DAgainst Regulating Social Media Themes: Media law and Regulation, privacy, Introduction Over the last ten years, social media like Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, Youtube and blogging have become increasingly popular. These forms of user-generated content are now known as the “New Gatekeepers” (Sithigh, p. 87, 2008) because of the huge role they play in our daily interactions. According to Cowling (2011) there are over ten million registered users of Facebook in Australia and 66% of these people use the site daily.
Facebook and other social networking media are recognised as the new media, or as Sithigh outlines “the mass age” (Sithigh, p. 79, 2008). The role of producers and consumers in this mass age are becoming increasingly unclear and blurred. This crossing over of roles is facilitated by the rise of social journalism. Media like Facebook have led to the democratization of media, community sharing and interconnecting and increased transparency in governments and corporate organizations. The idea of regulating social media is a profound one.
Don’t waste your time!
Order your assignment!
In my argument against the regulation of social media, I state the importance of these new media in government and corporate accountability and in particular, the notion that to regulate such media is contradictory to their objective. Current internet censorship laws in Australia are regulated by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) which has the power to impose restrictions on content within Australia. A black list that compromises over 10,000 websites is used for overseas websites, which is delivered using filtering software to prevent the content reaching Australia.
Recently, there has been great debate and divide in Australia as to whether tougher regulation and censorship laws should be introduced to cyberspace. In early January 2010, Hillary Clinton alleged that countries with Internet censorship would be breaching the UN’s declaration of human rights because the advantages of the Internet would be under threat. Like Clinton, the US government and its citizens “strongly support their First Amendment right to enjoy freedom of speech” (Murray, p. 213, 2007). Since the emergence of the Web2. concept, the scope of mass participation and social networking has resulted in “a market place of ideas” (Murray 2007). From almost anywhere in the world, the ability to interact with others and voice opinions is limitless. Social media outlets like Facebook and blogging domains have not only removed the barriers between countries but also between communities. Governments and corporations have never been so scrutinised and accountable. The ability to form online communities with the click of a button and relatively low cost have impacted on government behaviour.
One example of this was the introduction of political engagement through the internet in the 2007 Australian federal election. Source 1 The demise of John Howard’s coalition government in 2007 not only saw a new government in power after 11 years but also a new level of political participation and engagement through cyberspace. This facilitated the rise of citizen journalism as an alternate channel on reporting during the 2007 election. The ‘YouDecide 2007’, was an online citizen journalism resource used during the Australian federal election.
It operated for three months during the election campaign, which promoted online coverage of the election and resulted in a diverse range of citizen journalists uploading content from their particular electorate. Content included print, video, audio and photos. The popularity of the You Decide project was evident; “it attracted over 12,000 readers a week and throughout the election period it was receiving more traffic than all major political parties sites except the Australian Labor party” (Flew & Wilson, p. 5, 2008). The use of this online outlet contributed to promoting greater citizen participation in the Australian political sphere and new voices were heard for the first time. There were pressures felt by traditional mainstream media like national newspaper, The Australian. Online political commentary site Crikey, disputed the interpretations of the polling data from one of the polls run by the Australian and alleged the “consistent attempts to put on a positive spin for the coalition. ” (Flew and Wilson p. 2, 2008) In their defence, The Australian labelled the Crikey bloggers as “wooly headed critics” (Australian 12/7/07). This highlights that at least some of the political commentators resented the role of citizen journalists to “interpret and pass on political information”(Flew and Wilson, p. 13, 2008). YouDecide 2007 and blogging sites like Crikey are beneficial, not detrimental to our political processes. The YouDecide 2007 resource and social media sites support the notion that social media could play a role in shaping political engagement in Australia.
Abilities of these media to broaden political participation to a wider range of citizens and groups as well as “promoting flows between top-down and bottom-up news gathering practices” (Flow and Wilson, p. 21, 2008) are imperative to a functioning democracy. Such sites allow citizens to question news publications like The Australian and “empower individuals to have positions of speech” (Poster, p. 193, 2006). Regulation of social media would be careless because it would take away the whole purpose of what the internet was designed for, “a market place of ideas” (Murray, 2007).
Source 2: The Live 8 ticket scandal is another example of the power and righteousness that the eBay online community brought in the summer of 2005 and evidence that regulation is unnecessary. Political activist Bob Geldof launched a series of free concerts known as Live 8 around five major cities. The purpose of the concert was to create awareness of third-world debt and the call for justice in Africa. The ticketing system was a lottery of over 2 million entries, with only 72 thousand tickets available.
Almost immediately after the closure of the ticket sales, over 100 tickets were on offer on the eBay UK auction site, the price of tickets reaching up to a 1000 pounds. While Geldof labelled the sellers as “miserable wrenches who are capitalising on peoples misery” (Geldof, 2005,) eBay saw that there wasn’t a problem. The site argued that people should be able to decide to buy or sell charity tickets as it is not illegal under English law. eBay later stated that “a ticket to the Live 8 concert is no different from a prize in a raffle run by another charity and what the winner chooses to do with it is up to them” (eBay, 2005).
While both parties were at a stalemate, it was the wider eBay community who expressed concerns and great dissatisfaction of eBay’s approach to the situation. Outrage from the eBay community was communicated via the online Question and Answer Board. This led to eBay’s managing director, Doug McCallum, to declare “you have made it clear to us that our previous decision…was not the vast majority of you agreed on…as a result of this clear signal by the Community we have decided to prohibit the resale of Live 8 tickets on the site…”(McCallum, eBay, 2005).
What is important to take away from this is that it wasn’t the actions of Bob Geldof or the response of the mainstream media, it was the concerns of the wider eBay community using online social platforms that candidly lead to the overturning of eBay’s original decision. This is just one example where online communities have questioned sites like eBay on their ethical practices. It demonstrates that social media does not require governmental regulation, but can self-regulate when required. Conclusion/Summary
In the current digital age, we are exposed to many disputes of privacy, censorship, copyright and regulation issues in cyberspace. Debate remains as to what extent social media should be regulated. While social media can be the catapult to anti-social behaviour as Murray explains, “there will always be an international safe harbour for those wishing to carry…the distribution of pornography, the peddling of hate speech…” (Murray, p. 229, 2007). But popular social media like Facebook and Youtube already have regulations to prevent such content.
In response to the London riots earlier this year, English PM David Cameron questioned “whether it would be right to ban people from using Facebook, Twitter when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality” (Cameron 2011). With every new technological or media innovation, there is always going to be a small number of people using it for the wrong reasons. Increased regulation and censorship of social media will result in a less transparent, more confined society.
These social media outlets are “necessary to maintain widespread participation in and equal access to the democratic policy” (Rauhofer, 2008, p. 195). The YouDecide 2007 resource and the eBay community prove that the regulation of social media is unnecessary. The free flow of information between social media outlets should not be a concern to governments and corporations if they have nothing to hide. The new gatekeepers have arrived. Bibliography M. Poster, Information Please, Culture and Politics In the Age of Digital Machines( Duke University, 2006) A.
D Murray, The regulation of Cyberspace, Control in the Online Environment (Routledge-Cavendish, 2007) Mac Sithigh, D. (2008) The mass age of the internet law, Information ; Communications Technology Law, Volume 17, Issue 2. Flew, T. Wilson, J. (2008) Citizen journalism and Political participation: the Youdecide project and the 2007 Australian Federal Election, QUT Digital Repository. P. 1-31. Rauhofer, J. (2008) ‘Privacy is dead, get over it! Information privacy and the dream of a risk-free society’, Information ; Communications Technology Law Vol, 17, No. 3, p. 185-197.