onsdag den 24. september 2008

Reflections on Media Manipulations

I owe my English readers a short summary of what happened to me a couple of weeks ago when I was happily on my way to Italy on vacation: A bright Friday morning I was awakened by a call from one of colleagues in Denmark who to his great surprise had seen a TV 2 Early Morning News broadcast referring to a ‘Joint proposal by EU and IBM’ to have private citizens assist in law enforcement using IT to spy on each other.

The background for this strange headline was obviously an article in the Danish niche-newspaper Information (During the war a renounced and much appreciated underground paper), who had an interview with me under this very same heading. The interview was based on a paper produced together with my assistant Michael Hvass on ’How can e-Government benefit from web 2.0’. The journalist said he had read it, but seemed to be very much more interested in getting my support to statements on how this could be applied to prevent crime. This topic was of course only a tiny bit of the article that was much more focused on the benefit of social networks, and I told the journalist that I would be very careful to have citizens watch on each other, and that I was much more interested in preventive actions like setting up social networks to assist with integration of 2. generation youngsters or between relatives and friends. As we had made referrals to David Osimo, who is an EU Scientist researching web 2.0, the journalist seemed to have called David Osimo and put the same directed questions on citizen surveillance, to which David O. replied. Obviously neither of us should have replied, and some editor in Information obviously thought that the article needed to be beefed up by a conspiracy-like headline which was way out from the work of David O. as well as our article.

And as TV2 News is a 24x7 news station they need to produce some exciting stuff all the time, and this probably means they use the scissors more than their head and cut out the morning newspapers headlines and take it from there.

In fact, TV2 News called me that Friday morning, and I told them, as I had told Information, that I would be very careful about mutual citizen surveillance, it would lead to riscs and would be in conflict with our thoughts of democracy, but of course mobile phones/cameras where already used to prove things – and again, the social network preventive effects like services for the homeless in Canada, support to ‘father groups’ in ghettos would be far more interesting.

Well, I was later called by my elder son, who was equally puzzled that his dad suddenly turned out to be support of STASI-methods. So I managed to write a Danish blog on the subject same evening without having been able to see neither the article nor the TV broadcast.

When I came home I found out that this spin of a spin obviously had been circulating around and called ‘little brother’ and a lot of persons were really angry with the idea. No wonder.

Well, readers of my blog know my viewpoints on the importance of protecting privacy and while constantly keeping personal integrity while discussing new security tools.

Poor Davis Osimo later wrote me that he had spent a few terrible hours trying to explain why this was simply a hoax.

In his comment at Information’s home page, he said:

I was asked for examples of this, and I mentioned them. When asked what I think about them, I said that personally I don't agree with similar projects, and that they go against the tradition of liberal democracy.
I said that citizens input is more effective for monitoring government, not other citizens. I never said that web2.0 does not produce harassment, indeed if you look at my research reports it clearly spells out the risks for privacy and excessive social control. See the report on www.jrc.es

Finally, I don't speak in the name of the European Commission.
Can the author clarify this. Urgently.

I left the case as it was when I found that my blog began to be cited further down in Information’s on line article and that David Osimo of course denied any idea of a conspiracy.

And IBM of course is not recommending anything like mutual citizen surveillance as the IBM company has a long standing tradition and firm attitude to protect privacy and integrity.

Then again last week a similar 180 degree’s off spin was fired off by TV2 News. It seemed that the MetroExpress newspaper had a story claiming that EU was now discussing how to allow Sharia-law to be used in specific legal cases within the member states, for instance when it concerning divorce cases involving other ethnical citizens! This was – as Berlingske found out – completely wrong, on the contrary the stated source in EU was actually working to stress that this should never happen, but again TV2 News peddled the story leading 3 political spokesmen from different political parties to protest. It is understandable that the politicians do not have time to do a proper research on topics like this, but it is highly doubtful if the TV station is really doing ‘public service’ by not checking up on their sources.

Well, that was what happened when I was on my way to Italy and to Assisi.

A couple of journalists really should start en route to Canossa.

If they have the time to research where that is and what is meant by that.

I doubt it.

(Clues: The picture shows Hugo of Cluny and Henry IV Barbarossa)

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