Turkish Reporters Unite to Protest YouTube Ban

The Turkish courts banned YouTube in May 2008, and now a new protest campaign launched by the editorial team of the Milliyet newspaper is drawing attention to how long the country has been prevented from using the website.

The initiative, which was was launched on February 19, is not the first campaign of this type. But it's notable because previous protests came from the blogosphere and, as a result, did not receive international coverage. The current ban is the fourth such action by the Turkish courts since 2007; hopefully, this campaign will draw attention to this policy of censorship.

WSJ Piece Sparks Outcry

The editors of Milliyet were inspired to act by a February 16 piece in the Wall Street Journal by David Keyes, a founding member of Cyberdissidents.org. Keyes wrote that "there is nothing European, let alone cultural, about prohibiting citizens from viewing YouTube. Turkey's status as the 2010 European 'Capital of Culture' should be suspended until this ban is repealed."


haberturk.gif

The article received significant pick-up in the Turkish press. A columnist at Haberturk, a national daily, commented that the ban and the resulting situation were an embarrassment. The ban of YouTube was issued on May 5, 2008, by three Ankara magistrate courts who ruled that YouTube had not acquired a certificate of authorization to operate in the country. The columnist at Haberturk wrote that the minister of transportation should do everything in his power to change the relevant law, and then ask YouTube to pay taxes.

In announcing the protest campaign, Milliyet columnist Mehveş Emin said:

Everybody has changed their DNS settings and can access YouTube, just like the Prime Minister does and has said he does. This is why people have become insensitive about this ban. But YouTube is still blocked in Turkey and this affects Turkey's image negatively and this issue needs to be resolved. So as the editorial team of Milliyet Cadde, we agreed to show everyday how many days have passed since the ban.

Following that, on February 17, technology journalists at the daily newspaper Hürriyet published their view on Internet Freedom in Turkey:

We as Turkish technology journalists have stressed the importance of a free Internet over and over again. Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review did a remarkable job by documenting non-censored computers for the use of the IMF and World Bank delegations during their summit this summer. We said it was not a clever move to try to hide something you are ashamed of, especially if the rest of the world knows about it. The fact that Iran is on the same level as Turkey in terms of free Internet is a shame on the politicians of a free, democratic society. Just as Iran, Turkey would like to create a national search engine and a national Internet, which is an oxymoron to many.

3,700 Websites Blocked

According to Reporters Without Borders' 2009 Press Freedom Index, Turkey is ranked 102 out of 173 countries. In testimony given during a Congressional hearing held on Dec. 3, 2009, Reporters Without Borders noted that, "In 2009, Turkey has experienced a surge in cases of censorship, especially censorship of media that represent minorities [especially the Kurds]."

In Turkey, law No. 5651, "On the fight against online crime," allows a prosecutor to ban access to any website that incites suicide, pedophilia or drug use, or that defames Kemal Atatürk. During 2008, ten web sites, including YouTube, Dailymotion and Google Groups, were blocked by court decisions. Clearly, this law is being applied indiscriminately and as a tool to suppress free speech.

"In its current form, Law 5651, commonly known as the Internet Law of Turkey, not only limits freedom of expression, but severely restricts citizens' right to access information," said Milos Haraszti, media freedom monitor for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), in a January Reuters story.

He said that Turkey, a European Union candidate, was blocking access to 3,700 Internet sites because Ankara's Internet law was "too broad and too subject to political interests."

Turkish newspapers also reported that in April 2009 the army sorted 292 Turkish-language websites and 138 foreign-language sites into categories such as "separatist," "in favour of the EU," "Islamist." The list included a number of human rights websites, as well as newspapers such as The Independent and the New York Times.

The question now is whether Turkey's online censorship will land it on the list of "Internet Enemies" that we at Reporters Without Borders will publish this Friday -- and how its Internet policies will impact its EU membership.

Clothilde Le Coz has been working for Reporters Without Borders in Paris since 2007. She is now the Washington director for this organization, helping to promote press freedom and free speech around the world. In Paris, she was in charge of the Internet Freedom desk and worked especially on China, Iran, Egypt and Thailand. During the time she spent in Paris, she was also updating the "Handbook for Bloggers and Cyberdissidents," published in 2005. Her role is now to get the message out for readers and politicians to be aware of the constant threat journalists are submitted to in many countries.

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What Are the Legal Implications of PleaseRobMe?

They know where you sleep, and now they know where you get coffee.

That was the message driven home by the recently created website PleaseRobMe.com. The site aggregates Twitter posts sent when a person uses Foursquare to check in at a location -- meaning they're basically telling the world that they're not at home at the moment.

According to the folks at PleaseRobMe, if a would-be burglar knows you're out with friends, that "leaves one place you're definitely not...home."

The site is a commentary on the downside of overusing location-based services like Foursquare and Loopt. These services allow users to "check-in" at different locations around the globe using smartphones or laptops. Once checked-in, a user can choose to publicly share where they happen to be by using services like Twitter.

"The site allows people to meet and is a way to find out what is going on in your area,"
said Dennis Crowley, CEO and co-founder of Foursquare. Recently, Crowley checked-in at an airport and was surprised to discover a friend he hadn't seen in months was just two terminals away. "That's the benefit," Crowley said.

While one of PleaseRobMe's founders insists the site is not really an attempt to aid cat burglars, it could be just one step away from walking outside the First Amendment's protection of free speech.

Is PleaseRobMe Aiding Burglars?

While the First Amendment's guarantee that "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech" seems absolute, not every form of speech is guarded by the Constitution. Rather, the Supreme Court has held that some forms of speech are not entitled to full protection.

According to several lower courts, speech that aids and abets illegal acts are not shielded by the First Amendment. So, if a website were to aid in the commission of a crime and was sued for its part in the offense, the First Amendment would not offer the publisher any protection.

hitman.jpg

In an influential Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals case, Rice v. Paladin Enterprises, Paladin published a book titled, "Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors." The book provided "detailed instructions about how to...execute and cover up a murder." In 1993, a man named James Perry followed the author's instructions, killing three people. Subsequently, relatives of the deceased successfully sued Paladin for aiding Perry in the murders.

The Fourth Circuit stated that in order to charge a publisher with aiding and abetting a crime, the publisher must intend for people to use the article to commit an illegal act. In coming to its decision, the court noted that Paladin's book was "so comprehensive and detailed that it is as if the [author] were literally present with the would-be murderer" during the crime.

The founders of PleaseRobMe have consistently stated that they do not want people to use the site to rob a house. Instead, the site is a commentary on the amount of personal information people are making publicly available. In fact, a burglar would have a difficult time using PleaseRobMe to commit a crime, since the site does not provide anyone's home address unless it too has been posted to Twitter.

Section 230 Defense

Be that as it may, PleaseRobMe begs a particularly important question. What if someone designed a site that was intended, and could be used, to aid burglars using publicly available information? Could they be sued after someone's house was robbed?

While such a site may lack constitutional protection since its intended use would be to aid the commission of a crime, it could be protected by Congress. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act gives immunity to any "interactive computer service," such as a website, against civil lawsuits (but not criminal sanctions) that arise from third party publications.

Section 230 was passed in 1996, just as the Internet was just beginning to make headway with the American public. As many courts have stated, the history behind Section 230 made it clear that Congress did not want websites to be liable for the statements of others. The legislature felt that imposing such a burden would hamper the Internet's development.

Normally, Section 230 is invoked when a website is sued for publishing a defamatory statement that was written by a guest poster or independent commenter. In these cases, "Section 230 is often considered to be a very strong protection against defamation suits," said Robert Richards, co-founder of the Pennsylvania Center for the First Amendment.

The question currently facing courts is how far to "define the bounds of Section 230 immunity," Richards said.

Although Section 230 is often applied to defamation lawsuits, it has also been employed in invasion of privacy, negligence and misappropriation claims. As a result of this expansion, it is not unthinkable that a court would extend Section 230 to protect a website against civil claims of aiding and abetting a burglary.

Of course, there is a question of whether such a website could be understood as merely facilitating third party publications. Nonetheless, in the wake of the PleaseRobMe controversy, the legal question posed here seems relevant, and is far from answered.

Do Location-Based Services Invade Privacy?

As location-based networks become more popular, the risk of sharing sensitive information increases as well. Though many lament the fact that so much personal information is available online, Foursquare's Crowley said his service isn't invasive.

foursquare.jpg

"We've been working on the project since 2001 and have checked in almost every day for the last 10 years, and the only bad thing that's happened is an ex-girlfriend will sometimes show up where I am," Crowley said.

He emphatically noted that "Foursquare is not tracking you. You have to check in and voluntarily choose to make your location publicly available."

"At the end of the day, you have to be aware of what you're doing online and the consequences of your acts," said Kurt Opsahl, senior attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "It's a matter of expectations. People want to tell their friends where they are,but, as PleaseRobMe points out, other actors may see personal information as well."

Although Foursquare users must volunteer to divulge their whereabouts with the general public, the site's editors may share some information with local businesses when offering various promotions, according to Foursquare's privacy policy.

This has caught the attention of Congress, which is set to hold a hearing titled, "The Collection and Use of Location Information for Commercial Purposes." The hearing will discuss the privacy concerns that have arisen due to location-based services.

"The key issue with these types of sites is disclosure. If people are agreeing that information can be shared in this manner, then that's a service that a company can provide," said Opsahl.

While the notion of sharing personal information with businesses may make some people uneasy, there are potential benefits. For instance, Foursquare's "mayor" promotion offers free products to the user who checks in at a location the most often.

"In Texas, there is a restaurant that will give away a free steak dinner to the person who checks in the most," Crowley said.

Rob Arcamona is a second-year law student at the George Washington University Law School. Prior to attending law school, Rob worked at the Student Press Law Center and also helped establish ComRadio, the Pennsylvania State University's student-run Internet-based radio station. He writes the Protecting the Source blog.

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4 Minute Roundup: Viacom Yanks Shows from Hulu; FT’s Pay Model

This episode of 4MR is brought to you by GoDaddy, helping you set up your own website in a snap with domain name registration, web hosting and 24/7 support. Visit GoDaddy to learn more.

Here's the latest 4MR audio report from MediaShift. In this week's edition, I look at the recent move by Viacom to pull "The Daily Show" and "Colbert Report" from Hulu, and run them on their own sites. Plus, the Financial Times said it would start charging for day passes and weekly passes to augment its metered pay system online. And I asked Just One Question to PEJ's Tom Rosenstiel about their recent report on the interactive news consumer.

Check it out:

4mrbareaudio3510.mp3

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Listen to my entire interview with Tom Rosenstiel:

Background music is "What the World Needs" by the The Ukelele Hipster Kings via PodSafe Music Network.

Here are some links to related sites and stories mentioned in the podcast:

Why the Daily Show Left Hulu by Andrew Baron

Viacom Will Take 'Daily Show,' 'Colbert' Off Hulu at NYT Media Decoder

Viacom's departure from Hulu comes with a bite at CNET

Hulu loses shows in pricing clash at FT

Hulu, Colbert, And The Recentralization Of Video On The Web at TechCrunch

Loss of Daily Show, Colbert puts more pressure on Hulu at Yahoo Tech blog

FT CEO says improving ad trend continues at Reuters

Financial Times Website Turns To PayPal at Fishbowl NY

FT to use PayPal for daily, weekly online access at Editors Weblog

FT Will Use PayPal For Daily, Weekly Payments at PaidContent

Understanding the Participatory News Consumer at Pew Internet

Also, be sure to vote in our poll about how you plan to experience the Oscars:


Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

This episode of 4MR is brought to you by GoDaddy, helping you set up your own website in a snap with domain name registration, web hosting and 24/7 support. Visit GoDaddy to learn more.

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Can Social Media Chatter Predict Oscar Winners?

The biggest night in movies is two days away, and everyone has an opinion as to who will win an Oscar. While there isn't a proven formula that can tell us which film is going to win, a closer look at social media such as blogs and Twitter can provide some interesting perspective as to which nominees are dominating conversations and spurring emotional reactions.

Here's a look at the favorite contenders, as determined by social media chatter.

What the Blogs Are Saying

Sysomos, a social media analytics firm, today unveiled an updated buzz chart for the 10 Best Picture nominees. The chart outlines which films captured the most attention and generated positive buzz -- two potential indicators of Oscar destiny -- on blogs over the past month. The blogosphere was measured based on share of voice (percentage of overall conversation) and sentiment (percentage of favorability).

According to Sysomos's findings, "Avatar" leads the conversation with 25.6 percent of blogger attention (share of voice), while "The Hurt Locker" was second with 18.1 percent. Based on this assessment, "Avatar" is the favorite to win Best Picture.

I asked Sysomos to apply the same blog research to three other Oscar categories: Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Director. To keep the searches relevant, Sysomos narrowed the queries to include the name of the actor, actress or director and "oscar" or "oscars" and "academy awards."

According to the share of voice analysis, Jeff Bridges ("Crazy Heart"), Sandra Bullock ("The Blind Side") and James Cameron ("Avatar") look like good bets to win in their respective categories. The sentimental favorites are Colin Firth ("A Serious Man"), Carey Mulligan ("An Education") and Lee Daniels ("Precious").

Best Actor

Actor Share of Voice.jpg

Share of Voice Rankings:
1) Jeff Bridges (25%)

2) George Clooney (24.4%)

3) Colin Firth (18.2%)

Best Actor (Sentiment).jpg

Sentiment Rankings:
1) Colin Firth (62%)

2) George Clooney (58%)

3) Morgan Freeman (57%)

Best Actress

Actress (share of voice).jpg

Share of Voice Rankings:
1) Sandra Bullock (28.2%)

2) Carey Mulligan (22.2%)

3) Meryl Streep (20.8%)

Actress (sentiment).jpg

Sentiment Rankings:
1) Carey Mulligan (63%)

2) Meryl Streep (57%)

3) Gabourey Sidibe (57%)

Best Director

Best Director (Share of Voice).jpg

Share of Voice Rankings:
1) James Cameron (33.8%)

2) Kathryn Bigelow (24.9%)

3) Quentin Tarantino (16.3%)

Best Director (sentiment).jpg

Sentiment Rankings:
1) Lee Daniels (68%)

2) Jason Reitman (62%)

3) Quentin Tarantino (56%)

Talk of the Town on Twitter

In Hollywood, it's not always good to be the talk of the town (see the controversial news that broke about "The Hurt Locker"). On Twitter, the talk is real-time and runs the gamut from great to good to bad to downright nasty. So while a high number of Twitter mentions might signal heightened interest in a nominee's performance, it doesn't necessarily mean they're gathering support.

The nominees who have the largest share of voice on blogs over the past month were also talked about the most on Twitter. Sandra Bullock has the most Twitter mentions (8,732), followed by James Cameron (6,176) and Jeff Bridges (5,785). In addition, the sentimental favorites on Twitter reflect the same emotions of the blogosphere, as tweets around Colin Firth (second), Carey Mulligan (second) and Lee Daniels (fourth) are highly positive, yet trail the category leaders in overall quantity.

Twitter Rankings (past 30 days)

Best Actor

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1) Jeff Bridges (5,785)
2) Colin Firth (1,886) - positive sentiment leader with 61%

3) George Clooney (1,706)

4) Jeremy Renner (1,239)

5) Morgan Freeman (733)



Best Actress

Carey Mulligan Twitter.jpg

1) Sandra Bullock (8,732)
2) Carey Mulligan (3,839) - positive sentiment leader with 63%

3) Meryl Streep (2,494)

4) Helen Mirren (451)

5) Gabourney Sidibe (22)



Best Director

Lee Daniels Twitter.jpg

1) James Cameron (6,176)
2) Kathryn Bigelow (2,982)

3) Quentin Tarantino (1,100)

4) Lee Daniels (971) - positive sentiment leader with 69%

5) Jason Reitman (633)

Will Social Media Predict the Winners?

Now that we know the names and films dominating the discussion on blogs and Twitter, it's simply a matter of sitting back and watching the show on Sunday. Then we'll have a sense of whether our collective sentiment is also interesting science.

Update March 9, 2010: Now that Oscar statues have been distributed, let's revisit the pre-show social media buzz and see if the names called at the Kodak Theatre matched the names most frequently discussed on blogs and Twitter.

The Accurate Buzz: Best Actor and Best Actress

Jeff Bridges ("A Crazy Heart") and Sandra Bullock ("The Blind Side") led the share-of-voice category on blogs and were mentioned the most times on Twitter. Both walked away from the Academy Awards as first-time winners for their leading roles. The movie industry and the media that follow it all were bullish on Bullock and Bridges to win Oscars, and both won Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards for Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role.

Bridges edged out Clooney in share of voice by only 0.6% in the past month, but Clooney arguably has dominant share-of-mind as an actor in the mainstream media. I suspect a longer historical comparison between the two would reveal a substantial lead for Clooney on blogs and Twitter. The heightened buzz on Bridges and his lead over Clooney signaled an abnormal interest in his performance and the potential to win an Oscar.

The Inaccurate Insights: Best Picture and Best Director

The biggest box office movie of all time naturally had the greatest share of voice on blogs. However, "Avatar" did not win Best Picture and James Cameron's quest for a second win as Best Director fell short (he won for "Titanic" in 1997). "The Hurt Locker" won six Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director for Kathryn Bigelow, while "Avatar" captured three Oscars (Art Direction, Cinematography and Visual Effects).

To many critics and insiders, "The Hurt Locker" was expected to win due to its awards show momentum. The best predictor of Best Director continues to be the Director's Guild of America (DGA) Awards, which gave Kathryn Bigelow its highest honor this year. As the DGA notes on its website (www.dga.org), "Only six times since the DGA Award's inception in 1948 has the winner not gone on to receive the Academy Award for Best Director."

Lesson from Oscar Chatter

This leaves us with our initial question: Can social media chatter predict Oscar winners? The answer is an unequivocal "not sure." Pending further human analysis of the blog and Twitter mentions, we can't support or refute the correlation between level of buzz and likelihood of awards. Unlike the near-certainty of a DGA Award recipient going on to receive an Oscar statue, the social media chart toppers largely reflect our pop culture and peer influences.

*****

Did you find yourself mentioning the favored Oscar winners (Jeff Bridges, Sandra Bullock and "The Hurt Locker") on blogs and Twitter prior to the show? Do you think social media can help predict the winners? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Nick Mendoza is the director of digital communications at Zeno Group. He advises consumer, entertainment and web companies on digital strategy, distribution and engagement. He dreamstreams and is the film correspondent for MediaShift. Follow him on Twitter @NickMendoza.

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5Across: Smartphone Etiquette, and Our Lack of Civility

This episode of 5Across is brought to you by GoDaddy, helping you set up your own website in a snap with domain name registration, web hosting and 24/7 support. Visit GoDaddy to learn more.

Back in 2006 on MediaShift, I asked an innocent question to readers: In what social situations should you NOT use a cell phone? The response was overwhelming, with dozens of people upset by the lack of etiquette shown by people talking on cell phones in restaurants, theaters and even in public restrooms. We eventually came up with a definitive guide for cell phone no-no's.

Now, with smartphones becoming popular, the problem has become even worse. We have people texting while walking across the street, checking scores while out on a date, or using GPS when they could simply ask someone nearby. What's the story with smartphone etiquette? For this episode of 5Across, we convened a group of people to discuss various situations when smartphone use can be tricky -- in restaurants, with friends, in the car -- and considered an opposing view: when the phone call might be more important than the company with us in person. The result is a fascinating discussion about our transitional time, as we figure out (quite clumsily) when it's OK to chat on our smartphone and when it's not.

5Across: Smartphone Etiquette

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Guest Biographies

W. Kamau Bell is a comedian that told the very first joke about Barack Obama on Comedy Central's Premium Blend waaaaaaaay back in 2005. Unfortunately, the joke predicted that Barack would never be President. (Oops!) Comedy Central also invited Kamau to perform his critically acclaimed solo show, "The W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism in About an Hour," at their theater in Hollywood. "The Curve" enjoyed a long run in San Francisco, had continued success in Oakland and Berkeley, and played to full houses in 2009 at the New York International Fringe Festival. His new CD, Face Full of Flour is now out on iTunes.

Fernando Castrillon earned a masters in sociology from the University of California and a doctorate in clinical psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS). He currently serves as core faculty in the Community Mental Health Department at CIIS and is the director of CIIS's "Clinic without Walls." His clinical, teaching, and research interests include, among other things, the impact of hypervelocity technological change on human psychology and intersubjectivity. Currently he is working on a book based on his dissertation research, in which he examines the cultural, psychological and intersubjective consequences of the hyper-digitization of contemporary Western culture.

Nicole Lee is an associate editor for CNET.com. She reviews all manner of mobile devices, from cell phones to Bluetooth headsets. She is a co-host on Dialed In, CNET's cell phone podcast, and she also writes a bi-weekly Q&A column on CNET about cell phones called The 411. She previously worked for Gizmodo, Wired Magazine, and TechTV (now-defunct cable network about technology).

Daniel Scherotter is executive chef and owner of Palio d'Asti, an Italian restaurant in downtown San Francisco. Scherotter brought with him not only an appreciation for the lavish table of Emilia Romagna, where he worked for two years, but also an affinity for the exotic fusion of Sicily, where in 2003 he married his wife, Nina. Now that he's married, he's started working on his first book, "The Bachelor's Guide to Cooking," and serves on the board of directors of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association.

Syndi Seid is an authority on business protocol and etiquette and has appeared on "Good Morning America," CBS' "Eye on America," Fox's "Trading Spouses," HGTV's "Party At Home," and Discovery Channel's "Picture This." Major companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Sprint, Mandarin Oriental Hotel, and the Miss Universe Pageant trust her to train their employees to avoid social faux pas that could lead to major business and political blunders. She founded Advanced Etiquette worldwide to help executives and employees overcome their fears and insecurities to find poise, confidence, and authority in any social situation. Her own book, "Etiquette In Minutes is now available at EtiquetteInMinutes.com.

If you'd prefer to watch sections of the show rather than the entire show, I've broken them down by topic below.

Restaurant Etiquette

Losing Our Humanity?

An Opposing View

The Worst Offenders

Evolution of Etiquette

Etiquette Tips

Credits

Mark Glaser, executive producer and host
Darcy Cohan, producer

Charlotte Buchen, camera

Julie Caine, audio

Location: Vega Project & Kennerly Architecture office space in San Francisco

Special thanks to: PBS, The Knight Foundation & GoDaddy

Music by AJ the DJ

*****

vega project card.jpg

What do you think? What kind of etiquette do you think we should have around our smartphone use? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

This episode of 5Across is brought to you by GoDaddy, helping you set up your own website in a snap with domain name registration, web hosting and 24/7 support. Visit GoDaddy to learn more.

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Are Photos by Aid Workers an Invasion of Privacy in Haiti?

I recently spent a week in Port au Prince, Haiti, helping in a tent hospital set up at the airport.

michelle.jpgWhen I arrived back in San Francisco, I wrote about my experience in Haiti on my blog and posted pictures I had taken. I also posted photos on my Facebook profile, including images of smiling children who had just been operated on, long lines of patients, and even some "fun" photos, such as a few of me letting off some steam with a brigade of Portuguese firefighters at their camp (see photo at left).


Now, a rumor is circulating among volunteers that we should remove any photos of our time at the hospital from Facebook and other websites, unless we had received permission to take photographs.

On one hand, it seems like a reasonable request. Some of the photographs posted by volunteers seem invasive: There are photos of an anonymous leg being cut into, an un-named mother giving birth, people who are clearly sedated, and bleary-eyed volunteers drinking beer at the UN café. They have attracted attention and criticism at the hospital, and among some of our Facebook friends.


One friend of mine, who put a strange mix of suffering, surgeries, and drunken party photos on Facebook, posted a rant defending her right to post whatever she wanted. Her logic: If CNN can film a woman giving birth, then why is it wrong for her to do the same? She pointed out she is saving lives, and had the cojones to drop everything to help in Haiti in the first place, unlike her critics back home.



This ethical debate is inspired by the ability of anyone to easily create and distribute media such as photos, videos or blog posts. Professional media have long been training their cameras and mikes on the victims of natural disasters, but now anyone can do it, too. Is it more invasive just because some of us don't have a press pass?

Glimpsing Freedom -- And TV Cameras

Recently, a man who was rescued after being trapped for 27 days glimpsed the sky and the CNN cameras at almost the same moment. This isn't surprising. At one point, when I was in Haiti, I was counseling a traumatized mute boy at the hospital when all of a sudden he and I we were swarmed by a U.S. news network camera crew. Their lenses were inches from the boy's face as a doctor I had not met before talked about the boy's needs and his "thousand-yard stare." I remember thinking, "What this boy needs is for you to get the camera out of his face."

haiti2.JPGLater, a reality show doctor showed up and demanded that doctors operate on an 87 year-old woman with a broken pelvis that the TV doctor had "rescued" from her home. A real doctor accused the TV doctor of exploiting a disaster for her own interests.


Perhaps this is why blogs, Facebook posts, and tweets from citizens can sometimes do a better job of putting a human face on the suffering in Haiti, and bring it home to people who may not otherwise pay attention. We've become desensitized to the way traditional media portray events like the recent one in Haiti; it's possible that the authenticity contained in the accounts of non-journalists on the ground have a greater impact on folks back in the States.

Like most of those who have responded so generously to the crisis in Haiti, even the grandstanders probably had good intentions. But they can get in the way of those working to help the victims, and they can make it appear as if all of us on the ground are being insensitive, heedless of privacy, and are pumped up by our own do-goodedness.

Not surprisingly, the day after the reality TV doctor made her dramatic visit, strict media guidelines were put in place at the camp. Reporters needed to be vetted, sign in, and wear "authorized" media badges.

To Remove or Not?

So will I take all my Facebook photos down? Well, they have always only been accessible to my friends -- but I did remove a few photos and stories from my blog. I will not, however, take down all my stories and photos. Even though I am returning to the hospital and don't want to jeopardize my chances to do so, I feel certain that nothing I've posted is an invasion of someone's privacy.

Then again, maybe I am simply desensitized and part of the system myself.

Haiti Return Trip

UPDATE (3/8/10): The above post was written after my first trip to Haiti, and since then I returned for another stint helping at the hospital. When I returned, relief workers weren't allowed to board the plane in Miami until after we signed a declaration regarding photography: We would only take photos with permission, none of them would show someone suffering and only if they were for academic and medical purposes. This February visit was far more formal than my first visit to the tent hospital in January just weeks earlier.


I refrained from taking photos during my first day back at the tent hospital, which was not an easy task as I am someone who loves photography. Interestingly enough, I observed volunteers shooting pix, mainly on their iPhones. Later that night, a doctor showed me a photo of a patient's foot -- a case of Elephantitis -- a condition that causes enlargement of certain extremities.

"This is the stuff you only see in textbooks," the doc commented, making it clearly a legitimate educational photo. He went on to show me more photos, until he landed on one of a woman covered in surgical scrubs holding the hand of a patient in the ICU: "This one's my favorite." He did not realize that was me, under the surgical scrubs. Now the shoe was on the other foot, but in this case of course I did not mind. It showed me in my best condition -- not sedated or suffering. I think some of us forgot that while showing us at our best we may be showing others at their most low points.


As the week went on I began taking photos -- always with permission, and usually only patients who were on the upswing, with the exception of a patient who was on the brink of death who I worked very closely with. It was not for academic or medical reasons. I simply wanted to remember his kind face and his angelic eyes. The few days before that I had posted his story, using a fake name "Jean," on my Facebook page. I was encouraged that his story moved poeple and that friends wanted to send money down to help him. Jean was happy to have his photo taken to remember our time together; he had a grace about him that I am sure I would not have in such a state.

Little did he know I was setting up a fund for him and his family. Even though Jean never said it, he was suffering. He was shot in the spine and was newly quadrapelegic. He was fighting infection and we had nearly lost him earlier that day. He and his family survived the quake, although their home did not. They felt lucky, but then an attempted carjacking left him paraliyzed.


Once back in San Francisco I spoke to one of my friends who had influence in the tent hospital. I made a general statement that there were "too many rules now." She asked me to be specific. I was talking about photography. She had a strong retort letting me know that she did not aprove of the photos I posted on Facebook. She told me all the very obvious privacy rights of patients. If it was not me who had done it, I would be lecturing just the same. But when you are there, and it gets so personal, we tend to bend the rules, making exceptions for ourselves that we would not make for others.



After my piece published on MediaShift, a nurse I worked with wrote to me, wondering out loud if the photos she had posted on Facebook were inappropriate. I thought that they were. She went on to rationalize that she felt it was okay to be sure that the world knows what is happening there. Is it really neccesary for me to see how bloody bed sores can be on someone's naked bottom, or actual blood dripping out of a just-amputated limb?

As someone thoughtfully commented on this site, it boils down to our own personal moral compasses. I would never think it's okay to post such things, but for some reason this woman thinks that by us seeing blood coming out of a patient it will keep Haiti in the news and keep money coming in. Maybe she's right and I just need to watch more of the Surgery Channel to get used to such images? Or maybe, like me, she became personally involved with these patients and wanted to tell their stories back home?

Michelle May is a San Francisco-based relief worker, traveler and school psychologist. Follow her travels on her blog.

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The #Spill Effect: Twitter Hashtag Upends Australian Political Journalism

Australia is gearing up for a national election in 2010 and a core group of influential political journalists in the elite Canberra Press Gallery are tweeting their way along the campaign trail -- and bringing an engaged public along for the ride.

Press Gallery journalists are among the most active Australian reporters on Twitter, which entrenched itself Down Under as a mainstream media reporting platform in the context of breaking news early in 2009.

As part of my ongoing research into the impact of Twitter on journalism, I've been investigating the role and experience of Australian political reporters on the platform. I'm currently preparing a case study on Twitter coverage of one of the biggest crises to afflict Australian conservative politics: The Liberal Party leadership collapse that was immortalised by the trending topic #spill in the last days of the 2009 parliament. (I will present a snapshot of this research in a peer-reviewed academic paper at the World Journalism Education Congress in South Africa this July)

I'm in the process of analyzing the thousands of tweets generated when the story unfolded, moment by moment, on Twitter. But more interesting are the experiences of political journalists who used the platform to augment their coverage of the leadership spill as it played out in late November/early December last year.

In the immediate aftermath of the story, I surveyed eight prominent tweeting Press Gallery journalists about their experiences. Their responses, and my ongoing assessment of the Twitter coverage, have strengthened my hypothesis that Twitter is having a transformative impact on journalism. this is taking place against a backdrop of institutional upheaval and audience demands for increased engagement with both journalists and the stories they report. This became clearer to me as I observed and actively participated in the #spill coverage as a content curator and commentator

Key Findings

My key preliminary findings are:
Twitter is becoming a vehicle for participatory democracy in Australia thanks to its ability to create unmediated interaction between political journalists, engaged citizens and politicians.

In the race to tweet, journalists are knocking down the walls that have in the past segregated media outlets within the Press Gallery. This is happening via content-sharing and cross-pollination between fiercely competitive commercial and public broadcast networks, newspapers and wire services.

Collegiality is being fostered between tweeting political journalists.

Conversely, competitiveness has a new, sharper edge.

Tweeting renders political reporting processes more transparent.

Twitter is a new dissemination point for breaking political news.

Twitter has broken through barriers that have historically isolated political journalists from media consumers.

While journalists continue to re-examine professional fundamentals as they negotiate their way through the Twitterverse, they, in general, view the benefits of the platform as outweighing the risks.

The upcoming Federal Election will be Twitterised

I'll elaborate on these findings in my next post for MediaShift. For now, here's a look back at the #spill story, and what it means for Twitter and journalism.

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The Press Gallery Joins Twitter

Last June, Canberra Press Gallery journalists successfully campaigned for the right to take mobile devices and laptops onto the floor of the parliament to enable live-tweeting of Question Time, the daily slanging match between the government and opposition parties. This followed the development of a significant following for the journalist-led Twitter discussion around Question Time, aggregated by the hashtag #QT, which effectively engaged an active online citizenry. This change brought about an end to a decades-long ban on communication devices within the parliamentary chambers. And, as a result, politicians began joining the #QT chat from their leather benches.

Highlighting the traction Twitter has gained within Australian politics as a recognised political reporting platform, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd cited the tweets of Sky TV News political editor, David Speers, while taunting the opposition on the floor of the House of Representatives last August.

"Twitter is a welcome addition to the political landscape in my view," Speers told me. "It's encouraging journalists to be faster, wittier and more collegiate."

The Story of #Spill

The flow of Press Gallery journalists onto Twitter accelerated during a leadership crisis that ultimately cost the opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull, his job. Turnbull's attempts to offer bi-partisan support for a controversial emissions trading scheme resulted in an historic schism within the party and an ugly leadership meltdown that ultimately shifted Australian conservative politics further to the right. It was a riveting story.

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But what made this political crisis even more spectacular was the way it played out on Twitter. Press Gallery journalists poured onto the platform, and political watchers were glued to journalists' Twitter streams. A politically engaged Twitter electorate was taken directly into the eye of the storm by journalists live-tweeting every twist and turn within the halls of power. They also interacted with their followers. Prominent political players in the crisis, including the deposed leader and one of his key challengers, also used Twitter to engage directly with voters and canvas public opinion.

The Australian's chief online correspondent, Samantha Maiden,) later told me that she felt politicians were generally slower on the Twitter up-take.

"I think it's a bit of a myth that politicians were tweeting in great numbers during the spill, but I certainly know they were keeping their eye on what was emerging on twitter," she said.

Radio 2UE's Latika Bourke said that many politicians were obsessive about tracking the updates form journalists. "Some MPs I know were glued to the coverage, although they'll never admit it publicly," she told me.

Other journalists mentioned the fact that scores of political staffers were closely watching the feeds and phoning reporters, asking them to elaborate on tweets. The staffers also forwarded tweets to the politicians themselves. This confirms the legitimacy Twitter obtained during the #spill as a political reporting platform.

The journalists used Twitter for a wide range of activities. these included:
Tweeting breaking news

Live-tweeting from media conferences

Posting pictures to illustrate the atmospherics

Offering opinions

Monitoring key political players' Twitter feeds

Linking to long-form stories on their outlets' websites and, critically, to those of their competitors

Discussing story updates and journalistic processes with their colleagues, competitors and followers

Interacting with the public

Posing questions to politicians, or passing comments directed at them via the medium

J-Tweeting the Spill

How significant was the role of Twitter in the reporting of 'the #spill'? Within 24 hours of the story breaking, Crikey's Bernard Keane reflected on the impact it had already made.

"Now it's a vast combination of news outlet, rumour mill and commentary chamber, and it's virtually instant. Media in its purest form, with all the flaws and benefits of media similarly magnified," he wrote.

According to Latika Bourke, a commercial radio journalist with the nationally distributed Sydney talk station 2UE, Twitter was at the heart of the coverage.

"I can't tell you how many times I heard journos admit they 'better get into this Twitter thing,' that fortnight ... It was the only service providing minute-by-minute updates of the very fluid situation," Bourke said.

The journalists I surveyed spoke of colleagues overcoming their apprehensions about the time-sapping effect of Twitter as the story unfolded.

ABC Radio chief political correspondent Lyndal Curtis made efficient use of her Twitter account during the week-long crisis. "I used Twitter mainly as a content aggregator -- I didn't have time to monitor Sky [TV], other radios or the newspaper websites because I was constantly on the phone or on the air," she said. "So Twitter was my RSS feed."

Sandra O'Malley, an experienced political correspondent with the main Australian wire service, Australian Associated Press, said she found timely tweeting difficult given the significant deadline pressure involved in reporting for a news wire.

"Twitter was a secondary consideration for me in such a frantic environment," she said "Interesting, however, how competitive it can be. [I] found myself quite put out when I broke a story on the wire but only managed to get it to Twitter late, or not at all, and saw others getting it out there first."

The ABC's Chief Online political writer, Annabel Crabb was one of the first Press Gallery journalists to begin tweeting, and she has a large following at her dedicated Question Time Twitter feed.

"(The #Spill) was an event quite well-suited to Twitter, in that it was fast-moving, anarchic, and constantly changing," Crabb said.

She outlined how the story highlighted the real-time news value of Twitter and its capacity to offer a more detailed picture over time: "A story filed for a newspaper at the end of the day would, of necessity, be obliged to edit out some of the stranger twists and turns that occurred during the day; the deals that fell over, the partnerships that formed and disintegrated all within the space of an orthodox news cycle."

While some said Twitter was the star of the #spill story, Keane, said it was actually part of the bigger (and more permanent) story "of the demolition of the old media model of media outlets and their journalists and editors acting as filters on what information is passed on to consumers."

The collaborative reporting facilitated by Twitter - the "wisdom of crowds effect" - will be explored in part two of this report, along with the impact on political reporting of engagement between tweeting journalists, 'punters' and political pundits. The breakdown of historical divides between journalistic camps, which challenges traditional notions of competitiveness - and raises concerns about further eroding mainstream audiences by driving 'followers' to the websites of competing media outlets - will also be examined, along with the associated emergence of a heightened collegiality between tweeting Australian political journalists.

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