Tuesday, 30 March 2010

An online Bill of Rights

Jeff Jarvis sets out his 9 articles to be included in a putative online Bill of Rights.

They are:
  • We have the right to connect.
  • We have the right to speak.
  • We have the right to speak in our languages.
  • We have the right to assemble.
  • We have the right to act.
  • We have the right to control our data.
  • We have the right to our own identity.
  • What is public is a public good.
  • The internet shall be built and operated openly.
In the main they are simply an extension of what we already expect from society, but in the way they govern online behaviour there is a principle at stake here which has previously been devolved to governments out of practicality: the principle of self-determination.

Now I know there is a lot of debate online about the validity of state intervention, and even of the legitimacy of the state itself (Thatcherism vs New Labour principles), but it cannot be overstated how cyberspace is changing the way we interact - not only with the state and other people, but within our own lives too.

The representative democracy that has been in force for the past few centuries is facing a huge challenge from the simple ability to sit down at a computer terminal and do for ourselves what we've previously depended on other people to do: when we wanted to learn something there came wikipedia; when we wanted to find something, google was at hand; when we wanted to connect with others there was facebook; when we wanted to talk to people there was twitter.

Political institutions are increasingly under threat as these new technologies are unearthing bad practises and spreading the details, but this wonderous pioneering phase of the technological evolution we see before us remains only a phase.

The mass of valuable information is dispersed so widely that the time wasted weeding it out from among the piles of opinion and the signposts which (may or may not) direct us to where we want to go is almost too much for even the sharpest wizard in the school. Just like a sat-nav makes life easier it creates a form of co-dependency where we are forced to trust the advice even if it is heading us into an abyss. The ability to orientate ourselves with maps and environmental awareness is being lost: the commuter has become a slave to the radio travel update.

So an e-rights bill is not only essential in assuring against the abuse of convenience, but it also provides a new role for the state in securing our rights as their guarantor.

As I read around it becomes pretty clear that this has far-reaching and profound impact. For example Ben Goldacre's ongoing battle to establish a higher standard on linkage at BBC online [1, 2]. Online Journalism Blog covers the debate [pt1, pt2, pt3].

The BBC holds an important position here at the central of the maelstrom as the only real institution with the capability to lead by example. So it's interesting to read their response with the development of a new policy in communication with readers.

I was particularly struck by the comment: "Our role as an archive and resource is becoming as important to many of you as the more traditional role of reporting the latest news headlines."

Locally to me here we have the BBC Monitoring site in Caversham, which provides an invisible backbone to the corporation. This has enabled it to understand the context of what's going on and thereby gives it's journalists the ability to ask better questions of the people in authoratitive positions who are interviewed by its' journalists and write more relevant copy.

As more citizen journalists begin to chip away at the stern facade of recalitrant authority in their own small ways (such as I do for my Reading List) it is becomes increasingly clear that the people who contextualise rather than simply opinionate begin to position themselves at the head of a new online heirarchy.

I can tell simply by the growing number of people who are searching my archive to discover who has said what in the run up to the current election that my site is not simply a space where readers want to know that the story of today is, but that more want to find out what has been said on particular issues close to their hearts.

So the blogosphere is maturing to become a place where the weblogue is beginning to curate collected knowledge and the curators of that knowledge are showing they have greater staying power than the angry chatterers requiring immediate responses (who are largely migrating away from blogs anyway).

Media loves to hype up the influence of different media forms on elections, but it seems to me as the blogosphere gradually organises itself that its deeper influence is only set to grow.

But this influence depends entirely upon the ability to abide by a set of principles covering the provision of accurate and well-informed information. So, whether or not any online Bill of Rights gains official recognition, the blogger who hopes to continue to grow their audience must abide by some self-imposed standards.


Cross-posted from Reading List Editor's Page

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