I found Emily Bell’s article in the Guardian on 28/11/12 excellent. The Guardian is a high quality and important newspaper and the article was well written and informative.
In her first paragraph, Emily says Lord McAlpine is suing half of Twitter. This is not true; he is only suing 20 tweeters. There was some suggestion that he would pursue thousands of tweeters but by and large the threat of mass legal action against tweeters has faded. No doubt sooner or later the twittersphere will recover it courage and no doubt in a years’ time Twitter will be back to its vociferous, boisterous self.
Emily Bell references Leveson calling the Internet ‘The elephant in the room’. I think this is a political statement which colours the perception of the Internet in an unfair way. The Internet is a largely unregulated public zone where the public can disseminate information. But it is also used by people in the media, and by the wider establishment, to debate and inform. Perhaps it is only the elephant in the room when it is being used effectively by undesirable members of the public. However, is it not a legitimate and necessary platform when used by organs of the establishment? Just because it is a public platform does not mean that it is anti-establishment. If individuals who own the capital in a society use the internet, does it not follow that the internet is an organ of state?
The internet is a revolutionary tool used just as widely by the establishment as by the public. It will never go away and it has changed our society. People have to get used to the fact that the sorts of debates which happened in newspaper offices only can now happen with exactly the same level of legitimacy when such debates are competently chaired on the internet. Society will never get back to a state whereby editorial lines are influenced by written, posted letters. The ‘debate’ is happening partly in public now because people have been enfranchised by the internet.
Characterising the internet as strictly the domain of ‘lone tweeters’ and ‘drone journalists’ ignores the fact the when the owners of the capital in society use the internet, it becomes the platform for private constitutional debate which cannot be dismissed, even if some would wish these kinds of debates did not happen in this public an informational space.
In her sixth paragraph Emily states that Britain already has no jurisdiction over platforms for news dissemination. She goes on to state that twitter is not an extension of the media, and cannot ever be described as an extension of the media. However she has contradicted herself, as earlier in this paragraph she described twitter as one of the “most powerful platforms for news (and gossip) dissemination in the world”. Let me be completely clear on this matter. Twitter is most assuredly in the media. Debates and arguments happening on twitter are in fact happening in the media. I refer Emily to the point in my previous paragraph. The internet has enfranchised people, and the media now plays with as much authority and legitimacy on twitter as it does on the (now considered anachronistic) printed news page.
I agree with Emily when she described the internet as a leveller in terms of barriers to entry, and agree when she says the existence of the internet requires a change of culture at every level. Claire Enders is quotes in Emily’s article as stating that important journalism need to be done by established organisations, as the internet has produced nothing in terms of scale and projection of legacy organisations. I’m a bit ambivalent about this statement. There may be legacy organisations on the internet with great scale and projection that we do not know exist, and there may be incredibly important people who are validated and authorised concurrently by both ancient and contemporary political power, who are objectively known to be powerful and fully worthy of veneration and entitlement, on the internet. Perhaps the trick is to take these people when they are found and bind them tightly to the pre-existing apparatus of state, something Rupert Murdoch is an established genius at doing. There is a very good argument that if you are a player in Rupert Murdoch’s system then you are by definition an establishment figure, as it is Rupert’s system we all live in, and it is Rupert system that in effect shores up the power of the Royals in this country.
I think Emily find the right conclusion in the article, as in her second from last paragraph she says “What it cannot deal with is the regulation of the press in the 21st century.” It is difficult to regulate the press, and the internet has created a free market in information which I like and welcome into our society. This seems to me to be a struggle between two forms of political power with near equal validity. One is the old traditional form of statecraft where the four ‘estates’ retain control over all information disseminated. The other is a more collaborative informal society run in the information economy of the online world where individual achievement, when intellectually presented in an acceptable way, is understood as valid and rewarded. Society has ‘opened up’ on the internet, which has changed society. The world of work sort of changed in the 80’s when dress down Fridays and open plan offices became fashionable. In much the same way, the internet has softened and made more informal our society. The information economy is run by the media, which has its own from of right wing thinking – but which nonetheless recognises and rewards power, because it is intelligent enough to see when individuals are representing the needs of the organisation. And as an organisation, the media has swallowed up everything else – including the Royals, the Government, the police and the legislature. The de facto head of state of our country is Rupert Murdoch, although you would have to traverse quite a large network of nodes in order for the web of signification to become apparent.
What we need is a legal system that is enforceable, and someone the requisite level of authority who can enforce a system. Such a person, especially if they were privately and very deeply embedded in the existing system would be ideal. Perhaps the only question is simply how to switch from one system to another for some people.
In conclusion, I would like to thank Emily for a sentence in her final paragraph. She states that it is a murky world where the principal guarantor of privacy is wealth. I do understand wealth, can think inside it, and understand it is not a closed system, nor does it want to remain a closed system. However it was a real eye-opener for me to read this sentence, as it was an education of how the world works for me. I learned more about the world in this article by Emily than I have in six months on twitter (which I may leave someday), and I thank her for writing it.