November 18, 2013

Adam Wagner on blogging, social media and self-regulation

Adam Wagner was asked here: "The Inquiry would also welcome your views on the extent to which the content of websites, and the manner in which you operate, can be regulated by a domestic system of regulation?"

He responded here:
I do not think blogs can or should be regulated by a domestic system of regulation, for the following reasons: 
a. Practically unworkable: Practically it would be impossible to regulate all blogging. Hundreds of thousands of blogs are set up each day, let alone posts published, and the term is so elastic (see above) that the task would be simply too large and amorphous for any regulator to manage. Even if only popular blogs were targeted, say those over a certain number of hits, what is to stop an individual blogger simply setting up a new blog in order to avoid regulation? I expect that such a system would be simply unworkable. 
b. Current system works: The current system of criminal and civil law already provides a reasonable level of regulation. Bloggers - whether their websites are read by 1 or lm people - are subject to financial penalties for libel or quasi-criminal sanctions if they commit a contempt of court. See for example the case of Elizabeth Watson, referred to be below, who was sentenced to 9 months imprisonment (later suspended) for breaching a court order through information published on her personal website. That being said, I also note a 1 February 2012 report in The Independent that Mr Justice Peart has said in relation to an Irish case involving the website that "The civil remedies currently available have recently been demonstrated to be an inadequate means of prevention and redress".
c. Self-regulation already exists: Blogging specifically and social media publishing more generally (notably Twitter) is to a large extent self-regulating. As lawyer and journalist David Allen Green put it in a recent New Statesman blog post: "Regulation is just not about formal "black-letter codes" with sanctions and enforcement agencies. Regulation also means simply that things are done better than they otherwise would be: for example, when one "regulates one’s own conduct". Bloggers and others in social media are willing and able to call out media excesses and bad journalism. The reaction is immediate and can be brutally frank. They are sometimes wrong, as are formal regulators. But they can take time and allow the media to produce better, more werl-informed stories." I agree with this and would emphasise that bloggers and others in social media are particularly willing and able to "call our’ each other’s conduct too. The blogosphere and Twitter provide a vibrant, fast-moving and sometimes rather unforgiving arena for debate. As such, an enormous amount of self-regulation and correction already takes place. 
This is to a large extent the whole point of social media. People enjoy observing a lively debate, and Twitter demonstrates the extent to which they are also enthusiastic to contribute. Moreover, the more prominent a blogger or blog post, the more it is likely to be the subject of comment and criticism. This is an efficient system as almost by definition the more influential a blog post, the more heavily it is peer-reviewed. 
d. Significant risk of chillinq effect: Notwithstanding the extreme practical difficulties with regulating blogs, the risk of doing so would be to limit the currently vibrant arena for freedom of expression which helps to keep journalists and politicians in check. 
e. Already-existing regulation by other means: Some bloggers (such as lawyers and other professionals) are regulated by other means, thus bolstering the existing criminal and civil remedies available to victims of "bad blogging".
Adam Wagner was also asked: Does/Can blogging act as a check on bad journalism?

He responded:
"Yes. The primary reason UKHRB was set up was to act as a corrective to bad journalism about human rights, and in under two years it has become a trusted source of information for journalists, politicians, those government and members of the public. 
UKHRB operates alongside a number of other excellent legal blogs, run by lawyers, students and enthusiasts for free, which provide a similar service in respect of other areas of law. I would highlight, for example: 
a. Nearly Legal housing law blog;
b. UK Supreme Court Blog;
c. Inforrm- media law;
d. The Small Places - social welfare law;
e. Head of Legal - general legal commentary
f. Human Rights in Ireland
g. Law Think
h. Jack of Kent
i. Charon QC
j. Pink Tape - family law commentary by barrister Lucy Reed
k. Eutopia Law
I. Panopticon Blog
Human rights is an example of an area of law which is often misrepresented by the mainstream press. This can be the result of a lack of legal expertise amongst journalists, but also represents some newspapers’ editorial positions which are if not anti-human rights, then certainly anti-Human Rights Act. It is no coincidence, in my opinion, that the Human Rights Act is also widely considered to have bolstered privacy rights and as such threatens the celebrity news-driven business model of most newspapers."

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