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.

Swears

I wrote previously on the changing of our society to one of Paper Plate Culture. This doesn’t nearly encompass all of the changes we’re going through. To tackle another one: swearing.

Swearing is one of the final taboos in most countries, and it’s on the way out. It’s been on the way out for a long time, really. The infamous “Seven Dirty Words” have been comedy routine inspiration since the 60s; in the early 2000s Dane Cook alone probably broke the swearing record on a daily basis. And let’s not forget the Matrix Reloaded, which brought to viewers’ attention the wonders of French swearing (essentially, say anything profane, connect it to another profane word or phrase with an appropriate article in between, and repeat until you’ve exhausted your repertoire). I do not have a single friend who doesn’t swear occasionally (in fact, most swear profusely and proudly). And you know what they say, if you don’t know who “that friend” is… it’s you.

(Yes, I’m the friend who doesn’t swear, at all, ever. But that’s a post for another day.)

Joining me, on the side of not swearing, is the media. Journalists have historically avoided obscenity—and it makes sense, given that obscenity is one of very few criteria that give reason for prior restraint (that’s censorship or restricted publishing, to any non-journalists). Perhaps in coming years the media will feel less restricted as swearing permeates all of our society, and swearing becomes colloquial and acceptable—even a way to relate better to viewers. I’ll be watching anxiously for the first unscripted, uncensored swear in the news.