Following the recent vicious and vile personal attacks on TV personality Charlotte Dawson, which landed her in hospital, there have been widespread calls for social media outlets, as well as the government, to implement measures to out the so-called ‘trolls’ who anonymously attack, torment and taunt not only celebrities, but everyday people, online. Dawson was hospitalised after a lengthy attack from trolls following her decision to name and shame the troll who told her to “hang herself”.
Since the incident, Dawson has been harshly criticised for “feeding the trolls” by re-tweeting abusive and demonising posts to her hundreds of thousands of followers. Dawson bravely spoke out about her online hell and, subsequently, her brush with suicide in an emotional interview that aired on 60 minutes. You can watch the full story here.
Just this week, top surfer Laura Enever and TV personality Nathan Jolliffe joined the long-winded list of Australian celebs, sporting stars and personalities alike who have fallen victim to cyber hate campaigns being fronted by anonymous trolls. Take Rugby League star Robbie Farrah, for example. Or perhaps Delta Goodrem. The list goes on. Farah has called on the NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell and Prime Minister Julia Gillard to change laws so that Twitter can be forced to reveal the identity of people deemed to have sent offensive material. But this is attracting mixed opinions.
PhD student and journalism lecturer Julie Posetti, who is currently writing a thesis on the use of Twitter, told the ABC that unmasking Twitter trolls will have only “dangerous ramifications” for free speech. Social media anonymity has proved invaluable in some cases, says Posetti, and the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt last year is a clear example of that. When it comes to unmasking the identities of social media bullies, she insists:
“I think that’s going too far and it has a significant risk for freedom of expression. Words can have an impact and hate speech is real, but I certainly think that when you’re jailing teenagers for things they say on Twitter, it’s time [to reflect].”
Ed West, a journalist and social commentator from The Telegraph U.K., says a person of public interest, such as a politician, who complains about nasty messages is like a boxer complaining about getting punched. However, “freedom of speech has never meant the freedom to make death threats,” he says.
International pop star Pink also joined the debate, telling a U.S. morning talk show, “…people that wouldn’t have the balls to say anything in person but they get a keyboard under their fingers and, well, there’s that saying ‘Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority’. There are so many haters in the world, so many miserable people.”
In the last week, Twitter announced it is in the process of stamping out online abuse, as the Australian Federal Government calls on the website to establish an Australian outpost. Although Twitter have updated their abuse policy to include “Technical abuse and user abuse is not tolerated on Twitter.com, and will result in permanent suspension”, the question must be asked. Is this enough? Will every single troll or cyber bully be caught in the act? It is clear more needs to be done.
Here’s a few tips from the Sydney Morning Herald to protect yourself against online bullies. The key point: “Don’t retort – report.”
“Take a screen grab of the offending message with the user’s name and Twitter handle and save it as evidence.”
“Report the user to the social media outlet or forum moderator. In extreme cases you can also make a complaint to the police.”
“Don’t engage with the troll, just block them. Ignoring them is their worst nightmare.”
So, what do you think? I’m interested to know – is identity anonymity perilous or unhazardous? Do you believe social media trolls should be named and shamed? Or will this ultimately hinder the concept of freedom of speech?
This blog entry could solely provide you with ’10 things I bet you didn’t know about Spencer Howson’, because he is one fascinating creature. The 612 ABC Brisbane Breakfast host, who I have longed to meet, loves to tweet. So much so, he in fact admitted to showering and tweeting at the same time. It sounds dangerous, almost life-threatening. Is there some kind of secret AA meeting for those self-obsessed social media addicts? My friends and family often question why I use Twitter, with running commentary like: “What is it?” “What do you do? Treat someone?” “I just don’t get it.” “It’s confusing.” And the list goes on.
But Spencer Howson gets it! He accepts that social media, and Twitter in particular, is a driving force for engaging with, and expanding, your audience. That is just one reason why I find him so fascinating. Not to mention his childhood BFF was Kyle Sandilands. “Who?” You ask. “Surely you couldn’t be talking about THE Kyle Sandilands, outspoken TV and radio personality known for his misdemeanours, outlandish ethical standards and bad boy image.” YES! Him. Hilarious! I just cannot get over it.
Hailed the ‘Breakfast King’, Howson is the top rating brekky presenter in Brisbane, so of course I was excited to hear he would be speaking to QUT’s Online Journalism students. I was like a squealing child at the first sight of candy when I received a notification that the Breakfast King himself replied to my tweet (despite referring to me as ‘crazy’ and ‘mixed-up’):
Anyway, back to the serious side of things. Howson says that radio is only half of his job now – the other half is social media. These days, connection and engagement with listeners is almost 24/7 due to the World Wide Web. Whilst the fate of the print journalism industry lies in the balance, Howson says radio is moving from strength to strength. Twitter enables radio hosts to connect with local communities, whether they are listeners or not, and drive them to the radio station. Interactivity is also faster than ever before, with the ability to receive responses and comments in a matter of seconds. Howson says it’s like reading perennial amounts of letters-to-the-editor. Social media has also enabled radio outlets to partake in photo engagement like never before. In the past, listeners would mail their photos to the station. Now, photo and video content can be shared more often and more freely.
Howson also debated that Twitter is useful in obtaining sources, especially those who may be reluctant to comment on air, and sourcing story ideas. The Oriella PR Network’s Global Digital Journalism Study supports this idea, suggesting that journalists are treating social media channels not only as sources of news, but also as a means of validating stories. Last year, just under half of journalists surveyed said they used Twitter for sourcing stories, and 35% used Facebook in the same way. This year found that 54% of respondents use social media outlets if the source is trusted by the journalist, whilst 45% said they used blogs to source angles for new stories. This highlights the growing use of social media, particularly Twitter, as an essential part of today’s newsgathering process. Interestingly, the graph below shows where journalists worldwide turn when researching a story:
In sum, it is undeniable that social media is the way of the future, not only when it comes to connecting and engaging with your audience, but also sourcing stories and obtaining comments. Social media is also aiding the survival of radio journalism during times when traditional media platforms are struggling to sail the unchartered waters ahead. It seems Howson knows what he’s doing in the Twittersphere.
I will leave you with one last fun fact about Spencer Howson. He writes on fruit. “If you run out of paper, a banana will do,” he says. Personally, I love it.
I will admit I was intrigued when I learned QUT’s propitious Online Journalism students would be graced by the presence of John Grey, the witty and enigmatic up-until-one-month-ago editor (and founder) of couriermail.com.au. Although enlightening, it was also rather frightening. As Grey painted a somewhat bleak, pessimistic future of the journalism industry (“I hold grave concerns about the profession – news organisation’s aren’t looking for quality any more”), timorous-filled-whispers filled the theatre. Not only did Grey succeed at taking the spring out of my step, I could feel the fiery ambition of my fellow budding journalists beginning to fester. Grey failed to instil in me the optimism I had been longing for from the industry.
Does this mean death to journalism? Well, in a way. Not every newspaper will have identical reporters covering the same stories, geographical areas or sub-industries. It simply does not make sense in today’s digital world. Instead, there will be one journalist reporting from Canberra on behalf of all organisations, for example. It will be like one big news wire service. All papers will also share content. Therefore, this will result in more jobs, but for less people. As Grey reiterated, it is “out with the old” and “in with the new” when it comes to changes in journalism styles and skills.
Sure, there will always be demand for jobs within the industry, but these positions will be extremely difficult to score. As Grey said, “…you just need to be a good writer.” So, the ability to write remains the most important skill if you want to become a successful journalist, you ask? Yes, but you must also be versatile and comfortable with a range of content management systems. “You must be able to tell a story in different ways through pictures, video and words. It’s the whole package,” said Grey.
Despite a dramatic rise in the number of citizen journalists and bloggers who are equipped with the technology, facilities and abilities to deliver news, a democracy such as ours will always require “big media organisations” with “deep pockets” to obtain the real facts, said Grey.
I came across this fascinating ’21st Century newsroom model’, which outlines how a news story typically passes through a converged newsroom today. The model suggests speed and depth are the two strengths of online mediums. News organisations now have the ability to distribute and publish information faster than ever before. There’s Twitter, Facebook, moblogs, apps, and the list goes on. Interestingly, Grey stated there is no such thing as an ‘exclusive’ story any more, due to the perils of the Internet. He says a media outlet would be “lucky” to have an exclusive for three minutes. Three minutes!
So, how do you stand out from the crowd? How can you resurrect yourself in the digital age? In her blog, British freelance journalist Lara O’Reilly pinpoints the skills new journalists require if they are to succeed in today’s fast-paced newsrooms:
- A portfolio showcasing your work
- Innovative thinking
- News gathering skills
- Concise writing style
- Ability to understand your audience
- Social media and online tools
- An interactive blog
- A network of contacts
- Layout and design skills
- Ability to capture video
In sum, new age journalists need every string to their bow, from the fundamentals of writing to new techniques such as layout, design and social media, to resurrect themselves in an industry that is becoming increasingly cutthroat, bloodthirsty and on the cusp of a traditional death.
According to a recent World Bank report, more than 75 percent of the population now has access to a mobile phone rather than access to clean water. This disquieting statistic, presented to QUT’s Online Journalism 1 students by the homepage editor of the Courier-Mail, Dave Earley (pictured), epitomises the colossal role new age technology has played in regards to who, what, when, why and how the worldwide population accesses news.
Despite a recent Ipsos/Reuters poll revealing more than 60 percent of the world interconnects via social media outlets, Earley asserted that social media is not (yet) an overwhelming driver of news. And, he was right. Much to my surprise, less than two percent of Twitter’s 100 million active users follow the site often for news.
Interestingly, Earley also pointed out that 36% of adults in the United States obtain their dose of daily news by heading directly to a news outlet’s webpage, whilst 32% get their news by using key word searches through engines such as Google or Bing. Therefore, it is clear consumers are reluctant to access news through a means of engagement, such as clicking through to links that appear throughout feeds. So, why aren’t consumers relying on social media for their daily news information, especially in comparison with accessing news websites or apps directly?
A survey released as part of this year’s annual State of the News Media Report probes news consumption habits on digital devices, including how news consumers use social media. Overall, the study confirms that Facebook and Twitter are now pathways to news, but their roles may not be as influential as initially expected. These findings reveal that social media is not a replacement for traditional news players, rather an additional news pathway.
In sum, despite the creation of revolutionary online media outlets, the traditional players remain the go-to for the vast majority of consumers. However, there is no question that journos in the 21st Century need to jump on the social media bandwagon in order to remain relevant and reliable. Innovative technology, coupled with traditional news values, is the recipe for success in this digital age. It would be foolish to think otherwise.