example, that all election billboards have to be removed before polling day.

These rules apply to statements published or broadcast in all media including social media.  The Electoral Act specifically addresses the application of these rules to websites.

Election material does not have to be removed from a website on polling day, so long as the material on the site is only made available to people who voluntarily access it.  New material must not be posted and advertisements promoting the website must not be published on polling day.

The Electoral Commission’s advice to people using social media is not to post messages on election day that could breach these rules. The prohibition of advertising on polling day enjoys strong public support, and significant breaches are likely to generate complaints.

The Electoral Commission’s role

The Electoral Commission does not proactively monitor all the circumstances and mediums in which breaches of the electoral law might occur.  However, where the Electoral Commission becomes aware of a breach through the media or receives a complaint the Commission will look into the incident and where appropriate refer to the matter to the Police.

During election year, the Commission does carry out standard media monitoring, both mainstream and online, to ensure accuracy of information and to correct misunderstandings where possible.

27 May 2017

I will put reminders on Your NZ about what can and what can’t be said on election day in order to comply with the law.

With an increasing amount of early voting this law seems a bit out of date. Early votes can be influenced by what is posted on social media, but not election day votes.

 

Social media and Martin Luther

Colin James looks at the connections between social media, Martin Luther and a secular Easter

…six months from now will come the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s famous, and fabled, nailing of “theses” to a church door which sparked a revolution – via the still newish medium of printing.

Luther’s door-notice proposed a seminar on the church’s sale of “indulgences” which, for a price, allegedly got people more quickly into heaven through purgatory, where one purged one’s earthly sins. Luther, citing Augustine of Hippo, reckoned the decision on where one went after death and how quickly was for God alone.

This was a wrathful God, angry at humans’ disobedience, but also a merciful God, redeeming chosen repentants through Jesus Christ. The church had interposed as intermediary and the cash fed the clergy better.

At the time upstart communities of friars such as the Dominicans and Franciscans had church bigwigs fearing they might lose control. They turned on Luther and demanded obedience.

As often in such circumstances, as some autocrats learn the hard way, this was a counterproductive overreaction.

A counter productive reaction is now referred to as ‘the Streisand effect – “an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet.”

A stubborn sort, Luther instead expanded his inquiry into the clergy’s other ungodly activities.

Working with an artist friend and writing in straightforward language, he published short pamphlets with jazzy front pages questioning aspects of doctrine.

These quickly caught on. They were bought and read, then read out to others – an early sort of social media.

The result was fast popular ferment. In today’s parlance, we might say Luther went viral.

And some of this resulted in the opposite to what Luther campaigned for.

Ironically, Luther’s version of Christianity and its derivatives led many to doctrines as narrow as, or narrower than, what he protested against.

The way people behave hasn’t changed much, it’s just the means of behaving that has advanced. Because of simple and instant mass communication things can happen faster but are often very fragmented and short lived.

A few pockets of resistance and despair still lament and flail against ‘neo-liberalism’ but the many don’t care, they have moved on to their own bubbles in social media.

Over the three decades since the radical economic deregulation of the 1980s, policy that originated from intellectual analysis of economic imbalances has increasingly come to resemble doctrine, especially, as indicated here last week, in monetary policy.

It is a doctrine from which a few benefit handsomely, the middle gets by and a large swathe of people are trapped in indigence. Think ultra-low interest rates and high house prices and rents, for example.

Interest rates used to be low before ‘neo-liberalism’, until Muldoon’s money manipulations went mad.

A modern Luther might nail “theses” to a Facebook page or blog or tweet demanding an end to an arrangement that privileges a few and offends public decency.

The difference now is there are ‘theses’ being nailed to Facebook every day. It’s difficult for anything to be seen outside small bubbles, unless they happen to get a viral lift – but that is more likely to be inane claptrap, the Nek Minit phenomenon.

And if, as 500 years ago, this modern Luther were to apply ingenious design, clear messages and new technology to spread a message fast and wide, the doctrine might suddenly be overturned – a 21st-century Reformation.

Something similar was touched on in Jesus Christ Superstar:

If you’d come today
You could have reached the whole nation
Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication

That seems very unlikely, unless the message was delivered via a nude selfie. I’m sure there will be modern wannabee Jesuses and Luthers nailing theses all over the Internet. But the market has changed, as has the competition.

Politics seems to be well down the popularity charts but James suggests that if it were to happen it could then take one of two courses.

One is what is going on in rich northern democracies, a descent into populism or populist-distorted policies defensively adopted by established parties.

The other is a rethink from first principles by cooler minds responding sensibly to 2010s conditions that are very different in many ways from the 1980s – a rethink that leads not to schisms and conflict but a constructive 2020s future.

The second is much harder to do, as Europe found 500 years back.

And it seems a remote possibility – what are the chances of our politicians working together on “a rethink from first principles by cooler minds responding sensibly”?

Not in election year.

Not in the year after the election, when the new Government will be intent on delivering on it’s campaign promises and bribes.

Not…

Luther’s Ninety-five Theses or Disputation on the Power of Indulgences

Labour clampdown on social media

Labour’s party secretary Andrew Kirton has accidentally sent a text to media asking candidates to clean up their social media presence.

More in Labour Party candidates told to clean up their social media profiles

The Party’s general secretary Andrew Kirton issued the directive in a text he also accidentally sent to reporters today.

… Kirton said there is nothing unusual about sending such a text – but he will make an effort to direct messages to the right contacts in future.

“The advice to our candidates is normal practice and part of running a disciplined campaign that focuses on issues New Zealanders care about,” Kirton said.

The advice to candidates doesn’t surprise me, although the accidental mis-sending could be a bit embarrassing if it was accidental.

What does surprise me though is the method and timing. I think that advice like this should be a prominent part of the application to stand process. Most if not all Labour candidates are already selected and some at least pushing for social media and traditonal media coverage and profile

“We are the reporters…this camera in my hand”

An interesting article about the new power of social media in politics that features Patrick Gower.

“It was social media wot won it”

Trump bypassed mainstream media and won and there’s no coming back

By Peter Bale, President of the Global Editors Network

Donald Trump’s insurgent victory upends the media business and journalism as much as it does politics.

We were already worried about what Silicon Valley types call “disintermediation” — the destruction of traditional media networks and models by new technology — but he has shown that break is far deeper and dangerous than anyone realized.

At least half the American population chose not to listen to what the media was telling them: no matter how factual, passionate or full of the warnings of history.

It wasn’t a failure to get the message out. It was that the audience didn’t want to hear it.

The man was the message and the message was the man.

And this is illustrated with a story about Patrick Gower.

For me the determination of the audience to ignore the medias powerfully illustrated in a bizarre confrontation between a group of Trump supporters at a rally and a New Zealand television journalist who tried to interview them.

Paddy Gower, the unassuming and pleasant host of the Newshub show tries gamely to ask a couple of Trumpists what they think only to get this shouted reply: “I’m not talking to the Clinton media, you guys are sellouts. You’re part of the lying media.”

I’m not sure that everyone in New Zealand sees Gower as “unassuming and pleasant”.

Paddy vainly explains he is from New Zealand.“What’s Zealand?” one guy replies.

In the background, a Trumpist with a “The Deplorables” T-shirt on to mock Hillary Clinton’s unwise attack on those who hitched themselves to Trump, videos the whole incident on his iPhone declaring: “Social media is the future, the mainstream media is going downhill. You guys are like the newspapers of the 1980s. It’s almost over for you. We are the reporters…this camera in my hand.”

That is the reality of the failure this election.

What we don’t know is whether the social media revolution, something that has been predicted for years, will work the same in New Zealand.

Facebook is a dominant medium for sure here. And that presumably has the same flaws in feeding people news and false information that they want to hear – confirmation bias.

But we will have to wait until next year’s election to see how much effect this will have here.

Facebook is under increasing pressure to limit the use of ‘fake news’ as a deliberate campaign tool.

And as far as I’m aware New Zealand doesn’t have anything like the fake news sites that have become a major thing in the US. No doubt some will try, but New Zealand is a much smaller place and dirt and lie propagators may find it harder to gain traction.

The most prominent New Zealand website dabbling with Breitbart style bull and bluster to try mangle the message had it’s fins clipped in our 2014 election campaign thanks to Nicky Hager and his ‘Dirty Politics’ book.

That failed to swing the election, but it significantly diminished the influence of Whale Oil, and that will struggle to recover.

There was some dabbling in social media in this year’s local body elections, but the only candidate to get any traction, Chlöe Swarbrick, benefited when she was picked up and promoted by main stream media as a novelty in an otherwise boring Auckland mayoral election.

The current by-election in Mt Roskill seems to be attracting little public attention. It’s possible Facebook is flaming away but the main contenders there seem fairly old school with the back of traditional old parties.

And ordinary New Zealanders seem to be far less passionate about politics than Americans. Politicians are far more likely to be ignored than adored.

A political force may emerge in social media next year but it’s yet to be seen.

Hide right and wrong about left wing social media

In his latest column Rodney Hide writes about an ailing left that lacks puff and policy, and also blasts the political left on social media.

He is right that the left can be appalling in social media, but he is wrong that it is only the left.

Herald: Left lacks puff and policy

The left now suffer from closed minds and moral smugness. They are moribund and backward-looking.

They run from ideas. Opposing philosophies distress them.

They pillory dissenters as stupid or immoral and often both. There’s no debating or explaining, just abuse for those who step outside received wisdom.

The left have taken to social media with gusto. It only takes 140 characters to abuse and attack.

They fill Twitter and blogs with their righteousness and smugness, puffed up by their own perceived moral and intellectual superiority.

There’s no allowance that a person with a differing view might offer an opportunity to learn and to strengthen your ideas and perhaps, just perhaps, to change them.

That’s never allowed as a possibility.

Their minds are closed and they gasp and take offence at any idea or opinion different to their own.

Indeed, ganging up against dissenters on social media is what binds them. Their attacks on others proves to them their correctness and superiority.

The left are puzzled about why they’re politically marginalised but never trouble themselves to listen to those who have turned away from them. They look down on them and despise them.

The left view their political failure as the fault of voters who must be hoodwinked, stupid, selfish, or suffering some other ethical or intellectual shortcoming. Why else would they not be supporting the left when they are so good and true?

The problem is never with the left or their doctrine.

They are a self-reinforcing sect who in their wretchedness and anger are becoming ever smaller. Their narrow and insular outlook prevents them reaching out. Little wonder it’s not attractive to new recruits.

Labour is the narrow party that has shut itself off from the great bulk of New Zealanders.

I’ve seen a lot of all of this on Twitter, Facebook and on left wing blogs. And also on right wing blogs.

But I think that Hide is right, this is a real problem for Labour in particular.

Even Andrew Little has turned bitterly on ex Labour supporters, dissing them calling them right wing for having the gall to criticise Labour or stand against an anointed Labour candidate.

And there is no sign that this burning off of potential support is going to be dampened.

If the left want to attract more support they need to look more attractive.

UPDATE: I have also quoted what Rodney has said at The Standard and they are already  proving his point. That’s both funny and quite sad.

UPDATE 2: Greg Presland has had a crack back in a post – Dear Herald you can do better than Rodney Hide

Greg questions some of Hide’s claims, like the left is moribun and backward looking – only some of the left fits that description, and so does some of the right – and “National is now the vibrant party looking to the future and open to diverse views” is certainly questionable.

But Greg ignores the toxic nature of left wing social media, which is often on show at The Standard.

Crap on social media “fucking disgusts me”

@FrancesCook posted this on Twitter yesterday:

I didn’t know Jo Cox. But I have some thoughts on her awful, tragic death.

There is quite a bit – far too much – of disgusting, disgraceful personal attacks in social media. Mass attacks are common.

Confronting this sort of gutless behaviour is not without it’s risks, as I’ve found out. People have gone as far as attempting legal action, trying to shut down this website and threatening me with jail – someone said they wanted me jailed for 3 months ‘by Christmas’ (last year).

But that doesn’t mean confronting abusive and threatening behaviour shouldn’t be attempted. It’s critical that it is done, double. Bullies typically react badly to being ridiculed but that’s one of the best and most deserving approaches.

Because if more people don’t step up and speak up about online anger and provocation then it’s just a matter of time before some nutter sees things said online as encouragement and justification for doing very bad things. As we have seen in the US and UK this week.

Political debate should be, must be vigorous. Passion is and should remain a part of it. There are serious issues at stake.

But there are lines that should be obvious to anyone involved in politics that should not be crossed.

Partly for basic human decency.

Partly so as not to provoke and reinforce less controlled people.

And partly because talking up intolerance and evil and violence are counter-productive to sensible and effective politics.

Democracy 101 is to attract support and attract votes. Arsehole behaviour does the opposite.

Crap on social media is too often disgusting. And ironically it is often perpetrated by people who somehow believe that a million people disillusioned with politics (or never illusioned) will suddenly like their crap behaviour and start to vote their way.

Violent language wins few arguments and less respect and votes.

Some politicians and many political activists set very poor examples of acceptable behaviour, but the rest of us should rise above this, confront the crap and show that there are better and more decent ways of debating.

Social media reducing teen pregnancies?

Suggestions have been made that large falls in teenage pregnancy rates, that have coincided with a surge in online activity, may have in part been affected by the use of social media.

The Herald reports in Fall in teen pregnancy linked with time on net that the teenage pregnancy rate has dropped markedly since 2007, the year attributed as being the start of the social media surge.

  • 2007: 4955 teen pregnancies
  • 2015: 2865 teen pregnancies

…and “a large majority of those were to 18- and 19-year-olds”.

It will be hard to determine why there has been such a large reduction.

Some researchers have credited the stark drop to better access to contraception, better sex education and better parenting.

They are all likely to have played a part.

Others, however, have suggested social media may have played a part.

A leading paediatrics expert, University of Auckland Associate Professor Simon Denny, said it was possible social media had contributed to a reduction in “risk behaviours” including teenagers having unprotected sex.

“What we have seen is this reduction and at the same time we have had this explosion in social media,” Dr Denny said.

“There are some suggestions that young people are spending more time inside rather than going outside and engaging in risk behaviours but there is no hard evidence on this at this point.

“The context is that it is not just [risky sexual behaviour] that is reducing, it is all of the … risk behaviours that you have to engage in outside of the home.”

Another factor that may or may not be related is another big reduction – teenage alcohol consumption.

The stark reduction in teenagers using alcohol could be another factor behind the decrease in pregnancies because alcohol encouraged other risk behaviours such as unprotected sex, Dr Denny said.

It’s very likely that a reduction in alcohol consumption has played a significant role in safer sex.

It’s possible that increased use of social media has contributed to both safer sex and safer drinking – so social media may have had both a direct and an indirect effect.

“The interesting thing is that this is a global phenomenon. Everywhere you look, Australia, Ireland, the UK – all the equivalent OECD countries are seeing the same drop in youth risk behaviours.”

Britain’s Telegraph newspaper…reported teenage pregnancies in England and Wales had dropped by 46 per cent since 2007 and were now at the lowest level since records began almost 50 years ago.

Some interesting comparisons:

Rates of teenage pregnancy in New Zealand (18.7 per 1000 population) is far lower than the United States (24.2) and United Kingdom (23.3), but higher than Australia (13).

There’s quite big differences. But all seem to be dropping.

Mainstream media’s use of social media

The increasing use of social media material in mainstream media stories raises important questions about what is fair and reasonable.

It’s common to see mainstream media stories that have been constructed from a few tweets or Facebook comments. This is another step towards deskchair journalism, where stories are written without going out and about.

‘Churnalism’ has been criticised for some time. It is described in Wikipedia as…

…a form of journalism in which press releases, wire stories and other forms of pre-packaged material are used to create articles in newspapers and other news media in order to meet increasing pressures of time and cost without undertaking further research or checking.

Pressures of time and costs have increased even more with the prevalence of social media, and the need of commercial media to attract online revenue. This has resulted in an increase in stories known as click bait – barely news but attractive to the whims of the masses browsing online.

Jess McAllen describes herself as an ex-churnalist. She is now a freelance journalist who has had some very good stories published at The Wireless recently on mental health issues.

Yesterday The Spinoff posted an article by her on the use of social media by mainstream media – If it’s public is it fair game? Why we as media need to change the way we report on social media.

She gives a number of examples of highly questionable use of social media sources cherry picked without having any contact with the people being quoted.

Journalism schools should teach classes in social media journalism. How to: find a source by stalking their cousin’s sister’s dog on Facebook, bashfully call a D-list NZ celebrity about their latest social media gaffe, choose which “reaction tweets” to embed in a story, deal with the subsequent abuse from the public for covering such inane stories.

In my first year-and-a-bit of journalism 60% of my time was spent on stories sourced from and largely created out of social media posts. I can now vet any potential Tinder date with deeply uncomfortable ease. I managed to track down a waiter flirting with my friend the other weekend with just his first name and place of work.

It disgusts me. Old habits die hard.

In the past year as social media habits increase we have also been treated to a menagerie of social media stories – some funny, some harmful to reputations, some way too intrusive.

Remember when New Zealand media reported, even showed photos, of a Christchurch couple having sex at their office? There were huge debates in newsrooms about this, with one side arguing it was in the public arena and the other crying for common decency – jobs and marriages were at stake.

This was voyeurism journalism at it’s worst with no consideration of the effect that the massive media ogling would have on the subjects of exposure and ridicule.

People commenting on Facebook memorial pages are often unaware that reporters are keeping an eye on them, looking for comments to put in stories, and get a huge shock when, in a time of excruciating pain, their full name is propelled onto a national platform. It’s common for stories to be solely written off a social media post (time efficient! Easy clicks!). It’s an art, just read my terrible attempt at trying to flesh out a story based on an old Natalia Kills video.

Twitter and Facebook are public spaces. And conversations you have in public spaces are by nature public. You want privacy? Email, text, phone. It seems fair. But apply this to the offline world and things crumble quickly. Don’t want me butting in on your conversation at McDonalds? Should have gone to your bedroom. Don’t want me rifling through your rubbish bag – filled with prescription bottles, condoms, notes? Maybe you shouldn’t have put it in a public street.

The boundary between private and public is blurry. It always has been. We do private stuff in public and while, legally, technically, we can violate the privacy of those moments – grieving, an intimate conversation, having a breakdown – mostly we don’t. Because it’s universally understood as hugely rude.

While Facebook offers privacy options, they are so complicated that many users don’t realise their page is public. Most don’t ever anticipate that something they post would be of any interest to a journalist in the first place.

Ethical guidelines from pre-social-media-times say journalists should show compassion for those who may be adversely affected by news coverage, using particular sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects (people not usually in the public eye).

McAllen asks some very important questions. I hope every journalist – and particularly editors – reads it all and seriously ponders her points. It’s given me good reason to consider some of what I do.

The link again: If it’s public is it fair game? Why we as media need to change the way we report on social media.

She concludes…

Privacy and courtesy aside, the main problem lies within constraints of modern newsrooms not having enough time for the required stories to be pushed out so they can stay afloat: it’s lazy journalism – but not because the journalists are necessarily lazy, it’s more symptomatic of where our media landscape is at the moment.

…and offers some suggestions:

In the absence of any identifiable guidelines in New Zealand on this complex issue, I’ve written a few questions that it would be cool if journalists – including myself – remember to ask before reporting social media stories:

  1. Was this shared to a close group, a personal profile or in a conversation?
  2. Did you contact the source about including the information in the story?
  3. Is the author a public figure? How public? How will this affect them?
  4. Is the harm that could come to the individual if the information is made public justified by the public benefit of the information?
  5. Why are you sharing this? Is it for clicks and clicks alone?
  6. What alternatives do you have for getting this information?
  7. What are the consequences of sharing this information? Will the person suffer because of what you have done? Are they likely to be stalked or harassed? Could they lose a job? Is this information their parents might not even be aware of yet?

These questions should be considered by more than just journalists. Bloggers and many others, for example in Facebook and Twitter, republish or circulate small audience material to wider audiences, sometimes much wider audiences.