Category Archives: Social Media

Scandals will fade but lobbying still drives the Missouri legislature

A series of sex scandals that revealed tawdry affairs among top officials in Missouri’s state capital made for titillating reading this summer and stirred up a controversy about journalistic ethics.

Sex scandals in Jefferson City are nothing new, say veteran statehouse reporters. Bad behavior by lawmakers and lobbyists has plagued the legislature for a century.

What is new is the social media technology that ensnares straying legislators and the willingness of the press to name names. The decision by the Post-Dispatch’s veteran and highly regarded statehouse reporter, Virginia Young, to name a female former aide of the governor’s who was involved in a night of hard drinking, attracted national comment and criticism.

The business of lawmaking – and it often is controlled by business – has always involved politics and money – gifts by lobbyists, and campaign contributions. Many lawmakers, cajoled by the lobbyists into thinking they are hot stuff, take all the freebies they can – tickets to sporting and cultural events, free meals, liquor, travel, you name it. All they have to do is vote the way they’re told.

Add to that the sexual affairs some lawmakers think they are entitled to when they are away from home four days a week when the legislature is in session. They figure they’ll behave again when they return home.

Two legislators who resigned this summer were attracted to legislative interns – college girls — in their offices. Both were middle-aged and married family men.

The first, who resigned in July, was Speaker of the House John Diehl, a Republican from St. Louis County. An intern saved text messages from him and said he had propositioned her. The messages made for juicy reading in the Kansas City Star and then in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The next to resign, a few weeks later, was state Sen. Paul LeVota, a Democrat from Independence. An intern accused him of sexual harassment by propositioning her. Another intern made similar accusations during the time she worked in LeVota’s office five years earlier.

In between these scandals, the Post-Dispatch reported on a possible rape case in Jefferson City involving a former aide to Gov. Jay Nixon. She said she had an affair with Diehl, though it had ended. She is a 31-year-old lobbyist who contacted police after a night of drinking and partying. She said she had a blackout and thought she had been raped, but wasn’t sure. Neither were police, who interviewed a number of people, including Diehl. Police ended the investigation due to “lack of victim cooperation.” Her lawyer later said she did cooperate with police.

The Post-Dispatch story about the alleged rape named the woman, based on the police report. The paper was criticized for naming a possible rape victim.

The Riverfront Times, an alternative weekly in St. Louis said the Post was wrong and had “shamed” the woman. The Poynter Institute ran a story saying that naming the woman made it appear she was not raped. It added: “It’s not the job of the media to judge whether someone was or wasn’t sexually assaulted.” The Columbia Journalism Review said Young should have conducted an off-the-record interview with the woman, which Young had declined to do.

A Post political editor, Christopher Ave, defended the story saying it had “political significance.” He said the Post relied on the police report which showed “no evidence of a crime.”

Young had omitted parts of the police report unfavorable to the behavior of the woman. Young declined to comment on the story except to say she did not regret writing it. Young has been a top reporter at the Post-Dispatch for decades. She recently announced her retirement.

Regardless of who is right, Young’s reporting was notable for exposing shenanigans in the legislative culture, something the media has largely ignored over the years. Many veteran reporters can recall “sexcapades,” drunkenness and other misdeeds of legislators that never got reported. Fred Lindecke, a longtime legislative reporter for the Post, put it this way: “The code was that we didn’t use it” if it didn’t affect the person’s official duties.

***

The full article will be included in the forthcoming print issue of GJR.

One year later: Media ignore their Ferguson failures

Editor’s Note: This is the publisher’s column from the current print edition of GJR.

 

The Justice Department’s twin reports on Ferguson this March raised two disturbing questions about the media:

• How did so many news organizations fail for so long to realize that “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” was a myth?

• How did so many news organizations fail for so many years to uncover deeply unconstitutional police and court practices?

One would hope those questions would prompt soul-searching. For the most part, they haven’t. The national media are on to the next police shooting with no sign of introspection. False or misleading stories from last summer remain online uncorrected. Social media also barrel ahead, clinging to preconceived ideologies in a cyber-world that is often fact free.

Here are egregious media failures:

• National and local media fell for “eyewitnesses” who claimed to have seen Officer Darren Wilson shoot a surrendering Michael Brown. Many “witnesses” lied or fabricated stories.

• CNN irresponsibly broadcast “exclusive” video taken during “the final moments of the shooting” showing two white construction workers, one gesturing how Brown had his hands up. Legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin called it evidence of a “a cold-blooded murder.” But the video wasn’t from the time of the shooting and the construction workers’ stories were full of holes.

• Local media – KTVI and the Post-Dispatch – gave the construction workers story big play. But they didn’t make clear that one of the workers incorrectly claimed three officers were at the scene. Both workers later admitted they had not actually seen Brown fall because the corner of a building obstructed their view. Nor did any other witness confirm the workers’ claims that Brown repeatedly screamed, “OK. OK. OK.”  Those are the reasons the FBI discounted their statements.

• MSNBC’s Chris Hayes and Lawrence O’Donnell threw fuel on the fire day after day with biased reporting. O’Donnell ranted about St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch changing the legal instructions during the grand jury, but his reports were full of errors.

• The New York Times committed journalistic malpractice by naming the street that Wilson lived on and then refusing to admit its mistake. KSDK did it too but apologized.

• Fox misreported that Brown had broken Wilson’s eye socket.

• Anonymous, the scary and inept anarchists, misidentified the police shooter and the shooter’s police department.

• The New York Times portrayed Ferguson as part of a segregated “Circle of Rage” around St. Louis, when Ferguson is actually one of the most residentially integrated places in St. Louis.

• ProPublica sliced and diced statistics in a misleading way that exaggerated how much more likely it was for a young African-American to be killed by police.

*****

Ferguson was America’s Arab Spring for social media. For that reason, their failures are as important as the mainstream media’s.

A story in the May 10 New York Times magazine uncritically romanticized the tweeters and live-streamers who made a name for themselves. It called Bassem Masri, “perhaps Ferguson’s most famous live-streamer.” Masri is the person whose live-streaming videos include loud streams of invective and hate directed at police. Masri isn’t a citizen journalist but a polemicist linking Ferguson and anti-Israeli protesters.

The Times’ piece also told how DeRay Mckesson and Johnetta Elzie, two active bloggers, joined forces with Justin Hansford, a law professor at Saint Louis University, to critique the mainstream press in its “This Is the Movement” newsletter.

But the newsletter isn’t really media criticism. It’s a movement newsletter with headlines like: “This Is NOT St. Louis County, Missouri Prosecutor Robert McCulloch First ‘Racist Rodeo.’”

Not only have the media failed to critique themselves, they have gone right ahead making the same mistakes.

During the police unrest in Baltimore May 4, Fox’s Mike Tobin reported seeing an officer shoot a black man in the back. McClatchy war correspondent Hannah Allam tweeted, ‘We’ll be back under martial law tonight!’ EMTs take body away on stretcher.” Livestream’s “citizen journalist” barked out a tweet on the shooting. The reports were false.

****

Why did the press miss deeper stories of unconstitutional police and court practices? Sometimes the biggest stories are right in front of a reporter’s face but involve conditions that are taken for granted. That’s the case with the municipal court system in North St. Louis County. It took the ArchCity Defenders and allied law professors to show that procedures fair in form devastated the lives of poor, blacks who ended up in modern debtors’ prison.

The media did a good job of publicizing municipal court abuses. The one “Ferguson” reform emerging from the Missouri legislature limits how much traffic money each town can collect. But the press often forces reforms into a right-or-wrong framework, and it did with this story.

The new caps on municipal revenue hit the small predominantly black communities the hardest, with little impact in Ferguson. This take did not fit conveniently into the established media narrative and was mostly ignored in stories trumpeting the legislation as a “Ferguson reform.”

***

A personal note on former colleagues: The Post-Dispatch photo staff richly deserved the Pulitzer Prize it won for its brave, insightful, moving Ferguson photography. Tony Messenger and Kevin Horrigan, the P-D’s editorial editor and deputy, also deserved to be finalists for editorials that “brought insight and context to the national tragedy of Ferguson, MO, without losing sight of the community’s needs.”

St. Louisans sometimes don’t appreciate what a treasure they have had in the P-D editorial page as its Pulitzer commended work warned over the decades of Hitler, Vietnam, concealed weapons, civil liberties abuses and Missouri’s war on the Medicaid poor. It’s an editorial record with few peers.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that both construction workers claimed there were three officers at the scene. That claim was made by the worker interviewed by KTVI; the person interviewed by the Post-Dispatch did not mention multiple officers. Jeremy Kohler, the Post-Dispatch reporter, wrote in an email that he considered the worker he interviewed “credible at the time and I still do.”

Anonymous poster must be ID’d

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled this week that a northern Illinois public official must be told the name of an anonymous poster to a newspaper website who likened the politician to former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, the child sex abuser.

The decision means that the anonymous poster cannot dodge a libel suit by hiding behind anonymity.

The Illinois high court ruled unanimously in favor of Stephenson County Board Chairman Bill Hadley, who has been demanding to know the identity of the poster for four years. Under the decision, Comcast, which provides the poster with internet service, would be required to turn over the poster’s identity.

The comment from “Fuboy” was posted on a December 2011 article in the Freeport Journal Standard website about Hadley’s decision to run for the County Board: “Hadley is a Sandusky waiting to be exposed. Check out the view he has of Empire (Elementary School) from his front door.” The comment was an apparent reference to the former Penn State coach who was convicted of child sex abuse in 2012.

Because of a federal law – Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act – Hadley can’t sue the newspaper for the potentially libelous comment by Fuboy. The law gives websites legal immunity for the content of third party postings – like the one from Fuboy. So Hadley’s only alternative is to sue the poster and to do that he needs to know the poster’s identity.

The Illinois Supreme Court acknowledged that First Amendment issues are involved because anonymous speech is constitutionally protected. But it said that if Hadley could obtain Fuboy’s identity if he could present enough evidence to “establish the alleged defamatory statements are not constitutionally protected….

“Once a plaintiff establishes a prima facie case for defamation… a potential defendant has no first amendment right to balance against the plaintiff’s right to redress because there is no first amendment right to defame,” it wrote.

Even though Fuboy’s statement was one of opinion, it expressed allegations of facts that, if true, would constitute a crime. When opinions contain factual claims, they can be libelous.

The attorney for Fuboy said there may be an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could put off his identification during the appeal.

Court opinion

http://illinoiscourts.gov/Opinions/SupremeCourt/2015/118000.pdf

story:

http://www.sj-r.com/article/20150618/NEWS/150619478

Facebook v. Science

Social media have helped us cocoon ourselves into comfortable ignorance of “the other side” — so goes the prevailing notion of the last few years, since Facebook has been king.

A team of researchers at Facebook published an article Thursday that claimed to detail how much the site contributes to political echo chambers or filter-bubbles. Published in the journal Science, their report claimed Facebook’s blackbox newsfeed algorithm weeded out some disagreeable content from readers’ feeds, but not as much as did their personal behavior.

A flurry of criticism came from other social scientists, with one, University of Michigan’s Christian Sandvig, calling it Facebook’s “it’s not our fault” study.

Sample frame

Perhaps the most important limitation to the findings is the small, and unique, subset of users examined. Although the total number was huge (10 million), these were users who voluntarily label their political leanings on their profile, and also log on regularly — only about 4 percent of the total Facebook population, who differ from general users in obvious and subtle ways. Critics have pointed out this crucial detail is relegated to an appendix.

Despite the sample problem, the authors framed their findings by saying they “conclusively establish [them] on average in the context of Facebook […]” [emphasis added].

As University of North Carolina’s Zeynep Tufekci and University of Maryland’s Nathan Jurgenson pointed out, that’s simply inaccurate. The context the Facebook researchers examined was highly skewed, and cannot be generalized.

While the ideal random sample is not always available and convenient samples can tell us much about subpopulations of interest, the sampling selection here confounded the results. Those who are willing to include their political preferences in their Facebook bio are likely to deal with ideologically challenging information in fundamentally different ways than everyone else does.

In spite of this criticism, though, we now know more about that type of user than we did yesterday.

Algorithm vs. personal choice (what they really found, and didn’t)

Another troubling aspect of the study has to do with the way the main finding is presented. The authors write that Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm reduces exposure to cross-cutting material by 8 percent (1 in 13 of such hard-news stories) for self-identified liberals and 5 percent (1 in 20) for conservatives. The researchers also report that these individuals themselves further reduce diverse content exposure by 6 percent among liberals and 17 percent among conservatives.

The comparison of these — algorithm and personal choice — is what caused Sandvig to call this Facebook’s “it’s not our fault” study.

Tufekci and Jurgenson say the authors failed to mention the two effects are additive and cumulative. That individuals make reading choices that contribute to their personal filter-bubble is pretty much unchallenged. Yesterday’s study confirmed that Facebook’s algorithm adds to that, above the psychological baseline. This was not the emphasis of the comparison they made, nor of many headlines covering the study.

For instance:

Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 3.11.44 PM

Tufecki and Jurgenson also point out the authors apparently have botched the statement of this main finding by claiming “that on average in the context of Facebook individual choices more than algorithms limit exposure to attitude-challenging content.” The findings they report are actually mixed: Self-identified liberals’ exposure was more strongly suppressed by the algorithm than by personal choice (8 percent v. 6 percent), while for conservatives the reverse was true (5 percent v. 17 percent).

Science is iterative

Amid all the blowback in the academic world, especially over the inflated claims of the conclusion, some called for a more dispassionate appraisal. Dartmouth’s Brendan Nyhan, who regularly contributes to New York Times’ Upshot, asked for social scientists to “show we can hold two (somewhat) opposed ideas in our heads at the same on the [Facebook] study.” Translated, the study is important, if flawed.

“Science is iterative!” Nyhan tweeted. “Let’s encourage [Facebook] to help us learn more, not attack them every time they publish research. Risk is they just stop.”

But there are rejoinders to that call as well. As University of Maryland law professor James Grimmelmann pointed out, “‘Conclusively’ doesn’t leave a lot of room for iteration.”

Nyhan’s point, that Facebook could stop publishing its findings given enough criticism also highlights that the study, conducted with their proprietary data, is not replicable, a key ingredient in scientific research.

Journals and journalists

Given the overstated (or misstated) findings, many have called out Science, the journal that published the article. Not only is Science peer-reviewed, but along with Nature is one of the foremost academic journals in the world.

While many of yesterday’s news articles noted the controversy around the publication, others repeated the debated conclusion verbatim. Jurgenson had harsh words for the journal: “Reporters are simply repeating Facebook’s poor work because it was published in Science. [Th]e fault here centrally lies with Science, [which] has decided to trade its own credibility for attention. [K]inda undermines why they exist.”

In the Summer 2014 GJR article, “Should journalists take responsibility for reporting bad science?” I wrote about the responsible parties in such cases. Although social media habits are not as high-stakes as health and medicine, journals, public relations departments and scientists themselves must be more accountable for the information they pass on to journalists and ultimately readers.

Although “post-publication review” is here to stay, the initial gatekeepers should always be the first line of defense against bad science  — especially when the journal in question carries the mantle of the entire Scientific enterprise.

Twitter explodes with invective, partisan comment after Ferguson shootings

Twitter provided the earliest reports of the shooting of two police officers in Ferguson this week. It also provided the forum for invective, hate and partisan reaction.

President Barack Obama used Twitter to condemn the shootings and conservative critics condemned Obama for relegating his response to Twitter.

Fox commentators blamed Attorney General Eric Holder’s report last week on unconstitutional police practices in Ferguson for creating the atmosphere in which the officers were shot. On Fox, Jeff Roorda, the head of the St. Louis police union said the resignation of Ferguson Chief Tom Jackson wasn’t enough for protesters, commenting, “They didn’t get what they wanted when Tom stepped down. They got it late last night when they finally, successfully shot two police officers.”

http://wonkette.com/579391/fox-news-eric-holder-really-should-not-have-shot-those-cops-in-ferguson

Protest leaders and the Brown family condemned the violence in press conferences and on Twitter.  But social media critics of the Ferguson police filled Twitter with invective about the police shootings being just in light of the death of Michael Brown.

http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2015/03/12/makes-my-morning-so-much-better-some-reactions-to-the-shooting-of-two-ferguson-cops-have-to-be-read-to-be-believed/

Meanwhile the Twitter handle for police supporters #bluelivesmatter was trending.

Media coverage of Ukraine’s crisis: War for people’s minds

It now is evident that Ukraine has been noted on the world’s map by a vast majority of Americans. From “somewhere near Russia,” it has moved to “between Russia and the European Union” – and this awareness happened thanks to coverage in all renowned national and local media in the United States and beyond. Since December, Ukraine’s political crisis has shown how some media play with information and how journalism is dependent on geopolitics.

Journalists’ work

Being a Ukrainian native, I was monitoring media from different parts of the world in terms of how they have covered the Ukrainian crisis, paying special attention to those countries involved in resolving the issue: the United States, Europe, Russia and Ukraine itself. Ukraine became a newsmaker ever since unrest grew at Euro-maidan (Kiev’s main square) from what started as peaceful protests against delaying the EU-Ukraine- associated membership deal by pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych in November. The unrest converted evolved into a bloody anti-government conflict, with more than 100 killed, thousands injured and pre-war relations between Ukraine and Russia (de facto Russian military aggression) over the Crimean peninsula annexation.

From December to February, Kiev was dangerous place for journalists to work. The first journalist to suffer injuries was Tetiana Chornovol, who worked for the anti-government online publication Ukrainska Pravda. She was beaten by unknown attackers in late December. In January, tension and street violence rose. It seemed that attacks by special police forces were aimed against the least protected and most vulnerable people because of their work conditions: journalists and paramedic volunteers. Ukrainian Espreso.tv provided videos, where police and snipers’ weapons purposely targeted the word “press” and red crosses on protective waistcoats. Forty-six journalists were reported injured, and two dead, after clashes in Kiev.

The journalists’ most recent work has become entangled in controversy and obstacles as the Crimean conflict escalates. A Ukrainian journalist from the weekly magazine Ukrainsky Tuzhden and a freelance photographer were kidnapped and tortured in Crimea. A group of journalists from Ukraine’s national TV network 1+1 was deported from Russia after shooting video in North Ossetia, a territory annexed by Russia from Georgia in 2008. A similar story happened with journalists of the channel Ukraine in the unacknowledged republic of Abkhazia, which has been controlled by Russia since 1993. Journalists still are doing their jobs, but now very differently.

U.S. coverage and the European angle

Among the first media that started covering Ukrainian events were the U.S.newspapers the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, and the broadcast network CNN. Attempts to localize news and give pointed opinions prevailed over “pure” informing. As the conflict spread beyond the Euromaidan protests to Ukraine as a whole, with a major hot spot in Crimea, the United States stepped in as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine. American media exploded with all kinds of stories, ranging from very supportive and positive toward Ukraine to negative ones as well. The New York Times’ leading opinion pieces, as well as CNN’’s news and commentaries (including Anderson Cooper’s first-hand reporting from Ukraine), mostly expressed neutral and supportive positions. For example, the New York Times ran an opinion column from Nicholas Kristof in which he deliberately explained why the “villains” are the Russian troops in Crimea. The Washington Post published Condoleezza Rice’s opinion story urging a stronger U.S. position in this conflict. Opinion pieces challenging U.S. involvement and support of Ukraine appeared in the Los Angeles Times, including those by Paul Whitefield, who contrasted American internal financial needs with providing monetary support to Ukraine.

European media, not surprisingly, showed more in-depth coverage on Ukraine’s crisis, as geographical closeness is still is a crucial factor for world media to involve their foreign reporters into first-hand coverage. The BBC created a special section on its web-site, with live updating on events via Twitter, Facebook, other media, and its own correspondents. The same kind of attitude to covering Ukrainian events was expressed by the Guardian in Britain and Germany’s Douche Welle. In an edition for non-stop Ukrainian coverage Poland’s most influential newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, had special issues published in the Ukrainian language, showing its support in that way.

Despite the different angles in coverage, a general message sent by Western media is that Ukraine is divided within the framework of Ukrainian versus Russian languages and ethnic issues. In fact, this generalization was a case in pre-revolutionary Ukraine. Events from recent months have dramatically influenced people’s views and self-identifications. Newscasts and analytical articles on the nation’s uniting during the conflict are missing in Western coverage, while it is widely shown by Ukraine’s media. This notion of national division has been played for centuries by politicians and historians. Now it is being widely exaggerated by the Russian government to justify that country’s intervention into Ukraine’s sovereignty in Crimea.

Russian propaganda

The portrayal of Ukraine in Russian media cannot be called anything else than propaganda. The majority of Russian television networks (with the only possible exception being Dozhd’ [Rain], which is an opposition TV channel) shows an alternative reality to the coverage from the rest of the world.

The recent facts of pro-government propaganda and press freedom persecution in Russia include a series of resignations from well-known media. The first occurred when Russia Today anchor Liz Wahl quit her job on-air because of unfair coverage of the Ukrainian crisis. A week later, 39 staff members including 32 journalists – and all of the photo editing staff – resigned from Lenta.ru, the oldest liberal online newspaper in Russia. The staffers quit in a show of support for chief editor Galina Timchenko, who was fired from the paper’s independent position and replaced by a pro-Kremlin editor.

Misleading and unfair reporting prevail throughout Russian media, regardless of whether the platform is print, broadcasting or online. Until recently, Russian media on the Internet stayed the least controlled by the government and the most open to publishing diverse opinions. But now it also is being repressed by the government: oppositional web-sites are banned, as well as blogs and live- journal accounts of prominent oppositional leaders Alexei Navalny and Garry Kasparov, the website of radio station Echo of Moscow and more.

Since March 1, when thousands of unidentified troops (in uniforms that resemble those of Russian troops) appeared in Crimea, Russian TV channel Russia 24 reported that thousands of refugees from Ukraine were on the Russia-Ukraine border. In fact, however, they provided archival video that showed cars lined up at a Polish-Ukrainian custom check-point. Officially, just 89 Ukrainians have asked for asylum in Russia during the first two weeks of March. Later, other television networks, while reporting devastating clashes between pro-Russian forces and Ukrainians in Simferopol, used archival video from Kiev’s February protests instead.

The most recent evidence of Russia’s goals to invade and monopolize Ukraine’s informational space includes the military capture of Crimean Tatar’s TV channel ATR, dumping Ukrainian channels from cable networks and replacing them with Russian ones, and the closing of Ukrainian radio stations in Crimea. All this happened at the same time as preparations were made for the illegal referendum about the annexation of Crimea by Russia. While officials in Moscow refuse to take responsibility for these actions their origin are more or less obvious.

Inside view from Ukraine

Staying fair, objective and transparent has been the hardest task for the Ukrainian media. In this situation, when media conglomerates comprising major television networks and publishing houses are controlled by billionaires that were close to Yanukovych’s administration, obeying the duty of objective journalism is hardly achievable. For instance, during the riots in Kiev’s, the reality of Yanukovych’s official position was presented by the TV channel Inter (which is controlled by pro-Kremlin oligarch Dmytro Firtash, who recently was imprisoned in Austria as a result of Interpol and FBI’s investigations). Nevertheless, the majority of national media remained fairly balanced in covering the events. Moreover, the newest positive processes in Ukrainian journalism occurred.

First, almost immediately after the beginning of the clashes at Euro-maidan, the special television online channels Espresso.tv and UkrStream started streaming around the clock from the epicenter of the events. This is a new phenomenon for Ukrainian television, and most of the Ukrainian networks borrowed and retransmitted videos from these channels to cover the events in Kiev.

Second, after 20 years of useless discussions and lost attempts to create public media, self-organized public service broadcasting online channel, Hromadske.tv, was created. Indeed, the boundary conditions of the new revolution forced journalists into this unprecedented step in Ukraine’s history. Prominent journalists from mainstream Ukrainian print, broadcast and online media share their free time after their full-time work assignments to contribute to this public service initiative. So far, it works only in a form of online streaming from one self-maintained studio, combining studio interviews and analytics with onsite web-cams streaming by journalists, and Skype interviews/video conferences. Perhaps, the most- viewed streams were those from ousted President Yanukovych’s residency Mezhihir’ya, where journalists were picturing the royal-like wealth of its former owner. Besides the ethical nuances of this reporting (along with the fact that the majority of national, and some international, media did stories on the treasures of corrupted officials by invading their outcast private residencies), it generated huge social interest. The special public website YanukovychLeaks was created by journalists and civil activists for investigating the corrupt schemes of the former president and his government.

The booming popularity of this long-awaited initiative led to the recent development where Hromandske.tv started broadcasting as a joint project of the television channel First, which is the oldest national TV network (it has a penetration rate of 95 percent of Ukraine’s territory and is the “mouthpiece” of the Ukrainian government). This example of cooperation has been followed by another project of Ukrainian television that aim to unify Ukrainian society.

Social media: So who controls the people’s minds?

The Ukrainian revolution happened with great help from (or because of) social media. Social media are widely used as informational sources now, since it already has been accepted practice for major media players across the globe to disseminate news through them. But person-to-person interaction made Facebook and Twitter, along with Ukrainian and Russian local social media (Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki) key platforms for negotiating the public gatherings at Euro-maidan protests in November. They were used for further coordination of protests.

Dozens of pages that supported and confronted the protests, and that followed the Ukraine-Russia conflict, were created in social media in recent months. Politicians and public figures post comments and tweet about events online. YouTube also is a main platform for the newest streaming videos and the output of public television channels, which shortly after appearing online become widely known in Ukraine. Such use of social media for the needs of mobilizing and influencing people cannot have stayed unnoticed by those interested in information manipulation. The signs of informational war have already been seen in Ukraine, as constant denial-of-service attacks on some of Ukraine’s most-viewed news sites (such as Channel 5, Hromadske.tv, and Ukrainska Pravda) and their YouTube channels are reported. Traditional media are not the main players in this war any more. One should be very picky in choosing sources of information to get the sense of the truth. This might be one of the most obvious inferences about role of Ukraine’s crisis in today’s media world.

 

BuzzFeed controversy reveals split in ethics of embedding tweets

After reading a news report about a 60-year-old rape victim, Twitter user, Christine Fox (@steenfox), posed a simple question to her 17,000 followers: “What were you wearing when you were assaulted?” Hundreds of Twitter users shared their stories with Fox, and exposed a split in how journalists interpret the ethics of using tweets.

Jessica Testa, a reporter at BuzzFeed, sought permission from several tweeters before using their tweets in a listicle (an article that includes a mixture of commentary and embedded tweets, infographics and other images).

According to Fox, Testa requested permission from tweeters, but didn’t ask her. Christine Fox argued that it’s a violation of journalism ethics to use her image and the conversation she initiated without asking for her permission.

This led to a firestorm of responses from reporters at Poynter, Slate, Gawker and several other media outlets.

Hamilton Nolan, a reporter at Gawker, reminded Twitter users that unlocked accounts are considered fair use. He wrote, “Just because you wish that someone would not quote something that you said in public does not mean that that person does not have the right to quote something that you said in public. When we choose to say something in public, we choose to broadcast it to the world.”

Other journalists agreed with Nolan. Kelly McBride, a media ethicist and senior lecturer at Poynter, wrote an opinion article that echoed Nolan’s argument. She used a question to counter Fox’s claim that using tweets without permission is unethical:  “Permission for what?”

In her response, McBride wrote: “Many on Twitter rose up and pointed out that Twitter is public, which is true. And while there is a widely accepted guideline in journalism that you don’t identify rape victims without their permission, @steenfox didn’t identify herself as a survivor in two tweets that asked others to share their stories. Neither did Testa. She is only identified as the one who posed the question. Because you pose a question that provokes an interesting answer, does that give an ethical claim to control the story that emerges?”

Poynter later issued a correction when they discovered Christine Fox revealed her sexual assault in her Twitter, but did not retract McBride’s story.

Reporters Kate Knibbs of the Daily Dot and Mark Colvin of ABC Radio also argued that tweets should be considered fair use.

Kate Knibbs embedded Fox’s tweets without consulting her. She explained her reasoning as, “She is writing on a public platform that’s deliberately set up to facilitate easy resharing. She could have locked her Twitter account and denied my attempt to follow her so I couldn’t access her tweet. But Twitter is explicit in the way it gives users permission to share other people’s content; this includes users (like me) who choose to share content to their digital publication.”

However, Knibbs also wrote that just because journalists can do something doesn’t mean that they should. She is highlighting the difference between the legal rights journalists have under the First Amendment and their moral commitments.

Journalists follow a strict code of ethics, but the rise of social media will challenge the effectiveness of these ethical guidelines.

More than 1,000 people have signed a Change petition that demands apologies and retractions from Poynter and Gawker. It states in part:

“Due to the increased level of visibility we are demanding that journalists, media companies and social media platforms like Twitter take the steps below to not only protect users but to outline the ethical and moral obligations journalists have to not engage in violence toward marginalized people, survivors of sexual violence and others when engaging in online discussions.”

Kelly McBride is learning from this experience. In a follow-up article at Poynter, she highlights four specific lessons she’s learned during this process.

However, all journalists are on a learning curve. Journalists are navigating new terrain, and the BuzzFeed controversy is simply a growing pain when it comes to media ethics.

Africa’s increased use of cell phones changing culture

Mobile phone subscriptions are sweeping across the African continent like never before. After years of technological repression caused by colonial rule, Africa’s mobile phone usage in the 21st century has gone viral.  At the Africa Com 2013 conference in Cape Town, Africa, annual mobility reports were revealed.  It was reported that mobile phone subscriptions had increased in Africa about seven percent.  Ericsson, a technology manufacturing company and a vendor at the Africa Com 2013 conference, stated that currently in Africa, there are “over 800 million mobile subscriptions, which contributes to the 6.6 billion mobile subscriptions globally.”  This number is expected to increase by 2019 to approximately 9.3 billion.

Mobile phone subscription in African has increased in popularity, which is attributed to low-priced smart phones with innovative features like social media capabilities. The accessibility to media platforms such as Mxit, Facebook and Twitter provides a new socio-cultural global public sphere for people to converse and receive new ideas from all over the world, which formulates culture.   Smartphones have a host of programs like Mxit, which is a chat room designed for a user to communicate one-on-one or with a group based on a particular theme or region.

Furthermore, African people use a variety of message services such as Short Message Service (SMS messages) which provides a free means of communication those in rural remote areas, where funds are scarce.  Mobile phones even assist in the development of businesses throughout Africa with the help of applications like M-PESA (‘M’ for Mobile and pesa means money in Swahili), which allows funds to be transferred electronically into hard currency for families, friends and businesses.

This concept is great for sending money home to rural or urban areas.  It’s no wonder mobile phone subscriptions have increased because social media is becoming the fastest and the most efficient way to connect with others.

Madeline Smith is an M.S. student at SIUC.  Her research interests include how
traditional and non-traditional media outlets are used for progressive social change.