Wikileaks analysis Part 1: Some notes on transparency

There's been a lot of discussion of Wikileaks and it's high-profile founder, Julian Assange, recently. Some of it tittle-tattle led mainstream news stuff, and some more reasoned critical analysis.

I've come acoss a few good blog posts that have spurred me to spend time thinking about Wikileaks and the deeper implcations the site-cum-organisation might have for contemporary media and politics. 

As often happens, my intention to post short, pithy comments in response fails and I end up postng longercomments than planned.

So I thought I'd round them up into a couple of blog posts about Wikileaks and a couple of central themes.

In this first post, I responded to a couple of big questions Jed Hallam asked about Wikileaks and its effect on transparency, particularly from the perspective of the individual.

Jed asked whether the fall-out from Wikileaks will mean that people (and I'd presume this term can apply at both a individual and collective, organisational level) start "behaving themselves [...] thus destrying any risk of being found out".

Or perhaps things will go the opposite way with people becoming "ultra-concerned about their privacy" online as possibly evidence by phenomena such as whitewalling (amply demonstrated by Drew)

FInally, Jed asked whether "the world will totally change and people will become totally relaxed about who they are and what they do – every tweet and Facebook update will become accountable for and Eric Schmidt will die a happy man."

I argued that we'll end up with a mixture of two and three. There's a possiblility Julian Assange will see the effects of his "secrecy tax" come to fruition but I'm not too sure in my comment:

Yes, people can leak documents on the web. But they have to get them first. Geert Lovink’s 10 Theses on Wikileaks is relevant here as he makes the claim that Wikileaks only offers a quantitative difference to existing whistle-blowing, not a qualitative one.

Plus, Wikileaks is the antithesis of transparency. We don’t know if the leaks are accurate or planted. Nor do we know how WLs operates, how it chooses or edits material, for example.

Secondly, how likely in realist terms will it be for the government or state or even corporations to become ‘squeaky clean’ in case they’re exposed?

Cory Doctorow wrote a great Comment is Free piece after the G20 protests in London where crowd-sourced citizen journalism content exposed police involvement in the death of Ian Tomlinson, despite their initial flat denials.

Doctorow argued that transparency is nothing unless justice is done. What happened next? The policeman in question was acquitted and faced no further charges.

Transparency in this context only *reinforces* the feeling of disempowerment, helplessness and frustration with existing power.

WIll the US will clean up its military and diplomatic procedures as a result of Wikileaks?

Sadly, I think not. Although I do agree the web will demand some changes at the edges of organisational behaviour, it will outdone by a reliance on information management – both internally and externally – rather than drive significant – and certainly ethical – changes to corporate and organisational behaviour.

For example, the media were circulated D-Notices ahead of the #Cablegate release so it’s very possible what gets reported in the press is still only half the story – and what I’ve read so far isn’t really “news” (e.g. middle eastern leaders wanted to invade Iran (Shock!) and the US urged diplomats to spy on UN members?

Hardly ground-breaking when it was reported years ago that MI6 is/was actively spying on UN delegates.)

I do however, agree, that the web may well change the ability of governments/states and corporations to censor information (Trafigura was a good case in point from a corporate perspective) but of course, all governments and states need to do is move up the food-chain and start blocking/censoring the source of information.

See this very recent story of the UK police applying direct to Nominet to gain take down powers for websites engaged in “criminal activity” as a perfect example.

Of course, criminal activity is subjective but I would imagine that as long as websites are engaged in publishing harmless entertainment they'll be fine.

Which leads me to your third proposition. I agree…. people are ncreasingly opening up and putting more and more personal information online.

And at a day-to-day level I like this idea. I do believe it will force the public and private sector to adopt similar approaches and further push transparency as a tool/outcome to a certain degree.

But equally, I don’t think this will ultimately make for a more equal or even balance of power. The use and abuse of this by corporations, governments and states will no doubt over-ride any greater benefit for the greater good. The Cybernetic Hypothesis has more to say about this.

And this, I think, might bring us full circle.

Daily Mail snoops on people online and steals their content

A few weeks ago the Daily Mail caused a bit of a brouhaha by accusing brands that monitored social media to help identify and solve customer’s problems of “snooping” and “spying”.

I really can’t get anywhere near the level of hysteria generated by the article not even if I attempted a Brasseye-style spoof. Basically you should go and read it, although you actually shouldn’t as it’ll increase their site traffic.

Anyway, while there’s been enough discussion of this particular incident online I wanted to follow-up with another story of the Mail’s disgusting audacity and hypocrisy that happened to a friend.

Now, just imagine if a company was to trawl through the Internet – not unlike those companies that snoop on customers. But imagine if instead of helping people, this company used the Internet to steal things that belong to Members of the Great British Public.

Then imagine that when an aforementioned law-abiding citizen tells the company that it has broken the law and stolen something the company (or a representative of said company) was to deny it and attempt to cover up the crime by offering desultory sums of money to buy the victim off.

Just imagine if that company was none other than the Daily Mail itself!

Yes. That’s right. The sanctimonious Daily Mail was trawling the web on election night for pictures of voters across the UK reacting to polling stations being closed without all voters being able to cast their vote.

Friend and film-maker, Emily James, just happened to be in one of those polling stations and snapped away on her phone, uploading the images to Twitpic.

While other media outlets saw the images, requested permission to use, credited and paid Emily for her work the Mail simply lifted the images then claimed they were in the public domain which meant they could use them with impunity.

Emily, knowing her rights, asserted that Twitpic’s T&Cs copyright remained with the photographer and invoiced the Mail for a reasonable amount.

What followed was a series of exchanges with the Mail’s Pictures Online Picture Editor, Elliot Wagland, and the Mail’s Group Managing Director, Alex Bannister.

I’d urge you to go and read the full saga over at the Just Do It blog as it unfolds and savour in the sheer hypocrisy of the Daily Mail that on the one hand criticises companies for using the Internet to help its customers while on the other hand is happy to steal content from people. Part 1 is here and Part 2 here

Aside from the audacity of the Mail it’s also slightly worrying that its Online Pictures Editor fails to grasp the basics of copyright in relation to key social media platforms.

However, as Martyne Drake observes on his blog about this particular story, although the Mail’s Group Managing Editor  claims this was a one-off

given the number of times I’ve seen them [Daily Mail] attribute copyright wrongly and use pictures from Twitpic and other services (which retain the original copyright of the photographer), it’s not so much an incident that’s happened by accident or carelessness, but downright arrogance.

Enjoy!

EXCLUSIVE: Dick Fedorcio, Met Police blogger engagement and my part in it…

 

G20 officer hides badge

I published a blog post earlier this year in which I questioned the Metropolitan Police's approach to social media and criticised what I perceived to be the wrong organisational attitude.

Rather than looking to embrace social media, listen, adapt and respond to the public and earn the reputation it deserves, comments made by the Met's Director of External Affairs, Dick Fedoricio, in a PR Week interview suggested otherwise:

"If I was seeking to
manipulate people, it would raise a question about how that reduced our
integrity. To be leaning on someone to say "give us a good blog" starts
to raise some ethical issues.
"

I wanted to return to this issue for a couple of reasons. Primarily, I was shocked (but unsurprised) to see that according the Evening Standard, the Met has now requested that all imagery of its officers hiding or obscuring their badges be removed from photo libraries and image databases (hiding numbers means officers can't be (easily) identified and is an illegal tactic usually performed to allow police to act with impunity while committing – often violent – offences against the public).

While the Standard accuses the Met of trying to "re-write history", a member of the public gets it right in a comment posted on the story:

"If people start uploading such images to Facebook and Twitter, will
they get their collars felt? We seem to be heading in that direction."

Leaving aside the jusdgement of which direction society is heading, the issue of whether material incriminating authorities published publicly in the social web can be removed remains – as does the question: what power do authorities have to, in DIck's words, "manipulate" or "lean on" someone to force removal?

Following the G20 the Met has signed up 6Consulting and Radian6 to run social media monitoring for the force so it's very likely that any 'offending' material will certainly be identified. That said, I return to the point I made originally which was that this approach reveals a traditional command and control communications culture at the Met which will not fit in the distributed, complex, networked world in which we now live.

I mentioned there were a couple of reasons I wanted to blog about this topic again. That's the first, the second is much more personal.

After my previous post in which the Met's Dick Fedorcio told PR Week that he will "not go as far as interacting with bloggers" he went right ahead by 'interacting' with me.

So how did he interact with me? Was it a comment left on my blog post examining the Met's approach to social media? Was it an email explaining the Met's decision not to interact with bloggers? 

No. Instead Dick left me a voicemail on my work phone. Why he phoned me at work I don't know (especially given my blog states clearly it's a personal site and encourages contact via my personal email address).

Dick's voicemail was rather aggressive (I'm sure this was unintentional) and stated that he worked for Scotland Yard (again, this is confusing, but I'm sure he meant the Metropolitan Police).

He advised me, in a rather intimidating fashion, that if I planned on blogging about the Met againI  should give him a call in advance.

Now I'm sure Dick meant only well by his inadvertently aggressive and intimidating phonecall advising I seek permission before blogging about the Met, but it seems clear to me that the Met are doing blogger engagement, despite what they tell PR Week.

Plus ca change…

Technorati tags: Dick Fedorcio, Metropolitan Police, blogger engagement

The Met Police, Twitter and blogger engagement

I posted a while back about comments made to PR Week by the Met Police's corporate comms manager, Dick Fedorico, about their plans for online monitoring and engagement.

Well, in advance of this year's Climate Camp the Met has signed u to Twitter to provide real-time updates on their actions during the week long Camp.

But, take a look a look at their Twitter policy:

"Official CO11 Met Police channel. Please note we
cannot respond to messages via Twitter. Read our Twitter policy at
www.met.police.uk/webinfo/twitter.htm"

So….. the Met is using Twitter to disseminate information, but isn't prepared to listen to what people have to say.

There's some additional confusion as in a Guardian article a spokesperson says that only people who follow the Met's Twitter feed will have access to updates. But currently their feed is public so anyone can view their feed.

Well, actually; I say 'feed' but there seems to be two identical Met feeds:

  1. http://twitter.com/C011MetPolice
  2. http://twitter.com/CO11MetPolice

It'll be an interesting case to follow and see how it works.

Tags: Met Police, CO11, Twitter, Climate Camp

Crowd-sourcing the future of media

One of the things I [heart] about the internet is its ability to totally democratise the production and distribution of knowledge and information.

Reading George Monbiot's (somewhat difficult to follow) analysis of the relationship between the media, editorial independence and advertising in a recent Guardian column, I thought: "Wow. Well, that's complicated. What's the solution?".

Well, it turns out the solution wasn't too far away. Several comments down in fact. By a man called Graham Wayne.

I won't try to summarise or precis his response. I'm just going to re-post.Lazy, you say? Well, it's too good not to. 

George

I
am moved by your candid argument to respond – and we should acknowledge
the Guardian for giving you the space – and yet for the first time in
many threads I am, frankly, quite perplexed by the commercial paradox
you identify.

There are some alternatives, but none of them are
entirely satisfactory or perhaps commercially practical. Some are not
consistent with the ethical requirements you describe and with which I
broadly agree. But in the first place, let us enjoy for a moment the
irony of taking money from the airlines, the automotive industry and
their ilk, in order to sponsor an MSN outlet that consistently
criticises them and pays for people like you to do so. It does sweeten
the pill a little, but perhaps not enough.

Some suggestions then
- not so much as things I think can be done, but as catalysts that
might lead to constructive discussion and better solutions than I can
offer:

1) Recent news suggests that some quality MSN websites
will attempt to institute subscriptions. If the Guardian moved in that
direction but limited advertising according to content that met
published ethical standards, it would make subscription more
meaningful. I would pay to support a news site that placed ethical
behaviour at the core of its business model, because that is exactly
what I find is virtually absent from commercial concerns, and much to
our detriment both as consumers and members of society.

2) Try
such a scheme as an alternative site and trial it for a reduced sub in
the first year. If it took off, move the enterprise in that direction
and reward those early supporters with a discount on the second year -
or something.

3) Ban only the ads that meet the ethical standard.
This is not a moral exercise but a commercial one, but where virtue is
rewarded. Ethical standards should be applied to products or services,
not companies per se, and when certain products enjoy more ad space
than their counterparts, their importance to the companies that produce
them shifts in their favour, simply because they sell more. Advertising
usually targets the consumer, attempting to modify their behaviour;
here advertising could target the companies and do the same. It is in
the boardroom that this message needs to be understood – the market is
changing and ethical behaviour will be rewarded by consumers. (And when
it's all hat and no cattle, you have new fodder for the column).

4)
Develop more flexible price strategies and find more innovative ways to
deliver the adverts. Perhaps a rate card with weighted price bands
depending on gross revenue, where smaller and more ethical concerns can
also take some space in the paper or the site, thus increasing
opportunities for ad sales. I suggest this because I think taking the
ethical stance will cost the Guardian some revenue. Quite how much it
loses is in part dependant on the ad sales team, because there is also
a strong marketing advantage in the ethical stance, especially if the
Guardian is the first to adopt is. Very newsworthy, and worth
trumpeting in any ad campaign. It must also be true that properly
exploited, there may be some additional market share to be gained
through it, so it's not all downside.

5) Keep discussing the
option of going completely digital. I'm sure this is discussed and the
Guardian management understand this much better than I, but there are
important implications for the environment as well as the economics. It
must include a subscription, but that has benefits since it would
probably be annual or semi-annual, which is more reliable income than
variable sales of print copies. (I'd like to see the management's
thoughts on this. Things change, as the Guardian demonstrates with this
very site. Where are they now on this?)

Prudence would dictate
money will be lost, so the Guardian must ask the same question it does
over page 3 girls: what is it prepared to do in service of Mammon
rather than its founders like Scott? Tits are out of bounds, yet they
would bring in more money, as would the sex trade ads, but the Guardian
has taken a moral stance at the expense of profit. Morality cannot be
parcelled out or striated by expediency. Either the Guardian is wholly
responsible and doesn't want to assist in destroying civilisation, or
it may as well start looking for busty women and brainless men to leer
at them, since that readership will always put their hands in their
pockets – if you know what I mean.

Good isn't it? I hope the Guardian's Emily Bell sees this and takes some of Graham's points further.

Tags: Guardian, George Monbiot, future of the media, Emily Bell, advertising

Metropolitan Police’s turn to social media after G20 policing scandal likely to fail, IMHO

As an interesting footnote to my post below about the need for the Metropolitan Police to make significant changes to its organisational communications culture the force's Director of Public Affairs and Corporate Communications, Dick Fedorcio, is interviewed in this week's PR Week.

From my reading and expert opinion form others Fedorcio's comments indicate that the Met is unable or unwilling to make the real changes necessary.

In a telling statement, Fedorcio, tells PR Week that he won't be looking to run a blogger engagement programme any time soon as:

"If I was seeking to
manipulate people, it would raise a question about how that reduced our
integrity. To be leaning on someone to say "give us a good blog" starts
to raise some ethical issues.
"

This is a damning insight into the Met's current communications practice as it suggests that its media strategy is built on manipulation.

Commenting on the interview, Diffusion's Ivan Ristic, adds his expert comment that when an organisation has a "reputation of stonewalling" it "makes it difficult
in a social marketing context.
" Too true. You need to tell your story as openly as possible and engage and empower others to help tell your story.

However, while what Ivan says is correct I disagree with his reading of the situation. The Met does not have a reputation to stonewall – at least in the G20/Tomlinson context.

Here the Met/City police and IPCC were extremely proactive in issuing media releases and briefings to frame the story based on what has emerged as an untrue account of events.

Admitedly organisational change isn't easy and takes time and resources – something Fedorcio claims is currently lacking. But stepping into the social media space without evening considering what adaptions you need to make to your corporate communications strategy is setting yourself up to fail – or at least be burned very publicly before you get your strategy right.

I wonder if Dick or the Met will ever monitor this psot and respond? :)

Tags: Metropolitan Police, Dick Fedorcio, PR Week, blogger engagement, social media strategy

Happy 2009 (unless the government gets in the way)

Guardin

As a rule I try not to 'do' predictions or resolutions at New Year. But I thought I'd flag how the UK Government plans to not only resurrect it's data intercept modernisation programme, but to outsource it as well, according to the story in today's Guardian.

Personally, I find the route down which our digital rights are being taken in the UK extremely worrying especially given the much more progressive and sustainable direction being taken in the US by Obama's incoming administration.

On the cards for 2009 we have the revised plan for the data intercept modernisation programme (being driven by the security and intelligence agencies), Lord Carter's Digital Britain initiative (any info anyone?) and plans to take a tougher approach on copyright/file-sharing.

Ironically, the latter two also present major opportunities to kick-start the UK economy if handled correctly. But let's wait and see shall we…

Happy New Year to all and here's to a prosperous 2009!

Technorati tags: UK Government, Data Intercept Modernisation Programme, Digital Britain, 2009

Copyright is criminalising the future

More on Lawrence Lessig’s superb WSJ column to which I linked previously.

Lessig’s mini-essay does a superb job at revealing the stupidity of the unthinking, process-obsessed application of copyright laws. As his prime example he cites the case of Stephanie Lenz’s video on Youtube of her 13 month-old child dancing to the Prince track, Let’s Go Crazy, for all of 29 seconds.

Shortly after posting the video, Youtube was sent a letter from Universal Music on behalf of Prince demanding the video be removed.

Lessig asks rightly:

“How is it that sensible people, people no doubt educated at some of the best universities and law schools in the country, would come to think it a sane use of corporate resources to threaten the mother of a dancing 13-month-old?

In addition to highlighting this type of moronic activity Lessig helpfully points us towards some key policy solutions which will help governments, regulators and policy-makers understand and interpret how copyright should evolve in the (very near) future.

Although primarily US-centric, these can act as guidance for the UK/Europe and include:

  • Deregulate amateur remix
  • Deregulate “the copy”
  • Simplify
  • Restore efficiency
  • Decriminalize Gen-X

I won’t go into these in detail – you’ll have to read the column for that. But the final point, Decriminalize Gen-X, moves me. Lessig observes:

The war on peer-to-peer file-sharing is a failure. After a decade of fighting, the law has neither slowed file sharing, nor compensated artists. We should sue not kids, but for peace, and build upon a host of proposals that would assure that artists get paid for their work, without trying to stop “sharing.”"

As if these words weren’t prescient enough, we need only look at what the BPI is going in the UK in an effort to build the crumbling walls around copyright even higher.

Lessig’s column is an extract from his forthcoming book: Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy

Technorati tags: Lawrence Lessig, Copyright, future, Remix

When Think Tanks Go Bad: Policy Exchange and agenda-setting

I toyed with the idea of a career in academia for a brief time but decided it wasn’t for me owing to its often detachment from the ‘real world’.

I find that taking original ideas and applying them – or seeking to understand how they can be applied – to the real world is a more rewarding approach.

This is why I have a lot of time for think tanks: quasi-academic institutions that recognose the power of ideas to shape the real world around us.

Last Friday’s Guardian had a fascinating profile of the think tank du jour, Policy Exchange; current favourite thinkers for the Conservatives.

Policy Exchange has “enjoyed a dizzy rise to prominence” according to Staniforth and LabourHome’s Mark Hanson, in parallel with the rise of the Conservatives return to the political landscape.

But the Guardian article gives me some cause for concern as Policy Exchange’s standards seem to be slipping – or perhaps more fairly, being shaped – in relation to the Tories’ rise.

Firstly, there was the extremely worrying piece of research that claimed a number of British Mosques were publishing Islamic extremist literature which was revealed as dubious – if not entirely fabricated by Newsnight:

 

Then there was the bizarre report on UK regional development which recommended (according to the media) many people living in northern cities (e.g. Bradford, Liverpool) should simply move to southern cities (e.g. Oxford, London) as regional regeneration had failed.

There are also a number of other worrying examples flagged by Mark over at his PR Media blog and the Guardian profile, includiong PE’s views on welfare (“make’s people lazy”) and transport (“build more roads”).

Of course, I recognise a large part of this may revolve on ideology; some of PE’s ideas may not marry with my own personal perspective.

However, I would like to think I am rational enough to stand by policy recommendations based on “comprehensive academic research” (which is how PE described its extremist Islam report).

Take a look at the Guardian’s profile and make your own mind up.

Technorati tags: Policy Exchange, Guardian, think tanks, politics, policy

More Berocca

Following on from receiving a Berocca blogger stress relief pack last week Rick Lamb and Lolly Borel have more round-ups and analysis of the campaign.

Rick actually manages to identify the people behind the initiative… step forward digital marketing agency i-Level.

I’m presuming it was their social media unit, Jam, who came up with the strategy and execution. I’d recommend them to use a bit more personalisation and transparency in their communications. ;-)

Technorati tags: Berocca, i-Level