Twitter, commonsense and journalism #groggate

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I’ve been observing the discourse in the mainstream and social media worlds about the ‘outing’ of the blogger Grog’s Gamut – the so-called #groggate. Craig Thomler has made an excellent aggregation of the various sources of comment.

There were two things that really irritated me recently:

These articles irritated me because they each conflated ideas that were not necessarily related – activism and social networks.  And, in the case of Elliott’s article, he disingenuously used Gladwell’s arguments to continue the justification of The Australian’s recently declared war on bloggers and Twitter.

In my opinion Gladwell does his usual trick of lightweight commentary without bothering to delve into any level of depth or subtlety. This seems to be his stock in trade (and he writes entertainingly) so I tend to let it pass by.

But the value of Twitter in respect of creating loose ties than enable the development of deep, real life, and personal relationships cannot be underestimated. Twitter provides the regular interaction – much like at the water cooler in the office – that let’s us understand who we might want to get to know on a deeper level.

The ambient knowledge about people in your network that Twitter affords is invaluable.  It assists us in transcending physical separation and allows us to stay in contact with friends without the need for physical co-location. Another great benefit with Twitter is the ease of making new connections with people who share common interests.  The recent Social Innovation BarCamp in Sydney is a good example of an event that brought together many people with common interests – it was organised and publicised mainly via Twitter.

But Elliott notes “Malcolm Gladwell writes that social media is really activism-lite and a tool that makes participation in a cause more efficient: that is, through the click of a mouse one can make a donation to a cause or send a supportive tweet”.  He then argues that because Greg Jericho (who we now know as the author of the blog Grog’s Gamut) was not entitled to privacy because he was merely a “commentator” and not a “whistleblower”.

Elliott then goes on to compare Jericho’s situation with that of famous activists like Martin Luther King or Steve Biko and to note that Jericho is “now even more popular, thanks to The Australian“.  This comparison of Jericho to famous activists is spurious.  He never claimed to be an activist.  Jericho’s only claims were:

I’m a guy interested in sport, literature and politics. I have in turn wanted to be captain of the Australian cricket team, Olympic gold medalist, PM and Booker prize winner. Now I’ll just settle for blogger.

Thus no claim by Jericho to special privilege or “whistleblower” status.  Just an ordinary citizen taking advantage of the freedom of speech afforded in Australia to share his opinions and insights.

And, as for action by the people in the Twitter-sphere in response to Jericho’s outing by The Australian, no physical action was meaningful or relevant to the situation.

What physical action was possible, reasonable or sensible in the recent #groggate case? No physical action would do anything for Jericho except to inflame the situation. There is no direct analogy between the Grog’s Gamut case and calls to action like those issued by Martin Luther King or Steve Biko. Twitter is not peopled entirely by complete idiots.

Using Twitter to organise a picket line at The Australian’s offices would have been foolhardy and would have made Jericho’s situation at work more difficult. No need to take up a collection for Jericho’s legal fund as The Australian did nothing illegal.

All we can do is express our dislike of the actions of the publication and the journalists involved and express our disapproval of their continued self-serving justifications. We can mourn the death of any notion of journalistic decency.  We can feel sad that Australian mainstream news media is becoming as polarised and polemical as that in the US.  And we can note that by their actions James Massola and his colleagues have done a huge disservice to freedom of speech in Australia, especially for public servants. The use of pseudonyms has been an important part of free speech for a very long time. Pseudonyms proliferate in the mainstream news media – so why are they unacceptable from a blogger?

This whole affair does make me seriously question the journalists – what are their positions on political, social and religious matters. I want to know more about their backgrounds. What are their political and religious affiliations? And what about these mysterious people called Editors? Who are they, what do they stand for? Perhaps they’ve unwittingly raised the issue? But we need transparency from journalists as well as bloggers. It’s time for journalists to come clean about their personal viewpoints and perspectives, no more pretending to present facts in an objective and disinterested way. We need to admit that there is no such as as unbiased reporting and embrace transparency for journalists too.

As for activism, we are seeing real action happen as the result of social networks.  GetUp! is a good local example of this. Say what you like, but  raising enough money to put ads up on prime time TV via social media channels counts as real action, as does winning a High Court action regarding the enrolment of voters.

Many other NGOs are also working out how they can embrace the new media. It’s a pity the old media folks are so busy fighting a rearguard action to save the past that it seems they cannot consider the future in a positive way.

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