Community Activism throwing it’s weight at the system… sorry, but it’s #giggsgate…

26May11

Seriously though, hear me out.

My recent (completed, yayay) dissertation has got me thinking about crowd-sourcing and the recent Ryan Giggs… scandal? (he who shall not be named can have the title back)

“Journalism, according to Ryfe and Mensing (2010), has been an ever-present commodity in everyday life because it represents the relationship between democratic community and modernity, and when the community are not content they feel as though it is their right and responsibility to either complain or do the work better themselves.”

I used this Ryfe and Mensing quote from their extract in Public Journalism 2.0- The Promise and Reality of a Citizen-engaged Press by Jack Rosenberry to discuss the idea of community activism, and I think it raises a key issue in this debate over privacy and “Naming Private Ryan“.

When the community are not content, they will do the work themselves.

This concept is normally applied to crowdsourced investigative journalism, like in the case of the ever reliable Helpmeinvestigate. When the mainstream news media have little time or money to throw at an issue, the crowd will kick up a fuss.

Similarly, if an issue is not of  ‘importance’ to mainstream media, like pot-holes in roads or local government accounts, then the community who are concerned will send out Freedom of Information Requests and collect a community who will find answers.

Now, the system in which the mainstream media work, it could be argued, is the cause for their apparent lack of interest in these kind of issues, and is the cause of the lack of funding and time.

When this system falters, the citizens kick, scratch and bite.

Now, in the case of #Giggsgate, the failing was not one of the mainstream media directly, but of the privacy laws in which they work.

Super-injunctions. Some say they are worthless since The Sunday Herald pushed out in front and practically unmasked Giggs already (it seems now, a brave but worthwhile PR stunt until some vindication arrives).

The Trafigura case from a few years back brought the super-injunction to the knowledge of those media practitioners who hadn’t come across it already.

But, really, all you need to know is that you can’t talk about or publish something. And in cases, this super-injunction cannot be mentioned either.

I would show you Lauren Laverne explaining it on 10 o’clock Live, but apparently, Channel 4 like removing any knowledge that such an occurence ever took place, so instead, I’ll leave you with HIGNFY.

But, a key note is Ian Hilop saying:

“Judges are making up privacy law as they see fit… as they inevitably balance freedom of the individual privacy against the presses freedom of expression…

Now, the systems of the mainstream media fail in this regard because they can’t publish. There is information of (relative) public interest that has been blocked because somebody wanted privacy.

And even though it is a failure out of their hands (and admittedly, in the hands of judges who, as a failing of the law, do practically have to make up privacy law as they go along) the public still feel that it is a failure, and set about distributing the information themselves.

Amongst all the #superinjunction and Wikipedia alteration (and one particularly funny google answer in which “flying piggs” was the response), the discussion between friends on Twitter was key. It’s always been one of the main reason people read the “weird and wonderful” section of the BBC website and actually read content in lads mags;

We want to be the first pers0n to know about something and and the first person to tell it to our friends. It’s human nature.

If Giggs hadn’t super-injunctioned, not many people would have cared for longer than a few days. People would have thought less of him as a person, but if you make your bed after having washed the sheets after having shagged a big brother lady, you have to lie in it at some point, even if it’s only for a night or two.

The important point is that the public smelt a story being hidden, and they, seeing that the mainstream media were faltering, decided to take things into their own hands.

Around 75,000 people uttered the name before the right semi-honourable MP  John Hemming covered for them using parliamentary privilege, an inappropriate out of date way to flout an inappropriate, out of date rule.

The argument isn’t about this story; if anything, it gives the argument more weight: if people will stick their necks out to name a cheating footballer, what will they do when it’s their money, their society or their own freedom of expression that is at stake if the rules aren’t changed?

And how can you prosecute, even with the appropriate user or profile information, when you’re accusing people of flouting an injunction that they supposedly aren’t supposed to know even exists? (and even if they do, they’re clearly not intimidated because the serverity law is made as private as the issue)

It’s a messy set of laws for a messy society and let’s hope that for once, the MP’s step up and sort out a law that can function alongside rather than in response to society.

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