Choose: Free Information or Free Speech

The “Free Flow of Information Act” has had many forms over the years, each as dangerous to reporters as the last.

The only legally sustainable reasons for censorship are for obscene content and a threat to national security. It’s very rare that the court sides with censorship–but journalists are able to restrain themselves from publishing questionable content (photographs that may be too graphic are often placed online, or in a separate link from the news article; the readership is taken into account). But the newest edition of the FFIA will only serve to make journalists even more cautious in what they post–they may further restrain themselves, sacrificing the quality of their news.

Of course, that may depend on your definition of “journalist”.

The Act claims it will protect journalists from phone record searches and the like by the government, to help keep anonymous sources secret. This only applies, however, if you are a paid employee or free-lancer of a news organization. Wait, what about bloggers then? People who tweet? What if you retweet? Are all of those multitudes protected from the government?

And what qualifies as “news” is also debatable–one could be a journalist, get paid for your work, and your work still isn’t “news” under the “protection” of this document. It explicitly states that raw information isn’t covered, meaning documents and raw footage. Both the journalist posting the information and anyone who helped them obtain it will be at risk of surveillance and investigation.

Further, the government would even have the right to restrict a journalist’s writing until investigations were completed and a court decision was reached.

No good will come of this. It does little to protect the few journalists it covers in its limited definition, and will only discourage people from sharing information and exposing happenings that may really need to be exposed. Honestly, if Watergate were to happen in this day and age, someone might still have the guts to report it–but they could be shut down easier than ever if this law passes.

Social Media

We know the problems with social media (my own personal issues, as well as the world’s–privacy, egotism, et cetera). But social media is actually one of the best tools journalists have today.

Facebook is seen as a viable business platform, but it isn’t much use for spreading news quickly and accurately. Facebook will let you share with your friends and promote to your fans, but it’s hard to reach outside of your usual social bubble without significant eddort and promotion.

Twitter and Tumblr have it right in this respect: they allow “followers”–strangers who are interested in what you’re saying have the option to bookmark you and be automatically updated whenever you have a new post. Then they can share it with people who have followed them, who may or may not have similar interests. This means your information is spread faster and more effectively than if you only told your closest friends (as on Facebook, or the ancient platform of MySpace).

In turn, when you have gained a significant following on these even-more-social (relative to Facebook) social media sites you will become more determined to provide better content for your audience. There’s no blogger in existence who hasn’t apologized to their readership at least once for not posting often enough. So you’re more motivated, and at the same time your content will be refining itself–what does your audience want? what are they interested in? what will they come back for, what will they share? The content will (hopefully) increase in quality and be consistent in volume. Twitter, Tumblr and like sites are perfect for finding your online niche. Post what you’re interested in, get feedback, refine, rinse, repeat.

In the end, keep Facebook for personal connections–but make sure to use everything else out there to your advantage.

The Past is the Future–Sort Of

The Internet might be the world’s largest recycling bin. But things never come back exactly as you leave them, so perhaps recycling factory is a better descriptor–or recycling plant, to use proper terminology (and a great pun).

Old viral videos have a habit of resurfacing every now and again to make (and remake) the news. The same rumors appear periodically (see: Super Moon, Morgan Freeman’s death, et cetera). And old Internet staples come into use again.

For instance, .gifs. They’re silent moving pictures on a loop, introduced in 1987. They fell out of use as emoticons and flash pictures and other forms of expression became popular on the evolving web. In the past few years, .gifs have made a comeback. Why? It’s not really clear. How? Reddit and Tumblr can perhaps be to blame–or thank–as these users seem most fond of these clips, and use them to express emotions (or “feels” to use terribly inane ‘net speak). Buzzfeed also seems addicted to these old school pics, and every item on their endless lists is illustrated with at least one, maybe two if they’re both deemed apropos, or complement each other well.

Another old Internet fad being raised from the dead? Blogs! Well, “dead” may be a bit strong. Blogs have been in fairly consistent use over the past decade or so; the matter is what they’re being used for. A while ago blogs were adapted by everyone–businesses, writers, (some) media sources, angsty teens. Slowly but surely, through the early 2000s, angsty teens took over the blogosphere on sites like Xanga, Blogspot, LiveJournal, DeviantArt. As social media has come into play, many of these blogs can still be found, especially on Tumblr. But blogs have been coming out of their emo-phase funk and are emerging as viable business, promotional, and media opportunities. Not the teen journal-ridden places they once were, blogs might just be the future of writing on the internet.