Private Publics

The person sat opposite is clearly in their own little world. The headphones are in whilst they tap furiously away at whichever screen is in front of them, and not once do they look up to see what’s going on around them. God only knows how they manage to get off at the right stop without looking. Oh wait, there’s probably an app for that. On closer inspection almost everyone on the train is in a similar self-styled, heads down screen bashing bubble. Come to think of it, you too are probably part of this craned neck cult.

Take an earphone out for a second and you might well be shocked at the relatively calm, quiet environment that you’ve found yourself in. You may come to the conclusion that a crowded commuter train full of people should probably make more noise than this. And you’d be right. Where has all the chatter gone?

Well one place that it’s certainly not quiet is in the world of the virtual sphere that many of the passengers have found themselves in. In there you can hardly hear yourself think. Looking around it may not be so obvious but look a little closer at what people are doing and you’ll begin to notice that the hustle and bustle that you’d expect to take place on such journeys is still going on, except now it’s silently (if you excuse the faint click, click, click of keyboards and tttss, tttss, tttss of the earphones around you) funneled into the virtual world.

According to Sherry Turkle’s new book we are ‘Alone Together’ in such spaces. The book provides concrete evidence to back up what we’ve all been thinking for some time: I.E. technology has a tendency to make us all anti-social beings in the real world. In many ways Turkle is profoundly correct which comes as no surprise considering she is one the leaders in the this field of research, but since reading the book I have come to think that we haven’t necessarily become completely anti-social in real world public spaces as a result of new technologies. Rather I would like to suggest that it depends on the type of public space, be it physical or virtual, which determines how sociable we are in such spaces.

Putting (my) attitudes towards the impact of technologies on social dispersion aside, I want to argue that of course we are still sociable in real life public spaces but instead of conversing verbally we now tend to converse virtually. It’s human nature to chat so obviously it’s not at though we now socialise less on the way home from work than we used to, far from it. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that we now converse with more people than ever with the aid of the Internet. We are just not socialising with those physically around us anymore. Instead we are now socialising with others in virtual spaces, mainly through social media unsurprisingly.

In effect we have become less sociable and more private in offline public spaces and (arguably) more sociable and public in online spaces. The ‘glass screen’ as some have named it, has left people feeling more comfortable expressing themselves online rather than offline hence why we’re more likely to publish a widely outrageous rant about our day via Twitter or Facebook than publish it verbally to those sitting around us. Anyone seen doing that today is likely to face a wall of bemused faces. You only have to look into the eyes of those around you as a someone tries to spark up an innocent conversation with the person sat opposite to realise that people have become uncomfortable with the publicness of strangers. And yet the irony is that they’ll probably get home and Tweet about it to a number of strangers in complete comfort. There is, however, most likely a cultural distinctiveness to this type of behaviour. From my own experience an American is far more comfortable talking to strangers than a Brit for example. For the purpose of this post however, I am mainly concentrating on the day-to-day life of a Londoner. In other words a social mute in the company of strangers.

This theory of a more private public is nothing particularly new. Many, once social, interactions have now become private solo activities. In most cases this can be accredited to technology. That wonderful thing we buy into with every new gadget is, without doubt, making us more ‘alone’ in  everyday social settings. For example if you’ve take a trip to the supermarket in the past five years, you’ll have noticed that the number of self-service checkout’s has increased significantly. If you haven’t, then maybe you’re ordering online which proves my point beautifully. Furthermore, many people have something in the form of in-ear entertainment for their daily commutes rendering themselves ‘out of this world’, and if you’re really tech-centric then you’re likely to have a big glossy screen to stare at. On the surface it may seem as if all this technology is making us more introverted, isolated beings. This however is not strictly true. On the contrary, in many cases we now just live our extroverted lives via the virtual spheres of social networks, sms and community forums.

The irony of Mark Zuckerbergs now infamous ‘the age of privacy is over’ comment is wonderfully apt for this argument as it only really applies to the virtual world which he so fully embraces. Take a look at the offline world as it’s quite apparent that we are inherently more private in public since the Internet explosion. The age of privacy maybe over in relation to the online world but it seems to have only just begun in the offline world. Moreover people seem to have taken to the notion of a more private public with ease. Some busy rail stations now have considerably more self-service ticket machines than they do staffed ticket booths. This says something about cost reduction and station efficiency but it’s also a clear reminder that people like to go about their business in a solitary manner.


Turkle argues that this way of socialising, virtually as opposed to face to face, is a negative effect of our increasing reliance on technology in day-to-day life. In many ways she is right. If we rely on technology for communication too much then we run the risk of becoming completely inept in real life social situations. The added time technology provides us with for presentation of the self has meant that we now have longer to decide how we want to come across to others, which is damaging when we come to face to face with other people as this type of interaction requires that we act on impulse. A Tweet for example can be carefully crafted over a five-minute period whereas it you left it five minutes before answering a question from someone in front of you, it is more than likely that you’ll have some trouble continuing that conversation.

One problem with this theory that I’m sure you’ve already noticed is that we rarely use the added time technology provides us with effectively to make any more of a considered outburst on social media than we would in the physical world. You only have to look at a daily newspaper to see how another idiot has done irreparable damage to his/her reputation by what they’ve posted on Twitter in the spur of the moment after a few pints.

Why is it that we have no trouble broadcasting our thoughts to others in an online  public space but if asked to do the same thing in an offline public space we would more than likely decline? It’s as though we want to be more social but seemingly only behind an online guise even if it’s clear that such as guise does little more to protect our identity than a clear bubble would in real world public spaces. Facebook already does its best to confirm the identity of its users and Twitter is not far behind. Will the lack of complete anonymity (which is inevitably on its way) on such sites alter the way we behave in the virtual public spaces of the future? I’m not sure but it does seem for the moment that we feel safe behind a ‘glass screen’ in a way which we do not sitting amongst strangers on a busy commuter train.

n.b. So far these ideas are just sketches. I acknowledge that there is an issue here with the definition of a public space but for the moment lets just assume that a public space is an ‘absolute’ space open to most, shared by a self and at least one stranger. Feel free to comment.

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Information Underpaid

How does this sound: ‘I’m still going to listen to what you have to say, I am after all your friend, but the person who thinks what they have to say is more important than what everyone else has got to say is going to have to pay Zuckerberg a premium of £1.25 for the privilege. Sound good? I didn’t think so. And I doubt a large proportion of Facebook users will agree either, and yet this is exactly what the social networking service are considering doing. The idea is being tested in New Zealand right now. The statement made on the Facebook home page clearly states that ‘It’s free and always will be’. With the company having recently floated on the stock market for a cool $100 billion, it will be interesting to see if this slogan remains visible. Whether or not the idea of a social networking sites making money out of social interactions is something that bothers you is one thing but it is true that we are reaching a point whereby people creating digital content are starting wonder when they’re going to receive a pay check.

How the companies using the Internet as their market place, particularly in the fields of news and social networking, plan to turn a profit is currently something of a hot topic, and a question which has so far gone unanswered. The general consensus appears to be that for the moment at least, answering this question with a clear response is impossible. The ‘Free’ benchmark which the Internet so generously provided us with in the early 90’s could be at risk of being over turned in the coming years as we continue to use the services which it provides more frequently. The question of whether certain online services should charge is a hugely complicated one. On the one hand, we have been conditioned to want free digital content so companies shouldn’t expect us to now pay for them. Using these guidelines they would surely run the risk of loosing valuable users to other non paying sites that will inevitably pop up to fill the market. On the other hand, at the rate we are going, we are at some point going to have to start paying for something online.

The problems begin with the physicality (or lack of) of the products and services that the Internet provides. Put simply, the information services on the Internet are not and will not ever manifest themselves into physical products to take home and put on the shelf. This simple fact, as many have argued, could become a massive road block for online innovation in the future. In many cases it appears that in order for us to value a product or service, we have to be able to hold it. From general observation I just don’t think we value information in the same way that we value physical products. Take a beautiful new hardback book for example. I’m fairly certain that everyone would value those pages more than the 0.5 megabytes of equivalent e-reader data. In other words, we value the vehicle of information rather than the actual information. This could be extended to almost all other types of media. Most would probably value a CD over an Mp3, a DVD over an .avi file or even a physical birthday card over an e-card. It has not always been like this, and it would not be fair to say that everyone has this attitude. Gamers for example, have been placing real value on virtual products for years now. Many games, particularly within the context of social media, require the user to invest real money to progress through the levels. Within this context users are placing real monetary value on information, but only because without investment the experience will come to a premature end. Could the same be possible with other forms of digital data? Probably not. Unless the information is unique, as it is in the form of a particular game, then users will go elsewhere and continue to hold the same degree of value on that information. This is one of the many reasons why only a select group of newspapers have opted for a paywall model with the rest dubious to do so.

Considering we now live in an information based economy isn’t it about time we did start to value information a little more? We need to get used to the fact that more ‘stuff’ is digital than touchable these days. People using their hands and brains are still making the ‘stuff’ but instead of it coming out of factories and stocked on a shop floors it is now being made in studios and stocked in a virtual spaces. Essentially the principles of production and distribution remain the same, only this time it’s virtual. There’s no other market out there that allows the consumer to get so much for nothing so why should it be so different with the online market? As I’ve mentioned, not all people value information this way. You just have to look at the games/online games sector to see how virtual markets are already being used online.

Created with freedom in mind, the Internet oozes the freedom to choose. This is wonderful and a significant factor in why we all love it so much. As it’s been said, information wants to be free and the Internet provides the space in which it can be. Within that space however are multiple other spaces which provide useful and meaningful services which surely need to be accredited for. Think of the Internet as a shopping district and the services that it provides as the shops within it. The district as an area is free to enter but the products in the shops cost money, and without the shops charging money, the area would fail to operate because know one wants to visit an expansive space filled with absolutely nothing bar empty buildings, a few benches, and a defunct water feature except maybe prospective graffiti artists. If we continue to opt out of pay for models of virtual consumption are we not at risk of loosing out in the future when no one is prepared to create anything because they know they’ll get nothing for it. Having said this, this week saw digital sales over take CD sales for the first time and recent analysis has shown that the online paywall model is working for some newspapers, which is evidence to suggest that we are beginning to move away from a free model to a payed-for model. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues.

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Jubilee Filler

Hundreds line the streets as thousands are stuck in traffic while the rest, presumably, are at home with no intention of leaving due to the poor weather forecast. Never fear though, up since 5am, prepped in the act of not babbling on and appropriately dressed as union jacks, the news crews are here to do what they do best; provide uninterrupted coverage of major events. The event in question is of course the Queens Diamond Jubilee, or a four day bank holiday as everyone else is calling it, and there’s certainly no shortage of news coverage to contend with. So far much of the coverage has involved reporters donning rain macs, continuously sweeping soaked hair across wet faces whilst doing their utmost to keep the show going amidst the audible swearing of teenagers and those ‘eager to please mum’ types always ambling for a chance to let their poor mum know how far they’ll go to embarrass themselves.

Anyone that says that the rain has done nothing to dampen spirits is either lying or sat watching it at home in a dry living room. Switching between the BBC and Sky coverage in an attempt to ‘capture the moment’ as they say, I’m struggling with who to award the best filler award to. Both channels have been doing an extraordinary job of filling the eight hour broadcast window with presenters in boats, lingering on jetties and hanging precariously over bridges. I imagine the mornings briefing went something along the lines of ‘Just do your best, yeah.’ Two of the padding highlights so far have been an on-shore Hugh Edwards talking with fellow presenter, now turned 1st mate, Jon Sopel across  a twenty foot expanse of Thames about the importance of synchronised row strokes, something which clearly neither  have a clue about judging by their rather awkward hand gestures. From this view they resemble two suitably camp royal fan boys with a rather poor skipping technique. The second highlight has got to be  Sky’s ‘on-boat’ reporter (because no flotilla would be complete without a nautical correspondent) reminding Boris Johnson that he once predicted the Jubilee pageant would be comparable to the battle of Dunkirk, ‘except more fun’. If that isn’t the kind of person you would want supposedly running the UK’s capital then tough luck, because believe it or not, he is.

Padding has got to be one of the hardest things to get right in the news business and on this particular weekend there is that extra royal pressure to contend with. Basically if its not scripted then good luck because as a reporter you are undoubtedly going to face a barrage of live technical blunders, relentless waves of upbeat tourists wondering why they are waving the union jack and in the case of this weekend, much of June’s average rainfall.

Straying away from the capitals celebrations, occasionally the coverage is taken to various other hot spots with a particular interest in all things royal. These reports have been my favourite so far and none more so than the, quite frankly, commendable effort of the BBC’s man in Edinburgh. He definitely drew the short straw. All of seven royal enthusiasts surround him angling for some air time while the rest of Scotland sticks their fingers up. Every check-up on the Scottish front has been met with an air of dread from the reporter and a sense of anticipation from the viewer as a growing number of anti-royalists assemble in the background brandishing bagpipes and Iron Bru. Further South back towards London and there are scenes of marques soon set for implosion, protecting trays of sausage rolls and vol au vents while a drenched reporter reenacts that most staple part of 90’s breakfast T.V., door knocking. Greeted by a whole family of blue, white and red faces the reporter in question is faced with the task of filling five whole minutes with all things Jubilee whilst trying overcome the urge of looking their evil dog in the eye before he gets his face chewed off. Anyone that says jobs in the media are easy may have to rethink.

Day two’s events, a concert outside the palace no less, and the best in live T.V. reporting is once again underway. Less drenched than yesterday, the dreary eyed and undoubtedly coffee induced  news ground troops do their best to hide their boredom and appear enthusiastic about the evenings events. With yesterdays soaking now only a distant memory, the ominous task of padding another load of links between performances of everyone’s favourite Cliff Richard and Robbie Williams is clear by the looks painted on the reporters faces. There may never be a better time for bad news is a thought I image they’re having.

At least they’ve relieved the Scotland correspondent from his duties, either that or he’s been kidnapped and held to ransom by Alex Salmon and a reluctant at first, but quite agreeable after some simple persuasion, Gordon Brown. Due to the nature of tonight’s events the channels have ditched their aspiring young talent, packed up the outside broadcast trucks and headed back to where the real action is happening (London, unsurprisingly). Enlisting the big guns of showbiz reporting; namely ex-news round presenters and minor celebrities, tonight’s coverage is aimed solely at showcasing the royal family looking as uncomfortable as possible as they peer once more at the common people before them. These stalwarts are doing their utmost to brush off the fact that Duke Phil is lying ill in the hospital a couple miles away by squeezing in painful interviews with the performers between quick updates to let us know that he is not going to die on the Queen’s big day.

Ten o’clock and both channels have managed to fit in one of their usual slick montage’s made up of footage you’re not sure actually happened. It’s what you expect; a collage of Britishness just with a little more colour. One things missing though. The padding. Where’s the padding that’s strung this whole weekends coverage together. Surely such great work should be applauded and suitably represented in the slick montage but no, instead of showcasing the excellent work, the channels neglect the one thing live T.V. reporters do best. Long live the Queen, more like long live the door knocking.

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An Unforgettable Future?

An event with friends or family is running smoothly. The chat is good, the event is good and most importantly, the drinks are good. Everyone is happy. That is until someone (seemingly innocent) slips silently away to their bag in the hunt for one particular piece of equipment that they feel will make this once enjoyable, but only briefly memorable scenario into a something a lot more memorable. Yes, they’ve got the camera out. The returning Magpie swoops down in front of the group and proceeds to create a minor ripple of epilepsy for everyone to enjoy as the flash of the camera becomes and instant source of annoyance for everyone bar the vainest amongst the crowd. Stunned into submission, the group automatically retracts into a bundle of people resembling a bouquet of human heads. Already it’s a pretty picture. As everyone collectively tries to reassemble their bemused faces into smiles whilst avoiding any major spillage of drinks, the photographer proceeds to snap, snap and snap until smiles start to waiver or the smell of cologne at such a close proximity becomes unbearable for the most homophobic members of the group. Everyone then gathers around the 4” screen of the camera to view the damage done. The familiar tune of post photographic bliss (‘Oooh, Ahh, Haha, No!, Ha, Delete it!’) then begins to swirl around the group until it’s time for the next David Bailey to act as perfect picture maker. Once ‘cheese’ has been ordered for the 5th time it’s becoming obvious that the group (which were once friends) are now having a slightly less than friendly experience in the close proximity of one another with the look of ‘is it time to go home yet?’ superimposed across their faces. Nevertheless, the show goes on until everyone is exhausted and slightly depressed by how much time they have spent trying to look like they’ve had a good time rather than actually getting on with the business of having a good time.

Once things are finally wrapped up and people gather their things, say their (hardly) reluctant goodbyes and head home for the evening, every one of them is safe in the knowledge that they have a piece of history stored on the SD cards in their bags. Even if they were not one of the lucky hundreds to have been granted with a photo opportunity for themselves that evening, they can be comforted in the fact that they will forever be able to access that history via Facebook. More importantly the history that they have in their bags will always be tarnished with a positive glow. Or will it?

Ten years later and it’s time to trawl through the 8 billion photographs, which the group have collected since. It must be raining outside because that’s quite a commitment to even to get started. Scrolling quickly past landscape upon landscape of the same holiday they all seem to go on every year, a point is reached whereby they are staring at a group of people, which by the looks of things they had a pretty good time with some ten years ago. Immediately the photo resonates with them. Instantly the memory created is a good one, a perfect one, an untarnished moment of pleasure that they are sure they had. They’ve bypassed all the negativity and wishing it was all over which was happening at the time and headed straight for the pleasure cortex of their brains. Somehow, the image has altered their memories in a way that only reflects positively.


Photographs, of people especially, have a tendency to blur actual events. Rarely do we look at a smiley photograph and think of the rubbish time we were having at the point of ‘cheese!’ rather are memories are tainted by what our faces say in the images. If we look like we were having a good time in a photo then our memories agree, even when at the time of the shoot all we could think about was getting away from the camera. It can work the other way too. Photos may make us appear unhappy when we were not, suspicious when we were just curious, thoughtful when we were daydreaming and, perhaps my favourite, extremely drunk when we were stone cold sober. Essentially, the photo and our memories are lying to us. This of course is not strictly a bad thing. After all wouldn’t you rather your memory painted a positive picture of events instead of the glum reality that was in fact what happened? Having said this, at a time when everyone has a camera in their pockets and the act of photographing is ubiquitous, it is somewhat of a concern that our future memories of this time may largely be constructed by the photographs that have been taken. Whether there is a risk that we will become too reliant on photos for memory is still anyone’s guess but one thing is for sure, we are using them more for memory recall.

Sometimes we choose to forget and sometimes we want to remember. It could be said that photos eliminate the former and enhance the latter. If we know we can access a memory by just looking at a picture then surely we are not using the relevant parts of our brains to revive the memory. The question of whether we are loosing the ability to remember correctly and instead relying on technology to do the work for us is a complicated one and one which has only recently begun to be addressed. Take an everyday use of the Internet for example, using Google to find out the answer to a bit of trivia. We know that all we have to do to find the answer is go to Google but does finding and reading the answer really manifest itself as memorable knowledge? Another example could be the increasing use of Sat Nav devices. Undeniably they are highly useful navigation tools but are they not dumbing down the navigation tool that is our memory? Sure, after a couple of times doing the same route you may not need the Sat Nav any longer but chances are that you may become reliant on the device rather than actually spending the time to learn the route. Could it be that technology is exaggerating our view of how much knowledge we think we are retaining?

Total recall is undoubtedly a hindrance in reality, as it doesn’t allow for the often-pleasurable experience of forgetting. Some have argued that the use of technology is bringing us closer to a state of total recall whereby nothing will be forgotten. This is inherently a bad thing. Imagine life without fresh starts and you’ll get the idea. Research has shown that technology, especially the Internet, is having a significant impact on our Transactive memory, which is ‘the capacity to remember who knows what.’ If we know information is available online, we’re inclined to remember where it can be found, rather than struggle to retain the facts. The same could be true with photos. All we have to do to remember an event now is look it up in a Facebook photo album. Whether this is positive or negative is again open for speculation, it may even be good and allow our brains to use the extra capacity for other useful purposes, we don’t know yet. Academics have argued that since the introduction of writing we have been learning to leave memories on the page so to speak rather than attempting to try and retain all the information we are given on a daily basis. Surely then, leaving memory in a photograph is an extension of this. Perhaps it is just the rate at which this is happening today that is of concern; maybe technology-aided memory is the future.

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The Very General Public

The Olympics, oh the Olympics. You would think we would have had enough of it by now, and to a certain degree you would be right, but no, it’s still yet to happen. Over 15 years of planning and less than a hundred days away now, you could be forgiven in thinking that the planning would be well thought out. And on the whole it is. The park is built, the infrastructure is in place (just), the athletes are deep in training (or they should be) and London is making the final preparations for its summer of fun (which could be loosely translated as terrorist attacks). But there’s one thing the Olympic committee have yet to factor in. Yes it’s that wonderful group of people that we like to call ‘The general public’.

The Olympics is a spectacle of human achievement in sport and organisation. Watching the Beijing games on T.V., this was easy to see. It practically ran from start to finish without a hiccup (or state intervention). Things will be different this time around though as many of us will be attending London’s attempt. Away from the T.V. you’ve got the general public to contend with. And we all know what they’re like. Get the general public involved in anything and they’ll ruin it. It’s a fact. Some prime examples include: The tube, Tesco’s and motorways. The tube without the general public is the greatest transport network on the planet, get the general public involved and what are you left with; an over populated decaying mess of a network strung together by a shortage of rickety carriages, frequent delays and the patience of perhaps the most commendable work force in London. Tesco without the general public is the world’s best shopping experience; everything you’ll ever need is under one roof. Get the general public under that roof however, and you’re asking for misery down every aisle. Motorways without the general public are golden stretches of road acting as clean arteries to get you from A to B. Involve the general public and you know what happens; miles upon miles of clogged up, spurting saloons all striving for a coronary bypass. The truth is, if you factor the public into anything then you are asking for trouble, and the worst thing is you can’t stop them. Rather annoyingly, they outnumber us 62,262,000 to 1. No matter how much work goes into planning, observing and analysing, they’ll always be there to put a spanner in the works somehow. With as many as 4 million extra members of the mass cult planning on joining the already bulging 8 million London residents for the Olympics this summer, planners should surely be thinking about just throwing in the towel now and heading for the nearest sandpit to bury their heads in.

Inevitably (we are British after all) something will go wrong during the games. Whether it be a leaky tap or a drunk mascot practicing the art of striptease, things are bound to go pear shaped at some point. And what about when things go wrong, what happens then? Well you’ll know the answer to that if you’ve ever been witness to an angry mob waving their pitchforks at a customer service desk. If there’s anything the general public loves more than being well, general in every sense of the word, then it’s coming together as one to complain. It’s perhaps the most grating feature of the general public; their ability to complain whenever they get the chance. Without the general public there would never be a complaint, customer service desks would be relegated to the basement and much of India’s workforce may find themselves down the job centre (no offense India). Sadly though, this utopia of living is too distant to consider because the fact is, the general public will find a complaint in anything, even a leaky tap round the back of the aquatic centre. To be honest they were probably up in arms before the grounds man put in his request for the tap so it’s always been a loosing battle, but a battle nonetheless.

A conniving, whiny bunch, they’ll do whatever they can to get their voice heard. If it means going on strike and holding a protest or shouting over people, they’ve got little shame, they’ll do it. And the worst thing is they’ll get upset when no one listens, even after all the effort they put in. It is commendable but who in the right minds would listen. They always want something for nothing. You’d think that with everything everyone does for them they might show a hint of gratitude but no, they’ll take what you’re offering and still ask for more. They always assume they’re right, give them an inch and they will undoubtedly go for the mile. If you don’t give them what they want then expect some attitude, either in the way of vocal abuse or collective action. On the surface vocal abuse might seem like the obvious choice to avoid, but really it is the threat of collective action that’ll deliver the defining blow. Take the recent petrol tanker fiasco. The general public were not happy with the potential threat of a strike so they got together, in their church halls, over their garden fences and next to their water coolers and decided they would cause a nuisance. And what a nuisance they caused. Within days of a potential strike being stirred up by politicians and the media, they had almost dried up the countrywide fuel supplies. Baffling is the word your looking for. The inability of the general public to use their brains collectively is life’s greatest mystery, overshadowing even the meaning of life. Perhaps the BBC could commission a new David Attenborough show entitled ‘The General Public: Plain Stupid?’

From the world of T.V. the Olympics will no doubt be a huge success, hosting some of the finest sporting achievement of our time. On the ground, away from the cameras though you can be sure that they general public will do their utmost to steal the show, as they always do. They’ll be the ones pissing in the plant pots that surround the velodrome, starting fights during the ping pong, clogging up the pathways with used fast food wrappers and acting as victims of potential terrorism attacks. As soon as those gates open on the 27th July, get ready London because the general public are coming. In other words, us lot.

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Stop The Press & Start The Computer: Tweeting News

Once upon a time there were news bulletins dedicated to bringing us up to date news every few hours. Then came the 24hour news channel. Suddenly up to date news was available 24/7, rendering the ten o’clock news bulletin to resemble just that; a mere bulletin of the days top stories. Within a couple of decades 24hour rolling news had become the norm, so much so that it was blasted across screens up and down the land from fish and chip shops to corporate foyers. It was clear that we had developed a thirst for news by this point. In fact we couldn’t get enough of the stuff. How we haven’t become a country of depressives yet is just a matter of luck. Maybe it’s the ‘fun’ five minutes at the end of a news hour, the one’s between the sport and weather, that are managing to keep us on the bright side. You can tell who doesn’t watch the ‘fun’ five minutes; they’re the ones with tears in their eyes and cyanide in their pockets.

Things rolled along nicely for a while, people consumed the news and got on with things in the knowledge that all they had to do to keep up to date was turn on the T.V. Then, as if out of nowhere, the Internet came along and changed all that. The ability to constantly update on the updates meant we were able to consume even more news at a far greater pace than we had previously thought possible. It also meant we, the people, had the opportunity to create the news for ourselves. As with everything virtual, things started slow and it was only a small number of geeks in the their attics that found time to firstly read all the updates and secondly create news material through blogs, chat rooms and forums. However somewhere along the line, people began to take notice of the Internet and then rather un-gradually, at a subsonic rate, people began to flock towards the Internet like a pack of wolves for their news fix.

In 2007 a social network designed for just that (social networking) unintentionally became the world’s fastest growing news provider. Or so we have been led to believe. Sure, the space created by Twitter has the ability to generate news at a rate never seen before. Theoretically millions of news stories could be broken on Twitter everyday leaving the established news organisations to play catch up, but whether this is already happening or will happen is open for debate. Take the stories of Bin Laden and Whitney Houston’s death (not linked incidentally). Both were broken on Twitter before the news networks. In the case of Houston’s death, Twitter broke the story twenty-seven whole minutes before Associated Press got their hands on it. What is certain is that the well-established television news organisations, Sky and the BBC are concerned about the impact that it’s having. So much so that recently both corporations ordered their staff not to Tweet news stories before they were aired on the said channels.

What remains to be seen however is if Twitter is going to become a credible source of news. Stories such as the aforementioned deaths are, for the time being, anomalies in the news spectrum of Twitter. They have slipped through the net, something that is always going to happen occasionally with a public forum. The percentage of people who say they use Twitter for news is only 9% with much of Twitters purpose still, as is becoming a cliché in itself, focused on what everyone had for breakfast. The fact is that stories with magnitude (and I’m not talking about which celebrity fell out of a nightclub on Saturday night) are not regularly broken via Twitter; rather they are broken by the news wires and then talked about on Twitter. Considering this it could be argued that Twitter acts solely as a catalyst for spreading news and generating comment on news rather than providing news. Take the case of the Tweeter jailed for fifty-six days for the Maurice Muamba episode. Twitter may have provided the content of the story but to say that the traditional news outlets did not help package the public explosion of the story would be wrong. The journalism was at the end of the day done by the journalists, not the Tweeters.


The argument for Twitter not being a news provider has considerable merit. Having said this, it could be easily construed that Twitter has been used, to some extent, in contributing to news stories. Take its well-publicised use in the UK riots of 2011 for example. Some may argue that it is indeed a news provider as without Twitter we wouldn’t have heard about many of the stories from the riots and even if we had, it would have taken a very energetic journalist to go round collecting them all in time for the news bulletin. When its put like that it’s easy to see how Twitter has been used to create the news.

The thing that puts a dampener on this argument however is the credibility of the Tweets generated. How are we to believe one Tweet over the next when there’s no verification process? Even if there were such thing as a Twitter verification process, there would never be enough time to verify the millions of Tweets that go out every minute in time for the story to still be relevant. Perhaps a future exists whereby there will be a group of certified Twitter journalists, much like the existing journalists, which everyone will look to, to get verified news stories. As with much of the Internet however, this type of one rule for all approach is never likely to work; people will continue to tweet and what’s to stop them. It is after all a public forum, not a newspaper/news station.

Whatever view point you take, it should be conclusive that the lines between mass conversation and news are being blurred by Twitter. It is certainly changing the way we think about news. Rarely do we have to search for news anymore; instead it is now just generated and shared. News organisations are having to accept Twitter’s role in news, something that is evident in the way they now integrate Twitter feeds into their websites and news tickers. Rarely if ever does a news story unfold on T.V without it also unfolding on Twitter and the rest of the web. Despite this, for the time being at least I believe Twitter acts mostly as an addition, rather than a replacement to news stories. The future may see the emergence of ‘Twitter Journalism’ but the day has not come yet. Rest assured the next few years will be interesting to say the least.

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The great Olympic brand battle.

There’s a story going around, some may even call it one of myth or legend born in the wake of the 1996 Atlanta Olympic games sponsorship scandal. Have you heard about it? It’s the one where you can’t go to an Olympic event, as an athlete or spectator, and post your photos, videos and opinions online? (I figured as I’m getting in early with this post I should be safe enough to avoid the branding police). It’s a good one I know, but as much as it could be a good punch line to a joke, unfortunately it’s true. The London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act, passed in 2006, has ensured that all aspects of the games and its associated brands are protected by copywrite laws. In affect this means that unless you or your business is associated with the games in a sponsorship or journalistic sense then you will not be allowed to use the Olympic brand or its associations to sell or promote products or services in any way (well that is unless you can get away with it, something that might be quite easy considering the likelihood of the branding police to scour the country in the same way as the murder police might do). This includes restrictions on all associated names, logos and images. Believe it or not, it even includes the numbers ‘2012’. Under no circumstances will it be possible to use the numbers ‘2012’ in conjunction with any product or service that is not part of an official sponsorship deal. Sounds crazy, no? To ban the numbers ‘2012’ basically means banning a whole year. It may have passed me by but I was unaware that the Olympics lasted for more than a few weeks. T.V and events listing editors across the land are probably rushing frantically up and down their printing presses with a well worn rubber in the hope that they can erase the year ‘2012’ from publications before they get a knock on the door from Sebastian Coe demanding his year back. From now on when we are not talking about the Olympics, this is just the ‘year’, not the ‘year 2012’. On the plus side, worries about the Mayan’s apocalyptic predictions will at least be quelled. After all without a year number; they haven’t really got much to go on. Perhaps they should have predicted the effect that the London 2012 Olympics (there, I’ve said it) would have on the calendar instead.

Perhaps the most striking prospect of this clamp down on brand protection is the impact that the Internet and social media will have on the games. It is not 100% known yet whether personal pictures uploaded onto social media sites will be in breach of the law but the declaration certainly implies that it will be. I know the Olympic organising team have been labelled ruthless in the past but monitoring everyone’s social media accounts, now there’s a task even they might not be able to take on bar contacting the Chinese authorities for censorship advice.

Picture this: on returning home from an enjoyable day cheering on Team GB’s Discus effort and shouting obscenities at the French for taking an extra spin, you gather round the kitchen table to proudly circulate the photos of the days events to the rest of the family, who as is probably going to be a common theme to this years games, sit there trying to act interested but fail miserably at hiding their disappointment for not getting tickets. Once the photos have been well and truly studied, and envied to a degree where everyone but yourself wants to get all five of the Olympic rings and proceed to strangle you with them, you think it might be a good idea to show the rest of your family and friends what a great day they missed out on. Inevitably you end up in front of a computer to do this, more specifically, a social networking site and begin to upload your photos. This is where you need to STOP. Go any further and you will be in breach of the copywrite law put in place.

It’s a little strange that Coca Cola will have no problem in you circulating a photo of yourself holding one of their cans online but if you happen to be holding that can within one of the Olympic sites and circulate that photo online, then you’ll have crossed the line and, at the rate we’re going, be banged up before bedtime. Surely all publicity is good publicity for the games and associated brands, particularly when its concerning something as trivial as a soft drink. So what’s really going on here? Do the games organisers seriously think that they can create an image so squeaky clean, containing only associated brands, that people around the world won’t realise that other brands exist? I’m quite sure that I’m not the only one that knows Pepsi exists.

For the most part, the Olympic organisers should perhaps be concentrating more on their overall image of the games rather than that of the companies that sponsor them. They do after all have a lot of work to do on that front. Most people already have a slightly skewed image of the games; that of an over-priced, part tax payer funded and security conscious games. Whilst it essentially boils down to profits, there should surely still be some scope for the actual event.

The image of the games, particularly of those that live and work in London will not be created by the copywrite laws but instead will be assembled from peoples personal experiences as well as what they see on the ground at the venues, on the television and reported in the press. Despite what the sponsors may think, spectators really will not have much time to consider why they are buying a Coke rather than a Pepsi, instead they’ll be enjoying the show. To try and prevent people from circulating their own photos, videos and opinions in an attempt to create a more well rounded brand image of the games is surely an attack on 1. Our integrity and 2. Our freedom of expression.

So far, I’ve only addressed the laws impact on the spectator. If you think we are going to have it bad, count yourself lucky because the athletes themselves will effectively be on lock down for the duration of the games. Before reading this, I didn’t realise how restricted the athletes were. We are all used to spectators being shoved through turnstiles, prodded to our seats and overcharged for inadequate beverages but you’d think the athletes, the stars of the show, would get a better deal. Turns out this is bullshit too. In many ways they’re going to be more restricted than spectators are. They will have to watch every Tweet, Facebook and blog post which they create because unlike the spectator they can be sure that someone will be watching all of their online moves as well as their on field moves. It’s not surprising they want to run so fast, its not about the winning, more likely its about trying to break free from the grip of the Olympic organising bodies. I’ll certainly be cheering them on to escape.

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‘Now look here!’

The question is simple enough; do we really need a pair of Google’s new augmented reality glasses, or Googleogglers as I’ve decided to name them? Sure they’re quite ‘cool’ in theory, you can walk down the street feeling like a superhero checking your email without having to even think about reaching for your phone (please note the promotional video, which makes a feeble attempt at making these devices cool. I don’t know what they were thinking but ‘cool’ obviously wasn’t on their agenda) but is walking down the street bumping into people as we try to read a map, call a friend and avoid traffic really going to help us? I envisage A&E rooms full of injured media types sitting bewildered in their NHS spec beds waiting to be seen by the virtual doctor after they’ve walked straight into on coming traffic whilst trying to organise a lunch in Soho. Surely the gap between the virtual and the real, which Google is clearly trying to fill here, is simply a gap (in the market) that does not need to be to be filled. Time spent away from the virtual world has got to be good for us, right? If Google gets its way then there will no longer be a distinction between reality and virtual reality, something that I find a little bit scary to say the least. If you think otherwise then by all means go ahead, go nuts, buy a pair if or when they’re finally released but as a warning, you will look like an idiot.

I imagine a world full of Googleogglers would resemble that of an X-men movie set, high tech on the surface but really a little bit shit, Cyclops types aimlessly wondering around in fear that the next man will lower their goggles and zap them with that infamous laser. I just can’t see how the designers are going to make them look cool enough to appeal to the kids of tomorrow. If you see anyone wearing headgear today, even if it’s a blue tooth set, you immediately think ‘hmm, they’ve obviously just enlisted the help of a small object to make themselves look busy and important’. And that’s not even real headgear is it? The only people using headgear today (and no, hats/helmets do not count) are either small boys acting out fantasies through a computer game goggles or grown men acting out similar if not more slightly alarming fantasies through computer game goggles. It’s not even like you see these people very often, I think one a year is even a generous estimate. So how Google is going to enlist the eight people wearing headsets today to persuade the other eighty million to 1. Think they’re cool and 2. Go out and buy them for what will probably be an astronomical price is beyond a mystery. Try getting a young boy or a man with said headgear to make you think anything is cool. I assure you that you won’t listen. It seems like an impossible task but if anyone can do it, it’s most likely going to be Google (unless Apple give it a bash, which they may well do, and then inevitably you won’t be able to walk down a street without seeing a pair). They do after all; manage to get 300 million people to type things into their search bar every day so they must know a thing or two about marketing. Perhaps they’ll try the celebrity endorsement route, swap Woody Allen’s glasses with a pair of Googleogglers or have the cast of Sex And The City parade around New York looking like the cast of Star Trek in a desperate hunt to find something to wear.

What is clear is that they think they can do it or they wouldn’t have bothered developing the idea. The question is, do they really think we are going to go round with a pair of these on looking like a science fiction fan whose taken things too far just so we no longer have to put any effort into accessing information?

Well maybe yes actually. If you had said to someone in the 50’s in your politest BBC accent; ‘Excuse me sir, would you consider making a call using this mobile device’ you would have almost certainly been met with the response ‘Sorry old chap but are you bonkers!?’ And if you had said to a Victorian ‘Would you consider staring aimlessly into this box called a TV for hours on end in the hunt for entertainment?’ you would probably have got a similar response. This could go on further and further back in time until almost no technology existed, just a rock and a pair of leopard skin undies but the point would remain the same; we have always dismissed new technologies.

‘The future is scary and we certainly don’t want it now’ is a common thought. It should be a well known fact that humans are prone to resisting change for as long as possible even if the change provides huge benefits. Try telling a smoker that perhaps their 11o’clock cigarette and coffee routine is not doing them much good and just await their response. It’s likely to contain expletives. It takes the hard work of slick, Red Bull fuelled marketing executives and a bunch of hip young go getters to prove to the masses that we want it, that we need it. I predict this is exactly what will happen but it may take longer than Google want.

Whatever the reasons, whether they be fashion or functionality related, at the moment we hate Googleogglers, or at least that what the press says (and everyone knows they’re always right). At least it was easy to see the point of an iPod when it was first released, no longer would you have to haul round a side cart of Cd’s or tapes in order to have your music collection on the go. Maybe I’m missing something here but it’s a little harder to see the attraction to Google’s new device. Although not likely to happen in the near future, it may not be too long until Google makes its point. The prospect of becoming a half man-half robot is something which I’m not particularly looking forward to. Then again, I did buy an iPod…

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Too many choices? You decide.

If you’ve ever had a takeaway, you’ll know all about the menu. If you’ve ever sat down with a bunch of friends, a hard drive and a laptop and tried to watch a film, you’ll know all about the selection process. If you’ve ever been to the shampoo aisle in a supermarket you’ll know all about the options available and if you’ve ever decided to just sit down and ‘surf’ the web with no specific place to start you’ll know all about the possibilities that a blank search bar offers.

Nine out of ten times, you’ll pick the same dish, wash your hair with the same product, visit the websites you always visit and struggle to get into a film you didn’t want to watch in the first place but passively agreed so to avoid spending more time choosing.

The freedom to choose is great isn’t it? We are told that when we think about freedom and choice we should be filled with happiness, possibilities and the potential of what could be. We have been told that they are inherently good things. What could possibly be wrong with freedom of choice? The theory goes that the more choice we have, the more freedom we have and the more freedom we have, the happier we are.

There’s a slight problem with this though. It’s not true. It should be argued that the more choice we have, the less freedom we have so anxious are we about wondering whether we’ve made the right choice or not and the more anxious we are, presumably the more un-happy we are.

We are constantly told that more choice is better. Our world has become built on choice and the freedom to choose the right thing for us. Adverts blast images and sounds at us almost all of the time trying to sell us what are essentially different variations of the same product, web search engines produce millions of choices in less than a second and Hollywood spurts out so many romantic comedies every year that we can barely recognise one Jennifer Aniston flick from the next.

Is choice really better? Well, is it? Of course some choice is good. Without any choice we would live in a mind numbingly boring world where everyone did everything the same way, one government ruled all (and we know how that story ends) and we all wore the same pair of Marks and Spencers trousers. Some choice gives us a sense of freedom. Some more choice however and your freedoms begin to become more restrictive. It’s not clear where the optimum number of choices is but it’s fairly obvious that we are way past it by now.

Choice can create a minefield of problems for the person responsible for making that choice. Choice makes getting from A to B longer, more stressful and more confusing. Choice can lead us to make irrational decisions, fall out with friends or just simply lead us to make no decision at all. The worst thing that can happen when you have too many choices is that you’ll be so overwhelmed by the options available that you’ll fail completely to make a decision. That doesn’t sound like freedom and it definitely doesn’t sound like happiness. From when you just want a quick snack at a train station to when you want a decent meal in a restaurant you are under pressure to choose. More importantly, you are under pressure to choose correctly because if you don’t you’ll be filled with that sense of disappointment that arises out of making the wrong choice; its called regret.

So why is it that we love to choose? There’s something comforting in the moments before you enter the decision making process. You feel positive about what is going to be on offer, confident that with all the options available that there is going to be something just right for you. And yet when you actually enter the process, you are screaming at yourself to make the right choice, rushing the time to think profusely about not screwing up and finding anything in the way of outside stimulation to distract you from getting on with the business of actually making a decision. It can be excruciating at times. As the number of choices has increased so have our expectations. Whereas we used to make do and be happy with what was available, we now expect that because we have a larger number of choices available there will almost certainly be one choice that is tailored specifically to us. Raised expectations has also meant that we spend more time making the choice to ensure that it is the right one for us, something that is perhaps a pointless exercise, particularly when making a choice over which shampoo to buy.

Of course, this is not the same with every decision you make but it often occurs when you are making a decision for the first time. Once you know which shampoo, takeaway dish or genre of films you like, you’ll often just revisit the same options the next time you decide to wash your hair, get a take out or watch a film. Stepping into the unknown though happens often enough though so you’ve always got to be on your guard.

Supermarket special offers, now there’s a problem. They will force you to rethink the choices that you’ve made hundreds, if not thousands of times before. ‘Buy one, get one free’ offers sound appealing and often entice you in for closer inspection. Initially you think ‘great, I’m on to a winner here’ but then that other little guy in your head decides to chip in: ‘I’ve never tried that brand before’ it confidently adds, ‘Will it be as good?’ Now you’re in a pickle. Weighing up the option to have more of something you’ve never tried with something that you know is reliable will cause anxious sweat to roll down your face if you’re not careful.

Making decisions under pressure is another one of the pitfalls of too much choice. Your in a newsagents, you’ve got the bread, you’ve got the milk but you get to the counter and suddenly, as if you didn’t know it was there, the treasure trove of chocolate bars on offer presents itself in all its glory. ‘I could do with an energy boast’ you think to yourself as a way of justifying the addiction of your craving sweet tooth. There’s ten angry looking teenagers behind you waiting to try their luck at buying the 50% extra free bottle of cider so you know you’ve got to make it quick, before the inevitable ‘No, I really am 27’ responses start to flare up into a potential fist fight. There’s at least a hundred different bars available and you’ve already been staring at them for a good 30 seconds, a decision needs to be made quick. Making decisions within a time limit is another level of unpleasantly. I guarantee you’ll spend more time thinking about the time than you will about making the decision, hence why you’ll most likely pick the same bar as always.

Ever tried making a choice on behalf of others? Making a collective decision in groups? Made a choice and instantly known you’d made the wrong choice with no way of rectifying it? The list of choices about choices could go on but then how are you going to decide which choice to choose. See what I mean, too many choices. What’s important is recognising that we are living in a world that is increasingly being bombarded with choice. It is a particular problem of consumerism that is not likely to slow down so it is essentially up to us to decide whether we are going to let the choices cause us that extra bit of agony when we leave the house each day. You decide…

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Journalism, integrity and the Internet: The case of Wikileaks

Everyone likes a secret, hearing one is both exciting and empowering, and delivering one lifts the burden of carrying it. But when is a secret to big to tell and what are the consequences of letting it out, especially when you’re telling virtually everyone? Julian Assange knew a secret, millions in fact, and decided to tell everyone all about it via his Wikileaks website. Was Assanges secret too big to tell? Was it investigative journalism or a plain act of malicious diplomatic shit stirring? Should the freedoms of the Internet permit risk taking with such important information or is there a line in freedom of speech whereby if you step far enough over it, the repercussions start to look a lot worse than they would have been had the secret remained a secret? All these questions have been asked and answered to some degree with regards to Wikileaks’ approach to journalism.

 The whistle blowing format has created a conflict between the importance of exposing secrets in the public interest and the right to keep secrets secret. As with most things encompassing investigative journalism, there are two prominent arguments, both with significant merit. On the one hand there is an argument that states it is the role of journalism to provide an accurate account of the truth. On the other, there is an argument that states that sometimes certain information should be kept from the public for the benefit of the public.

 Wikileaks, the most cited whistle blowing website is a drop box type platform which allows anonymous users to submit information for review which is deemed important to the public interest. The issues surrounding the site however are formulated on whether an organisation without established journalistic credentials should be permitted to release highly sensitive information to the public. Many would argue that such sensitive information should be in the public domain as it exposes those in the wrong. Furthermore, they would suggest that anything but putting such information in the public sphere would constitute a breech in freedoms of speech that the Internet offers. In much of what was released through arguably Wikileaks biggest leak to date there is a strong case that it should have been released to the public. The very nature of the leak exposed and proved that many of the preconceptions people had about the U.S. administration were correct. As a result of this, presumably there were many people patting themselves on the back for thinking what was right all along. Having said this, there were probably as many people on the other side of the fence screaming that the information that was leaked was going to do a lot more harm, particularly on the international stage, than people making themselves feel good.

To some extent these people were right. In the aftermath of the leak, the media was a wash with images and reports of U.S. diplomats around the world apologising to state leaders trying to rectify the embarrassing situation they found themselves in. In affect, the leak was hugely damaging to the U.S. foreign policy. While this maybe a source of amusement to some, it is also hugely problematic for others.

Many questions have been asked about Wikileaks role in this story and whether they had the right to release such damaging information. As the website is not formally a well established news outlet like say the traditional newspaper or television networks, does this mean we should take the information they put out there as credible material? Many argue that yes, it is credible and that just because it didn’t come from one of the major news players it does not mean that we should not take it seriously; news is news at the end of the day. Besides, if secret information were not released to the public then atrocious behaviour like that seen from the leaked Abu Ghraib footage may have continued unnoticed. Exposing those in the wrong is often the most reliable catalyst for prompting change. It could be suggested that Wikileaks’ intentions were to release information to embarrass the US administration in the hope that they wouldn’t make the same blunders again. Although the cynics amongst us would probably say Assanges existing attitudes towards the U.S. administration played a significant role in why the cables were originally leaked.

Others argue that without a certified journalistic approach, as used by the established outlets, we should not trust the information provided by what is essentially a public information pool. This has become a hugely debated topic since the Wikileaks saga began as it called into question the notion of what should constitute as credible, news worthy information. It has also questioned the role of the Internet in journalism and to what extent information released on a public platform is to be trusted.

Should Wikileaks even be considered journalism is one major talking point. The basic definition of journalism; Writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation, is a very static definition and one which we all know is not how journalism really works. Every news outlet has an angle, a slant on how the want the facts to be portrayed. If we were to take the definition at face value then of course a Wikileaks type platform should be considered journalism. In fact it could be argued that the work that Wikileaks does is closer to the true definition of journalism than the established news companies; the site claims to present direct transcripts of the facts. You don’t have to be a cynic however, to be right in thinking that Wikileaks also has an angle and does not always provide undiluted facts. Take the alleged Bradley Manning leak. It’s clear that the information (or cables) provided was edited and it’s clear that Wikileaks’ angle was to portray the U.S. administration in a bad light. In light of this, Wikileaks style of fact presentation should probably be considered journalism as it essentially represents what journalism is but just uses a slightly more controversial approach. Just because the site doesn’t report information in the same way as the established news outlets, it doesn’t mean that the information that they provide is not newsworthy.

Wikileaks controversial founder, Julian Assange believes his type of open journalism is the correct way to provide a story whereby pubic opinion is solely formed from the raw facts. This came into contention when, whilst working with the Guardian group, a row blew up around the papers use of the Wikileaks information. Assange wanted the information to be available in a raw unedited format whereas the Guardian, it was alleged by Wikileaks, sort to edit the information they had been given to provide an angle that they thought was suitable. Unsurprisingly, the Guardian denied that the information was tampered with.

The type of journalistic approach used by Wikileaks is very much in line with the freedoms that the Internet has come to be known for. Facebooks founder, Mark Zuckerberg, famously said that ‘the age of privacy is over’. Wikileaks’ approach is very similar. It believes that all information deemed newsworthy should be public whereby it ignores the traditional social norms of news reporting which protects some and exposes others. Considering this free approach to information sharing, a case could be argued that just because the Internet allows freedom of speech, it does not mean we have to use it to the extent whereby it may cause disastrous consequences on the world stage, away from the screen.

Just last week, Anna Harmer, an official of Australia’s Attorney General wrote to a legislator that “debate about the Wikileaks matter is not about censoring free speech or preventing the media from reporting news,” She also confirmed the government’s focus on WikiLeaks’ as a “reckless” and “unauthorized” disclosure of classified material.

Voltaire’s famous quote; ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’ is particularly useful for the argument in defence of Wikileaks’ approach and it is widely used in defence of many public vs private rows on the Internet. Although this goes against the very nature of the notion, is it not the case that sometimes, just sometimes, whether you believe in freedom of speech or not, there is always a risk of allowing too much information to be made available to the public?

Censorship of the Internet is both good and bad when relating it to Wikileaks. On the one hand it will protect potentially dangerous information being released and on the other it will restrict freedom of speech, arguably a more important notion. The virtual world is not reality but as we increasingly choose to live much of our lives online it’s vital that we take it seriously as a platform for socialising, which not surprisingly, includes journalism. If anything, the debates sparked by the issues surrounding Wikileaks are essentially positive as they have made us debate the role of the Internet in journalism, a relationship that is set to continue to grow.

For a more detailed analysis see Charlie Becketts book, Wikileaks: News In The Networked Era. The recent BBC documentary entitled Wikileaks: The Secret Life Of A Superpower is also well worth a watch.

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