Tonight I’m joining a discussion hosted by the Illinois Humanities Council. Here’s the framing:
Not long after protests over the shooting of Michael Brown began in Ferguson, MO, online hacktivist collective Anonymous took up the cause. Though its tactics have been polarizing – one member publicly, incorrectly identified the shooter – the group has undeniably impacted the media conversation and the real-world situation in Ferguson. As a computerized voice in a recent Anonymous YouTube post put it, “social media has changed the rules.”
And here’s the questions— with some starter answers on my end— that will be posed tonight.
- According to the rules of a democracy, justice is determined by the state and the media’s job is to investigate and inform the citizenry.
- What does the work of Anonymous, and Americans’ response to it, tell us about these ever-changing rules?
The rules are not changing at all. There’s been no change to the criminal code, no usurping of institutions, and no real shift in power. We’ve seen this time and again, when the outcome of criminal cases that don’t comport with pop culture estimations of guilt or innocence.
- What are the rules in the digital media age?
Again, the rules in the digital media age are the same as it ever was; it’s just more tools. During the OJ Simpson trial, before the dawn if the popularization of the World Wide Web, reports that he was on the redeye to Chicago from LA on the night of the murder was well-publicized immediately, based on reports from fellow passengers.
- How should conflicts between freedom of information and privacy be handled in a world where citizens -at-large can often access information more effectively than traditional journalists?
The rules around conflicts between freedom of information and privacy are well-established in almost every forum. Actual FOIA requests are governed by applicable law, and they all have provisions with regard to privacy. These laws have led to a series of cultural expectations, like the expectation when there is a police-involved shooting, that basic facts are revealed as quickly as possible. The conflicts occur when these expectations are not met, not when more people get into the info-gathering business.
- What are the ethical considerations under the circumstances?
There are no more greater ethical considerations under these circumstances than any other circumstance on Earth. It is better to be kind, and love one another, than not.
I look forward to our discussion this evening!
Who will watch the watchmen? Reed!