Online Protests – why do they make me uneasy?

I write this with extreme trepidation and it is for this reason that I want to make the following clear from the start:

I personally do not condone the opinions or actions of Jan Moir or AA Gill.

Got it? Good. Right.

Now I am hoping there might be people out there who can help me to get to the bottom of my discomfort with regard these two recent events.

I’ve seen many use the Jan Moir affair as an example of democracy in action. It is certainly true that the will of many people led to the removal of advertising from an offensive and homophobic article and an apology from its author.

Now you can’t say that’s a bad thing… can you? So why do I feel so uneasy about it?

I think it’s not about the events themselves, but the implications of online collective action.

I’ve found it a hard thing to unpick. Having spoken to a few people about it, I can still only come up with fragments that go some way to explaining it.

These are:

  • The appearance of collective action is remarkably easy online, with many individuals able to contribute in small ways (a retweet, joining a Facebook group, writing a short blog post). But this also means responsibility for this action is fragmented. This puts such action in a strange space where it can wield huge power, but no one has ultimate responsibility for it. So what happens if the consequences of a collective action are severe?
  • While the internet offers the chance for everyone to speak, it generally favours the voices of a particular socio-economic, digitally literate group of people who communicate on some specific platforms that those in power seem to listen to.
  • The internet is a very public form of protest and, because these outcries are seen to be published and can have implications on search results (now a huge part of an individual or organisation’s reputation), authorities seems to react to them quicker than traditional forms of protest.
  • I’m aware I’m opening myself up to criticism. After all, I work in “the media”. If you ever wanted to find an example of collective action wielding unintended consequences, you are going to find it in my industry. I’m not defending it and I’m certainly not suggesting this rapidly growing form of protest should be banned. It’s a powerful and useful tool.

    But, with anything that’s powerful, there is always a dark side and, while not a perfect system, I guess with the media there is still an editor to sack, a product to boycott, a PCC to complain to.

    If those who had taken online action had got it wrong, if their action resulted in libel, invasion of privacy, injury or death, what would have happened?

Location aware, voice recognition search? That’s Googlewang!

I was impressed with Locly when shown it by a friend, but Google has really blown that out the water with this.

[via Buzzmachine]

I always nodded when people said to me that mobile was the next step for the web. I understood what they meant in theory, but I have now shifted up a gear after seeing this. It is, in many ways, a completely different dimension for data to exist in.

It has got me thinking about how news might fit into this new environment. My instant thought – although perhaps not useful as a product to make money – is that stories can now exist not just in a moment of time, but also in a defined space.

One way (or indeed my madcap way) to get to grips with the concept is to visualise stories as hanging from threads that touch you as you walk by them. Why that might be useful – apart for getting some background research on the local area you’re walking through – I’m not sure. It’s an interesting thought though that stories could now be ranked on “proximity to current location”, as well as by most recent.

Mobile phone woe

I ran out of time to post anything more from my time in Preston, but I doubt it will be the last time I refer to it as it has had quite an impact. At the moment I think I’m suffering from brain burn. I can’t remember the last time I used the old grey matter so intensely for so long.

One thing that came out is that I am in serious need of upgrading my mobile package. Playing with the Nokia N95 made me realise I need to find out how mobile Internet is working and how that might effect people who use The Post website (and how I might do my job as a journalist).

I don’t get a work mobile and my current personal mobile is talk and text only. I will have to change it but the thing is, I’m on a really good tariff. I signed up to it with BT Genie back in the day when I was a student and BT was experimenting with selling online. Because I never moved O2 keeps me on it to stop me going elsewhere.

It includes:

  • £10 a month contract
  • 50 free off-peak minutes every day (1400 a month).
  • unlimited free texts a month

Good, huh? If I try not to use it for work calls during the day too much then it’s a very good package. So, relunctant to lose the contract I phoned O2 today to see what they could offer me. I have two options.

Option 1: Internet bolt-on

  • 2MB a month for £3
  • 4MB a month for £5
  • Unlimited access for £25

Option 2: Change of package to Online 35:

  • £35 a month contract
  • 600 free mins a month
  • 1000 free texts a month
  • Unlimited internet access for £7.50 a month extra

I think it’s probably going to end up with me taking the bolt on, but boosting my outgoing on a mobile from at least £10 to at least £30 is still a pain in the arse. The other thing is that it would not allow we the handset upgrade. If I wanted an 8GB N95, for example, I would have the pleasure of paying £249.

So, is there a better contract out there?

Talking to Donnacha

It may be noticeable that, since I commented on Greenslade’s departure from the NUJ last month, this blog has lurched into a discussion on the future journalism and online content.

To my surprise, there has also been an exchange of comments between myself and NUJ multimedia commission member Donnacha DeLong – the chap who sparked off the debate in the first place by writing an article entitled Web 2.0 is Rubbish.

I’m dead chuffed he has taken the time and effort to post – so I thought I’d link to the conversation here.

Answers: Sly Bailey

Well! I didn’t get an interview with Her Slyness after all.

But we were introduced and I did have a short chat with her (without my notebook).

We chatted about Web 2.0 and my recent rant about Roy Greenslade’s departure from the NUJ.

She said that she realised that there was a desperate need to invest in new technology because without it (nodding her head towards my iMac running OS 9) young journalists will just leave the business and find somewhere else to work.

She was keen to stress she was excited by the explosion of the web but was, of course, keen to find a way to generate the same revenues online as generated from print.

Then she said her plan was that the Post & Mail was going to have a new IT system and websites that would “blow the competition out of the water” and we would soon be far ahead of what any other newspaper group was doing.

I asked her if she thought Trinity Mirror would be able to create sites to rival The Guardian. She said yes, and The Telegraph too.

She said she had been doing a lot of research on what made a good news website. She said she recognised the good stuff that had been done by competitors but that there had been “dead ends” that they had gone up too, that she would like to avoid.

But, she said, the good thing about the web was that there was an opportunity to experiment with new ideas in a way that wouldn’t financially impact in the same way as doing it in print.

Her parting words were that she would “watch my career with interest”, which was unnerving.

As one colleague suggested, perhaps in the current climate the best I can do is to return the favour.