Know where the legal line lies in what you can and cannot say online

Attorney General's OfficeIf you need further evidence that social media is now very much part of the fabric of contemporary society, it comes in the form of an initiative by the Attorney General’s Office designed “to help prevent social media users from committing a contempt of court.”

Attorney General for England and Wales Dominic Grieve, QC, MP – the British government’s senior legal adviser – announced a change in government policy today about ‘not for publication’ advisories issued to the mainstream media designed to make sure that a fair trial takes place and warn people that comment on a particular case needs to comply with the Contempt of Court Act 1981.

[...] Blogs and social media sites like Twitter and Facebook mean that individuals can now reach thousands of people with a single tweet or post. This is an exciting prospect, but it can pose certain challenges to the criminal justice system.

In days gone by, it was only the mainstream media that had the opportunity to bring information relating to a court case to such a large group of people that it could put a court case at risk. That is no longer the case, and is why I have decided to publish the advisories that I have previously only issued to the media.

In other words, anyone with an internet connection can now read publicly what previously went privately only to a small group.

You’ll be able to read future advisories on the Attorney General’s Office website and via Twitter – just follow @AGO_UK.

In his announcement, the Attorney General added:

[...] I hope that by making this information available to the public at large, we can help stop people from inadvertently breaking the law, and make sure that cases are tried on the evidence, not what people have found online.

It’s a good initiative as raising awareness that leads to better understanding will provide people with the opportunity to act within the law and, thus, avoid themselves being in the dock.

It may surprise you (or not) that quite a number of people seem to believe that you can talk about anything online via social networks such as Twitter and Facebook with impunity. Say what you like, it seems to be: there is little consequence from a quick tweet or status update.

Even in professions like public relations, awareness and understanding of what you can and cannot say publicly on social networks from a legal point of view is pretty low, as evidenced by an informal quiz during the Don’t Risk Litigation: Know Your Social Media Law session at the CIPR’s The Public Relations Show 2013 in London last week.

I participated in that session and took part in the quiz, along with the other 50 or so session attendees, being one of only five people left standing by the end of it, ie, we had the correct answers.

You can listen to that session including the quiz in this CIPR podcast:

(If you don’t see the audio player above, listen on SoundCloud.)

In the past, the Attorney General has issued around five advisories per year although the announcement notes that ten have been issued so far in 2013.

Whatever the number, make sure you’re keeping current with the law and social media, especially if you’re a communicator whose clients (or employer) would expect you to know where the line lies between what you can and cannot say online.

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On a digital roll at the FT

FT Android edition

If you want evidence that digital and print publications can live together very nicely in the midst of continuing change and declines in circulations and advertising revenues for printed newspapers, look no further than the Financial Times.

In July 2012, the paper reported that, for the first time, digital subscriptions had surpassed print subscriptions.

And in an email today, the FT told me that paid readership – print and digital – is the highest in the paper’s 125-year history at almost 629,000, up 5 percent on the same period last year.

Yet digital is the driving force behind the FT’s growth, clearly a trend where continuing circulation growth has been fuelled by digital subscriptions, the latter up 24 percent to almost 387,000 for the first nine months of 2013 compared to 2012.

fastFTThe FT said they now have close to 150,000 more digital subscribers than global print circulation. And a very interesting metric – the FT has more than 220,000 corporate users from over 3,000 licences, including 25 of the world’s top business schools and 80 central banks.

And the fastFT live 24/7 breaking-news service launched six months ago has been a great success, according to the FT’s Megan Murphy at a celebration event last night at the swanky Morton’s Club in London’s West End.

As a long-time paying subscriber to FT digital content, I’ve seen the paper’s innovation and success with its digital roll-outs. I’m especially impressed with their Android app, my favoured method of reading the FT each day. It works especially well on a 10.1-inch Samsung tablet.

Mobile clearly is a major element in the FT’s vision for its future as the platform drives almost 60 percent of subscriber consumption, over 40 percent of total traffic and a quarter of digital subscriptions.

Yesterday, the FT announced the availability of the FT in the just-launched Google Newsstand on Android devices. You can actually subscribe to the FT via this app – a first via a third-party app, the FT said. And last week, the paper made is easy for subscribers to share limited digital content with non-subscribers via the Gift Article feature.

In addition to Google Newsstand and FT apps for the primary mobile systems – Android, iOS, Windows – you can also get the FT as a Flipboard publication. As an enthusiastic Flipboard user myself,  I flip between the FT app on the tablet and the FT in Flipboard on the tablet and sometimes smartphone, depending on what I’m doing at the time and where.

So much choice!

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Filters and trust

Truth-O-MeterAs we get exposed to more and more information online, two elements assume great importance – filtering in the things we want to see; and verifying those things so we trust our filtered-in information along with the purveyors of it.

The former is easier done than the latter: there are apps, algorithms and all manner of technical tools to help you filter in what you want and, thus, filter out what you don’t.

Trust is a very tricky thing. Subjective, emotive and based largely on the things people say to one another, no one has yet come up with a method of automating trust that is convincing, reliable and, well, trusted.

Could PundiFact and the Truth-O-Meter be an answer? According to the US newspaper the Tampa Bay Times, yes, it could.

[…] The new site will have a dedicated staff of journalists who will research claims by media figures and rate them using PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter. The fact-checks will be published on and will often be featured on the main PolitiFact site.

[…] “Pundits on TV and radio, as well as bloggers and columnists, are prominent voices in our political discourse, yet sometimes they blur the lines between opinion and fact,” said Neil Brown, editor and vice president of the Times. “Now we will hold them accountable, much as we’ve done with politicians.”

PolitiFact does have a track record of rating American politicians and what they say, presenting ratings in a way that you can, at a glance, see how particular public voices stack up on a truth scale. At least, according to PolitiFact.


Craigslist founder Craig Newmark is quoted in the Tampa Bay Times story with a resonating appeal:

I just want news I can trust, and PunditFact is a real contribution in the direction of trustworthiness and accountability.

The bold’s my emphasis.

Maybe that’s the way to see this idea as one that’s “in the direction of trustworthiness and accountability.” That sounds realistic.

I’d love to see a PunditFact for the UK!

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How ‘social TV’ enables immersive involvement in live events


Audience participation with live TV events via social channels like Twitter is becoming increasingly common and a big part of audience expectations.

I’m thinking of campaign-type events, not spontaneous or serendipitous actions by individual tweeters, Facebookers or Google+ers with their communities.

This is about orchestrated activities: programme-makers and the television broadcasters creating a broader platform for wider, richer and valuable content dissemination where the tweeter becomes an active part  – and, perhaps, influencer – of a broadcast event that embraces true multi media.

And it’s way beyond simply sticking a hashtag on the TV screen.

Nowhere is this more part of the fabric of live TV events right now than in the US with shows like The Voice and – perhaps more significantly – live ‘town hall’ debates with President Obama.

CNET News reports on Mass Relevance, a “social experience platform for brands and media” (says its Wikipedia entry), and how it puts Twitter in front of television audiences, boosting the social network’s public profile and altering its perception as a place for more than pointless babble to being an essential tool that enables and facilitates immersive involvement in live events.

Understand the platform:

[…] Mass Relevance is software-as-a-service for brands, agencies, and producers. It’s a technology platform that instantly scans content flowing through the APIs of social media companies, Twitter in particular, and filters it according to the client’s desires. The rapid filtering piece, which is far cooler than it sounds, is what gives television producers like Nicolle Yaron of “The Voice” the confidence to put viewer comments on display and to let audiences vote live on a song for contestants to sing.

The platform, using real-time filters, sifts through hundreds of thousands of tweets, dumps the retweets and replies, purges the content producers know they don’t want — profane tweets, for instance — and then presents what’s left in a queue where someone manually approves the tweets to go on screen. The system can also collect and analyze data for visualizations and power audience polls […]

And you’ll understand more about what’s coming.

A far cry from the nostalgia of the test card from yester year!

It’s useful, too, to see this aspect of Twitter’s growing role in the evolving media landscape if you have interest in Twitter’s forthcoming stock market flotation.

Full story from CNET News: The secret company behind Twitter’s TV takeover.

(First posted to my Flipboard magazine as a story link.)

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Welcome to the Middle East and have a nice day

Amid the conflict, awful tragedy and human suffering constantly occupying centre stage in mainstream media reporting about the Middle East, one man tries to explain the relationship complexities of, among, between, within and without key countries, states and individuals;  and countries outside the region.

A short guide to the Middle East (photo)

Financial Times reader K.N. Al-Sabah writes a letter to the editor of the FT on August 22 to offer a short guide to the Middle East.

That’s the snapshot view on the day Mr Al-Sabah wrote his guide. It seems to me that solving Rubik’s Cube or finding a cure for cancer would be a breeze in comparison to truly understanding the landscape of conflict in the Middle East.

(Via BuzzFeed Politics)

The Sun’s ‘walled content garden’ brings together print and digital

The Sun

Today, The Sun newspaper becomes the latest national mainstream medium in the UK to erect a barrier to its content on the web where access to that content is only available now if you pay £2 per week.

Switchover to The Sun’s new paywall-fronted site began yesterday evening, and the new site went live overnight. When you land on the website now,  you’ll see The Sun as the screenshot above shows, requiring a log-in before you get to any meaningful content.

It’s similar in this approach to its stable mate, The Times.

(The Sun is part of News UK, Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper business in this country previously called News International that includes The Times and The Sunday Times. The relaunch of The Sun is clearly part of the company’s ongoing efforts to move on from the phone hacking scandal that erupted in 2011 and that led to the closure of the News of The World newspaper in July of that year; and to the Leveson Inquiry, whose findings and recommendations continue to be matters of lively public discussion.)

The relaunch of The Sun website is part of a brand repositioning known as Sun+, a bundle of content that embraces three elements:

  • Sun+Digital, content not only on the new website but also via free apps for mobile devices.
  • Sun+Perks, comprising freebies, deals and promotions worth more than £200 each month.
  • Sun+ Goals, video clips of every Barclays Premier League goal via a free app for iOS and Android smartphones and tablets.

All that for £2 a week, even less if you pay for a year in advance.

It’s an interesting mix, offering a range of content and experiences that should be an attractive proposition to many existing online Sun readers as well as appealing to new ones (especially with the launch offer of one month of access for just £1).

But what about those who read The Sun in print every day? There are 7.3 million daily readers, according to News UK – what’s in it for them?

A press release on July 30 includes details of how print readers can take advantage of the three ‘content pillars’ if they wish to:

[…] customers who buy the paper but also want to enjoy this fantastic bundle of benefits will be able to collect special codes that will be printed in each paper every day from Sunday August 4.

These codes will initially unlock one month’s worth of digital access and from then onwards, by collecting 20 codes each month, members will receive continuous access to The Sun’s unrivalled digital content and perks. This is possible using the latest InkJet printing technology supplied by Kodak, which has been fitted across all The Sun’s presses in the UK and Ireland. Each press will print a unique code on every single paper every single day.

The bold text is my emphasis. Imagine that – millions of copies of the newspaper printed every day, each one with a unique one-time code individually printed on each copy as the presses run. That’s pretty neat technology.

Yet, I wonder if this includes Band-Aid – employing digital coolness and some clever tech to keep an old business model going in the face of evidence that shows traditional print is continuing to decline just about everywhere as newspaper circulation figures for June 2013 strongly suggest.


At the same time, readership for all things digital continues to rise, even digital content that you have to pay for (the Financial Times being a good example of that) – surely good signals for The Sun’s digital bundles if not for the printed newspaper?

It’s not a view News UK CEO Mike Darcey wholly agrees with.

Yesterday morning, I was part of a group of invited bloggers in a meeting with the News UK CEO and members of the company’s senior team involved in the launch plans including Derek Brown, The Sun’s digital editor.

Darcey believes in the content bundle. It’s the start of a new journey for The Sun, he said, following the success of The Times, broadening the bundle, adding distinctive content, exploiting new technology, getting into video, focusing on subscription.

Paid-for content works against free, he believes, just as in TV (he was with satellite broadcaster BSkyB for 15 years, over six of them as COO: that’s all about paid-for content). In news, he says, “our formula is curated, filtered, world-class comment and opinion, delivered with authority.”

He says that newspapers have always been a bundle of content – a bundle that keeps expanding, which is now expanding to take advantage of new delivery platforms, notably tablets and smartphones.

It’s an optimistic view of a marketplace that seems to me to be in a near-constant state of disruption as we continue a transition not only to those new delivery platforms Darcey mentions but also to new content creators and consumers. That would include The Sun itself – not only is it a newspaper publisher, it’s also a video content creator and publisher as it will produce daily programmes that will be available in the Sun+Goals digital content offering.

It also includes anyone with a story to tell, whatever label they wear, be they citizen journalists, brand journalists, content marketers, whatever and whoever.

The information landscape is vast, it’s growing all the time, and the content choices facing consumers and businesses are equally exciting and confusing. Information overload is just a breath away.

In the midst of all that, if The Sun has a compelling proposition – the print-plus-digital content bundle Darcey speaks of – that its target markets and advertisers recognize as such, and that translates into a willingness to pay, then the prognosis is good.

Today’s Sun+ launch is just a first step, a fact Darcey was at pains to emphasize. That seems quite clear, especially with regard to Sun+Goals, the exciting-looking mobile app. Right now, it’s a purely content-consumption vehicle, as it were: you get the content – near-live video clips of Premier League football goals – that you consume.

Where things will get really interesting is when you have the opportunity to comment, connect and engage with others, share your thoughts… In essence, be part of a dynamic Sun+ community. There are interesting ideas that might be worth exploring over time. For instance, a corps of passionate football fans who are also great communicators who could create match content as it happens.

Look at what sports broadcaster ESPN in the US is doing with hiring bloggers to cover every NFL game, for example. It could lead to niche communities to which you wouldn’t necessarily devote professional journalism resources.

As I’ve said before, if you offer content plus a great experience that people are willing to pay for – no matter how complex, difficult, changing, disrupted and competitive your market is – then the chances are very good indeed that you will have a viable business opportunity.

See also: commentary by others at yesterday’s meeting with Mike Darcey:

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