Barclays expands contactless wearables

Barclays bPay key fob

Barclaycard is to roll out a range of wearable payment devices that can be used to make ‘touch and go’ contactless payments across the UK, following the  launch of its bPay wristband last year.

The card issuer’s announcement yesterday notes that each device – an updated wristband, key fob and sticker – will use contactless payment technology and be powered by a secure digital wallet.

Barclaycard – part of Barclays Retail and Business Banking – is a global payment business. The devices can be used by anyone with a UK-registered Visa or MasterCard debit or credit card and be bought online or in high street stores from July.

On the Consuming Issues show on Share Radio UK yesterday, I discussed Barclays’ move with Sue Dougan in a five-minute phone chat that you can listen to in the audio embed below.

We discussed Barclays’ offering, how the technology works, the Apple Pay effect, the drivers that will make devices like these appealing to consumers, security and confidence in using such devices, and more.

Interesting times with mobile as trends clearly suggest a continuing move away from cash payments to cashless payments via methods like contactless payment, with further evolutionary (and probably disruptive) effects when Apple Pay launches in the UK in July.

Read more in a report in the Guardian, below, which I referenced in my discussion with Sue.


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Barclays expands contactless wearables” was written by Sarah Butler, for theguardian.com on Monday 29th June 2015 00.01 Europe/London

British shoppers could soon be paying for cups of coffee or trips on public transport by waving a keyfob or sticker, as contactless payment moves into newer wearable devices.

Barclays, which launched payment wristbands last year, is launching key fobs, an updated wristband and stickers that can be attached to any flat surface, including a mobile phone. The bPay devices can be used by anyone with a UK-registered Visa or MasterCard debit or credit card and bought online or in high street stores, including Snow + Rock, CycleSurgery and Runners Need, from next month.

The venture comes as mobile phone companies begin to muscle in on the payment market. Both Apple and Samsung are working on systems to make contactless payments in shops.

Apple launches its mobile payment system in the UK next month, which allows users pay for goods by tapping their phones on contactless card readers in stores. Unlike contactless cards, Apple Pay includes an extra security measure – tokenisation – which ensures that the card details stored on a phone are never passed to the retailer.

Barclays’ bPay band launched in the UK in July last year, but Barclays would not confirm exactly how many people had taken up the original band.

Mike Saunders, managing director of digital consumer payments at Barclaycard, saidcash-dominated transactions were being replaced by contactless technology.

The UK Payments Council recently revealed that cashless payments have now overtaken the use of notes and coins for the first time in the UK.

The bPay wristband, fob and sticker act like a contactless bank card, but must be pre-loaded with cash. Funds can be added online, via a mobile app or by automatic top-up. It is possible to own several devices and manage them separately so that, for example, a child’s pocket money can be loaded onto a sticker or fob.

Purchases of less than £20 can be made waving the band across the merchant’s sales terminal. Transactions of £20 or more require the customer to enter their pin to validate the transaction.

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Dick Costolo: Twitter unfollows the leader as social milestones are missed

Welcome back, @jack !!

The news yesterday that Twitter CEO Dick Costolo is stepping down from that leadership role next month has attracted widespread commentary and opinion, not least on Twitter itself.

There’s credible opinions that Costolo is going because he hasn’t evolved Twitter as many observers and critics expected or believe he should have. Indeed, the stock market greeted yesterday’s announcement with a 10 percent rise in Twitter’s share price at one point.

An analysis in the Guardian today – you can read the full story below – is a pretty good assessment of a real predicament confronting Twitter, not only from an investor’s perspective but also from that of users and marketers.

[…] Twitter accounts for 1.6% of the critical US digital advertising market – a market worth $50.73bn – compared with Facebook’s 7.6%. Twitter accounts for 3.6% of US mobile internet ads to Facebook’s 18.5%. And in mobile display ads Twitter has a 7% market share compared to 36.7% for Facebook, according to eMarketer.

On user numbers alone – Twitter has 302m monthly active users to Facebook’s 1.44bn – the share of ad market doesn’t seem so surprising. Yet it’s the slowing down of growth that has concerned investors: Twitter’s monthly active user numbers have fallen 30% from 2013 to 2015, and by 2019 growth – a critical indicator of future potential revenues – is heading for a slowdown to 6%.

Yet there’s a more fundamental element that needs attention – what is Twitter?

[…] who is Twitter for? How does it distinguish itself against Facebook? And how can it expand its service while remaining simple and accessible?

Those questions aren’t new at all. Even though how Twitter itself talks about what Twitter is has become more clear in the past year or so, is it how users, marketers, etc, see Twitter?

Our mission: To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers.

I’m not so sure. As a Twitter user since 2006, I’m often asking that question myself even though I’m more than happy to continue my thinking out loud and occasional engagement with others on the platform. I don’t have massive personal expectations of Twitter beyond the implicit simplicity behind that mission statement (but I have a different view if I put on my marketer’s hat).

Yet maybe Twitter’s not entirely sure about that either – the mission statement is slightly different on Twitter’s investor relations page.

Twitter strives to give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers.

Maybe change is afoot already: Twitter also announced yesterday that the 140-character limit on direct messages will be changed to a whopping 10,000 characters. Note this is for DMs only – the 140-character limit for regular tweets remains. For now, at least.

While that news will be appealing to many who will relish the opportunity of penning short stories to DM to their friends, I fear it also opens the door to push marketing – whether you like it or not – on a grand scale.

In any case, might Costolo’s departure herald a pivot of sorts in Twitter’s next steps with the (re)appointment of Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey as interim CEO while Twitter starts a search for a permanent replacement?

There are all sorts of opinions about that.

[The Guardian report below is published here with permission via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.]


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Dick Costolo: Twitter unfollows the leader as social milestones are missed” was written by Jemima Kiss, for theguardian.com on Friday 12th June 2015 09.41 Europe/London

It says something about the extraordinary scale of social platforms when a technology behemoth with 302m active users every month can be seen as failing to achieve its potential. Yet that is exactly why it appears that Twitter’s chief executive, Dick Costolo, now has to go from the company’s top post.

In after-hours trading following the sudden announcement on Thursday, Twitter stock briefly fluttered up 8% higher. It was a reflection of the uneasy feelings from investors towards a man who fell under their increased and ultimately poisonous scrutiny as he navigated the social networking firm through its public offering in November 2013, having been CEO since he took over from Evan Williams in October 2010.

Despite being a very different product serving a very different audience, Twitter is often compared to Facebook – and often unfavourably. Therein lies an identity crisis of sorts.

For Twitter’s investors the concern was less about user numbers than the growth and aggressiveness of the company’s online advertising. While Costolo was popular with many staffers for bringing structure and co-ordination to a chaotic young company, and took it to a market capitalisation of .4bn, he also oversaw the process of risk and uncertainty in pushing towards a brand new space.

Costolo and Jack Dorsey, who now takes over as interim CEO, have both insisted that the move was not connected to Twitter’s recent financial results – which saw those user numbers grow just 4.86% – so much as a decision made purely by Costolo himself, as a capstone to discussions that had been going on since last autumn.

Right now Twitter is in danger of becoming a niche product: it is beloved by journalists (guilty) and marketers, yet viewed with confusion by mainstream consumers.

Where the selective friendship groups of Facebook make sense (to varying degrees), Twitter’s public face can be more intimidating. On the other hand, the 140-character simplicity of Twitter’s platform and the potential to be the “civic square” of popular debate offers just as much value and, usually, less flatulent conversations.

In an era of endless feeds and the digital burden of email and obligatory posts from friends, Twitter’s brevity and ambience is a welcome change; what you miss is just missed – not mourned, nor added to a tedious, ever-increasing pile like email.

But in focusing its business Twitter has made some strategic decisions, such as closing off access to selected third parties – Instagram at one point, Meerkat at another, and earlier to a wider stream of third-party developers. Twitter was under pressure to protect its valuable audience and its scale, and in doing so cut off the community that helped it grow.

All of which left many users and especially those investors wondering: who is Twitter for? How does it distinguish itself against Facebook? And how can it expand its service while remaining simple and accessible?

Twitter accounts for 1.6% of the critical US digital advertising market – a market worth .73bn – compared with Facebook’s 7.6%. Twitter accounts for 3.6% of US mobile internet ads to Facebook’s 18.5%. And in mobile display ads Twitter has a 7% market share compared to 36.7% for Facebook, according to eMarketer.

On user numbers alone – Twitter has 302m monthly active users to Facebook’s 1.44bn – the share of ad market doesn’t seem so surprising. Yet it’s the slowing down of growth that has concerned investors: Twitter’s monthly active user numbers have fallen 30% from 2013 to 2015, and by 2019 growth – a critical indicator of future potential revenues – is heading for a slowdown to 6%.

For a young public company those numbers are sounding more and more like a death knell. For investors, Twitter’s plans – and Costolo carried the can for this – have not confidently set out its future. Chris Sacca, a major investor, wrote an insightful essay on the company’s challenges: “Twitter has failed to meet its own stated user growth expectations and has not been able to take advantage of the massive number of users who have signed up for accounts and then not come back. Shortcomings in the direct response advertising category have resulted in the company coming in below the financial community’s quarterly estimates.

“In the wake of this Twitter’s efforts to convince the investing community of the opportunity ahead fell flat. Consequently the stock is trading near a six-month low, well below its IPO closing day price, and the company is suffering through a seemingly endless negative press cycle.”

But he says Twitter “has boldness in its bones” and that it can improve by making the service easier for new users, more supportive for users intimidated by the site, and by making it feel less lonely.

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Why the C-suite don’t ‘get’ social media marketing – and how to change that

The boardroom

It’s a sad business reality that, in mid-2014, social media is still a bit of a taboo subject in the corporate boardroom.

Writing in the Guardian, Sharon Flaherty assesses a business landscape where half of global boardrooms ignore social media with ignorance and lack of understanding the rules of thumb:

  1. Ignorance of the genuine value social media can bring to a business
  2. Lack of understanding about how to measure that value

Flaherty cites recent research by Useful Social Media that examines the state of social media use in large corporations, and has a stark conclusion:

Social has hit a glass ceiling – it can’t prove value in the boardroom, and executives are thus finding growth opportunities curtailed. All this talk about social being about ‘ROE’ and ‘ROR’ creates a series of tweetable soundbites, but gets short shrift in a boardroom looking for real business impacts they can understand.

The bold text is my emphasis as that clearly is the problem – not ignorance and lack of understanding about social media and how to use it, but about the tangible, measurable benefits social media bring to a business.

Is the answer, then, to get the C-suite to tweet? To “join the conversation,” as it were? That’s one of the three recommendations in Flaherty’s concluding points.

My view on that is: it depends on what your goal is where C-suite members participating in social media would be a means to an end that leads you to the achievement of a measurable objective. Plenty of CEOs tweet, for instance, although others have had major reservations about using that platform.

Still, I’d be pretty sure that many C-suite members of large corporations in particular who are active participants in the online social conversation have clear and measurable objectives set out.

Now I circle back to the major issue of ignorance and lack of understanding and ask – doesn’t it make excellent sense to first listen to what you hear from the boardroom as epitomized in Useful Social Media’s statement above? Listen, learn and then speak in language and terms that make an impact in that boardroom.

That means presenting hard facts about how many qualifiable leads resulted from a social media marketing campaign and the projected value they bring to the sales effort, for instance, not just how many comments there are on a LinkedIn company page update and how the community is growing.

Excel not PowerPoint, you might say.

Read Sharon Flaherty’s full assessment below and see what you agree with.


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Why the C-suite don’t ‘get’ social media marketing – and how to change that” was written by Sharon Flaherty, for theguardian.com on Monday 4th August 2014 11.57 Europe/London

In a recent talk at Hay Festival, Arianna Huffington, president and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post Media Group, advised the audience to keep their phones out of their bedroom when sleeping. Why? Because, most of us wake up, reach for our phones and before even getting out of bed in the morning, have a quick check of our social accounts, messages and emails.

This highlights how constantly internet-connected we really are and just how much of a grip social media has on us. Why then is it that a common complaint among marketers is that the C-suite still don’t ‘get’ social media?

Half of global boardrooms ignoring social media

A poll of senior marketers around the world conducted by Useful Social Media found that only half of all boardrooms are convinced about social media’s value. Now that it is a multi-billion pound industry, surely CFOs, CEOs and CMOs don’t still think social media is a fad? So what is really at the heart of management’s reticence?

“I have run out of fingers and toes on which to count the times a bright-eyed marketing manager within a big organisation has brought us in to pitch only to then hear the words “our CEO does not ‘do’ social” and this ignorance shows no sign of slowing,” says Andy Barr, owner of 10Yetis social media and PR agency.

Can’t calculate ROI, won’t buy-in

According to Barr, a large chunk of FTSE 100 CMOs are still battling to get their heads around the value social can bring because they simply don’t understand how they can measure the return on investment.

This sentiment is echoed by the co-founder of social media analytics provider, Birdsong, who points to the lack of measurement and accountability of social media as a reason why numbers-driven C-suites, simply do not buy-in or relate to social.

Jamie Riddell said: “Social media is not seen to be as measurable as other forms of media such as TV. In order for any media channel to be taken seriously at board level, it’s impact on hard criteria such as reach and ultimately sales, needs to be understood. Your average C-suite executive will be focused on business results that are more than brand mentions or sentiment analysis.”

Regulatory burden

But it’s not just measurement and proof of ROI that’s preventing the C-suite from committing to social; regulatory restrictions are playing a role too. A distinct lack of clarity around the use of social media by financial services firms has meant many are paralysed by the fear of getting it wrong.

The financial regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, has failed to update its social media guidelines for over three years, despite the tremendous changes social media has undergone in that time. However, any regulatory breach could trigger a hefty fine and the related reputational damage.

Social inexperience

Much needed is education about social media and its application in the corporate world. Founder of the Social Media Leadership Forum, Justin Hunt, says it is particularly the younger marketers who are frustrated by the lack of understanding about social media.

“In some cases, execs are demanding a million Likes on Facebook or a million Twitter followers after they realise they need to be involved. This lack of understanding causes issues with agencies and staff who despair,” he said.

According to Hunt, the repercussion is that some agencies are still buying social media followers on behalf of these brands, despite the folly in doing so. This misunderstanding of social media could in part be explained by the lack of the C-suite’s personal involvement with it.

According to Brandfog, a social media consultancy that works with CEOs globally to improve their social media presence, a whopping 64% of CEOs do not use social media at all, with only 5% of all Fortune 500 company CEOs on Twitter.

Three ways to warm-up the C-Suite

1: Get them on social. Whether it’s posting from their own personal account or a corporate account, encourage your CFOs, CEOs and CMOs to participate themselves and provide support and training to avoid any faux pas.

2: Simulate a crisis. By simulating a potential crisis that could hit the brand, you enlighten the C-suite to the power of social media and also the potential damage it can wreak if you haven’t invested in social media listening and community management.

3: Identify the balance of your website traffic sources. Highlighting the traffic sources to the company website will demonstrate where it is over-reliant and hence vulnerable. For example, if the bulk of your web traffic comes from search, then growing your social traffic to diversify your traffic sources will be an asset when search positions fluctuate or if the company is hit by a Google penalty or algorithm update. Social media is also a significant contributor to search engine optimisation.

Sharon Flaherty is founder of BrandContent. Follow her on Twitter at @BrandContentUK.

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(Image at top via The_Warfield, used under Creative Commons license.)

Guardian to launch new platform to streamline access to web content

History of guardian.co.ukNews that The Guardian newspaper is planning to aggregate its presence on the web under a single entry point, theguardian.com domain, is an interesting milestone for a mainstream medium whose innovation in extending its presence and brand beyond its traditional printed newspaper origins in the UK makes it a stand-out among mainstream publishers.

A web address change may not seem like that big a deal. But if you’re a content publisher putting out the type of content online that attracts millions of people every day to visit you on the world wide web, having a single entry point to all your content that reinforces your brand name and presence makes sound commercial sense.

And sooner rather than later. The latest readership figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations, released a few days ago, show that nearly 82 million unique browsers accessed the newspaper’s website in April 2013 – a record high, says The Guardian – from all over the world.

It seems clear that the evolutionary shifts in the newspaper business are gathering steam from the big milestones we saw last year.

In December 2012, Newsweek magazine ended nearly 80 years in print, becoming an online-only publication. Quartz, a digital-only business magazine from Atlantic Media, launched in September. In July, the Financial Times said that worldwide digital subscriptions surpassed those for print for the first time. We also saw an interesting experiment on Christmas Day when the Telegraph in the UK published a digital-only edition on a day that traditionally sees no newspapers at all.

The Guardian’s arch online rival, Mail Online – the digital stable mate to the printed Daily Mail newspaper – has poured resources into developing a digital presence that has made it the world’s most-visited news website with more than 112 million unique browser accesses per month, according to its latest ABC certificate – most of those from people elsewhere in the world than the UK.

The stakes are high in a global marketplace where your competitors today are brands, social media publishers and others. Getting attention to your content requires a lot more than just being a newspaper publisher with a tradition of great journalism behind you.

Related posts:


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Guardian to launch new platform to streamline access to web content” was written by Mark Sweney, for theguardian.com on Friday 24th May 2013 08.08 Europe/London

The Guardian is to launch a new global web presence, theguardian.com, in recognition of the newspaper’s increasingly international digital appeal.

The move will streamline access to Guardian content – amalgamating the main entry point Guardian.co.uk, mobile site m.guardian.co.uk, US homepage guardiannews.com and the soon-to-launch Australian digital edition – into one core web destination.

In the last five years, the number of monthly Guardian digital browsers has grown from 20 million to more than 80 million, with much of that growth coming from international markets.

“Every month, our online content is accessed from almost every country around the world,” said Tanya Cordrey, chief digital officer at Guardian News & Media, in a blog post called Going global on our digitaljourney. “In fact, UK users now represent just a third of our total audience.”

The home of the newspaper’s content has been guardian.co.uk, which is the only non-“dot com” domain suffix in the top 10 Google News list of digital news outlets.

“This may be a small URL change, but it marks a big step for the Guardian and reflects our evolution from a much-respected national print newspaper based only in the UK … to a leading global news and media brand … and an ever-growing worldwide audience accessing Guardian journalism every minute of every day,” said Cordrey.

Cordrey added that the move to theguardian.com will make for a simplified user experience, but will also be more appealing to major advertisers in international markets, who are perhaps not drawn to the idea of running campaigns on a UK-specific website, despite the reality of the Guardian’s global digital readership.

The move, which will take place later this year, will involve the transition of millions of URLs attached to the Guardian’s websites and about 15 years of archived content.

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Number 10 hands out Twitter exclusives to favoured journalists

UK Prime Minister

A discussion topic in episode 701 of the FIR podcast, published today, looks at a question asked in the Metro newspaper last week: should British politicians take notes from Barack Obama’s campaign team?

The Metro’s excellent report looked at the key role social media played  – especially Twitter – in both of the US president’s election campaigns in 2008 and 2012 in enabling direct engagement with reporters and opinion-makers as well as with voters in communities across the United States (see detailed analysis of 2012 from Pew’s Journalism. org).

The discussion that guest co-host Stephen Waddington and I had in the podcast considered key elements of Obama’s campaign as described in the Metro story by Obama’s deputy campaign manager, Jennifer O’Malley Dillon. Her conclusion:

[…] Summing up the lessons of 2008 and 2012, Ms O’Malley Dillon said: ‘If there’s anything to be learned from our campaign, it’s that we made it a priority, we believed in it from the top to the bottom, we ensured the resources were there and we allowed it to help dictate for us in some ways the type of things we were doing based on how people use these forums.

‘We weren’t trying to recreate the wheel, we were trying to be part of the dialogue and I think that’s one of the many ways we were able to be successful.’

Keeping that in mind, Wadds and I broadly concluded in  our discussion that a) yes, British politicians would benefit from studying the role of social media in US election campaigning; and b) there’s little to suggest that they are or have done so – certainly at a central-government level that seems isolated from grassroots ‘social politics’ – even though the next general election in the UK is only two years away at most.

So The Guardian’s report yesterday on the role of Twitter in how Downing Street aims to secure goodwill from journalists by revealing news before its official announcement by ministers had me thinking about what looks like a chasm of a difference in how American politicians see social media channels like Twitter and how UK ones do.

There, it looks more open and inclusive. Here, it seems to be secretive, selective and controlled.

That’s a great pity if it does turn out to be how my cynical view of the political communication landscape appears. The way in which social media channels can galvanize political engagement with and by those who have the final word on who gets elected, as evidenced by the US experience, clearly is firmly understood by government communicators:

[…] “We’re getting to where people are these days,” said Anthony Simon, the head of digital communications in the prime minister’s office.

“Increasing numbers of people are on Twitter – journalists, stakeholders and professional groups – and to be part of that conversation is vital for any government department. It’s democratic because it’s open to anyone and we don’t go on it for the sake of it or over-rely on it – it’s a means to an end.”

I hope that the ‘means to an end’ becomes a great deal more honest- and authentic-looking than the current situation that The Guardian describes.

(The Guardian’s report below is published with their permission via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.)


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Number 10 hands out Twitter exclusives to favoured journalists” was written by Josh Halliday, for The Guardian on Sunday 28th April 2013 21.07 Europe/London

Asked in 2009 why he didn’t use Twitter, David Cameron famously responded “too many twits might make a twat” . Four years later, Number 10 is attempting to move more rapidly into the digital future with a Twitter strategy that includes handing out “Twitter exclusives” to favoured journalists for release before they are officially announced by ministers.

In a tactic reminiscent of the BBC satire The Thick of It, Twitter is also being used to try to quash negative stories before they gain currency in a news cycle where every second counts.

“Every minute that passes the poison is spreading into the system to all sorts of roots and you need to find a way to cauterize that very, very quickly,” said a senior No 10 source.

The Twitter exclusives aim to secure goodwill from journalists who are often under pressure to break news online before rivals, but will irritate those who believe announcements should be made in parliament.

Many of Downing Street’s new media strategies were introduced by Craig Oliver, the prime minister’s communications director, who insisted on moving a Twitter monitor into the No 10 newsroom when he assumed his role in January 2011.

According to colleagues, Oliver likes to describe the social network as similar to fire: a useful tool in the right hands, but massively destructive if it is misused.

The analogy might leave some scratching their heads, but Cameron’s inner circle wants all his MPs to take Twitter seriously – even if the 2015 general election is, in internet time, light years away.

One example of using Twitter to “seal” a negative story came after the Evening Standard mistakenly broke George Osborne’s budget embargo on the social network last month. A mortified journalist promised to tweet a swift apology but Oliver ordered a pre-emptive tweet from the Tory press office account, to ensure the reporter’s promise was met.

Conservative party headquarters brief MPs on good talking points for Twitter, using them to “tweet as a muscular force” about a single topic or news item to hammer home the message. Some 418 MPs have joined the tweeting fray, according to the news wire Tweetminster, up from 176 in 2009.

“Twitter used to be seen as tool for the egocentric and verbally incontinent,” said a senior No 10 source. “But the reality is that it’s an extraordinarily useful way of getting talking points out there.”

Downing Street has not always been so fleet of foot – it took hours to respond to the online mockery prompted by Osborne’s first-class train ticket debacle last October – but Cameron’s inner circle now recognises that the case for a clear Twitter strategy is “unanswerable”.

“We’re getting to where people are these days,” said Anthony Simon, the head of digital communications in the prime minister’s office.

“Increasing numbers of people are on Twitter – journalists, stakeholders and professional groups – and to be part of that conversation is vital for any government department. It’s democratic because it’s open to anyone and we don’t go on it for the sake of it or over-rely on it – it’s a means to an end.”

The most popular tweet sent by the government was Cameron’s tribute to Baroness Thatcher, prompting 3,500 retweets. The most divisive was when No 10 tweeted every single reshuffle appointment last September, which led to a mass unfollowing from less devoted users but praise from politicos.

But the jury is out on whether the rest of Britain is as Twitter-addicted as the Westminster Village. “I think the majority of activity comes from a fairly small group and most MPs have fairly small audiences,” said Alberto Nardelli, the founder of the app Tweetminster, pointing out that 1.2m people follow MPs on the site – about the same size audience combined as Beppe Grillo, the leader of Italy’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement.

“I think we’ve gone beyond a ‘should politicians use Twitter?’ phase. It’s now how will it be used,” he added.

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Facebook riot calls earn men four-year jail terms amid sentencing outcry

facebookIn the aftermath of the civil disorder that gripped London and a number of other English cities last week – it included murders, assaults  and a great deal of property destruction and damage – attention is firmly on the system of justice in England and what’s happening to the thousands of people arrested and charged with an offence of one kind of another, typically looting or doing criminal damage.

For the past few days, our TV screens have been filled with video footage of police in full riot gear storming a suspect’s house, smashing down the door and dragging an alleged perp outside in handcuffs under the full gaze of assembled TV cameras and photographers.

It’s what a majority of people seem to want to see – police dragging the crooks off to court with swift justice administered involving jail time. And that’s precisely what we’re seeing.

Underlying much of this is what role social networking played during the riots, notably Blackberry Messenger, Facebook and Twitter, the three services most mentioned. The government has said they want to examine what to do about such communication tools in times of civil unrest and say they will be speaking with the owners of those three services.

Meanwhile, we have news of two young men going to jail for four years for what they did during the disturbances where the means of doing, as it were, played a key role in their offences. The means was Facebook.

The story is all over the media today. As the Guardian reports, the two posted messages on Facebook inciting other people to riot in their home towns. What I find most interesting about the reports on their sentencing isn’t so much the act of using Facebook this way but the effect it had which is central to the Crown Court judge’s commentary on the sentence he handed down to one of those found guilty:

[…] Jordan Blackshaw, 20, set up an "event" called Smash Down in Northwich Town for the night of 8 August on the social networking site but no one apart from the police, who were monitoring the page, turned up at the pre-arranged meeting point outside a McDonalds restaurant. Blackshaw was promptly arrested.

[…] Sentencing Blackshaw to four years in a young offenders institution, Judge Elgan Edwards QC said he had committed an "evil act". He said: "This happened at a time when collective insanity gripped the nation. Your conduct was quite disgraceful and the title of the message you posted on Facebook chills the blood.

"You sought to take advantage of crime elsewhere and transpose it to the peaceful streets of Northwich. The idea revolted many right thinking members of society. No one actually turned up due to the prompt and efficient actions of police in using modern policing."

Four years behind bars (or at least, loss of liberty). That’s a long time for an offence that many voices today see as disproportionate to the offences committed. I’d expect to see more of this as a hardening establishment attitude to behaviours in society becomes clear.

This is but one part of a huge debate that has only just begun and does embrace methods of communicating and how people use modern communication tools and channels such as social networks for good and for evil: what responsibilities come with what rights. Many people have strong opinions and, thanks to how connected we all are, are voicing those opinions (you can hear some of them in episode 612 of the FIR podcast I co-present, published on August 15.)

I do not believe there are easy answers to any element of what happened last week and the consequential events. As communicators, we can contribute to the debate so as to offer our opinions that may help politicians and others make the right decisions.

It’s a long process and will no doubt take a long time.

The Guardian’s full report is appended below, published with their permission via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Facebook riot calls earn men four-year jail terms amid sentencing outcry” was written by Owen Bowcott, legal affairs correspondent, Helen Carter and Helen Clifton, for The Guardian on Tuesday 16th August 2011 23.02 Europe/London

Two men who posted messages on Facebook inciting other people to riot in their home towns have both been sentenced to four years in prison by a judge at Chester crown court.

Jordan Blackshaw, 20, set up an “event” called Smash Down in Northwich Town for the night of 8 August on the social networking site but no one apart from the police, who were monitoring the page, turned up at the pre-arranged meeting point outside a McDonalds restaurant. Blackshaw was promptly arrested.

Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, of Latchford, Warrington, used his Facebook account in the early hours of 9 August to design a web page entitled The Warrington Riots. The court was told it caused a wave of panic in the town. When he woke up the following morning with a hangover, he removed the page and apologised, saying it had been a joke. His message was distributed to 400 Facebook contacts, but no rioting broke out as a result.

Sentencing Blackshaw to four years in a young offenders institution, Judge Elgan Edwards QC said he had committed an “evil act”. He said: “This happened at a time when collective insanity gripped the nation. Your conduct was quite disgraceful and the title of the message you posted on Facebook chills the blood.

“You sought to take advantage of crime elsewhere and transpose it to the peaceful streets of Northwich. The idea revolted many right thinking members of society. No one actually turned up due to the prompt and efficient actions of police in using modern policing.”

Sutcliffe-Keenan, the judge said, “caused a very real panic” and “put a very considerable strain on police resources in Warrington”. He praised Cheshire police for their “modern and clever policy” of infiltrating the website.

The Crown Prosecution Service said in a statement that the men’s posts on Facebook “caused significant panic and revulsion in local communities as rumours of anticipated violence spread”.

It added: “We were able to serve upon the defence in both cases sufficient case material that led to early guilty pleas and we were able to present the facts in both cases in a fair but robust manner.

“While the judge heard the two defendants were previously of good character, they admitted committing very serious offences that carry a maximum sentence of 10 years. The consequence of their actions could have led to more disorder and this was taken into account.”

The heavy sentences came as defence lawyers and civil rights groups have criticised the “disproportionate” sentences imposed on some convicted rioters as the latest official figures show nearly 1,300 suspects have been brought before the courts.

The revelation that magistrates were advised by justices’ clerks to disregard normal sentencing guidelines when dealing with riot-related cases alarmed a number of lawyers who warn it will trigger a spate of appeals.

Also on Tuesday, a looter was warned he could be jailed for helping himself to an ice-cream cone during disturbances.

Anderson Fernandes, 22, appeared before magistrates in Manchester charged with burglary after he took two scoops of coffee ice-cream and a cone from Patisserie Valerie in the city centre. He gave the cone away because he didn’t like the flavour.

Fernandes admitted burglary in relation to the ice-cream and an unconnected charge of handling stolen goods after a vacuum cleaner was recovered from his home. District judge Jonathan Taaffe said: “I have a public duty to deal swiftly and harshly with matters of this nature.” Fernandes will be sentenced next week.

In sentencing four other convicted Manchester rioters, a crown court judge, Andrew Gilbert QC, made clear why he was disregarding sentencing guidelines when he said “the offences of the night of 9 August … takes them completely outside the usual context of criminality”.

He added: “The principal purpose is that the courts should show that outbursts of criminal behaviour like this will be and must be met with sentences longer than they would be if the offences had been committed in isolation. For those reasons, I consider that the sentencing guidelines for specific offences are of much less weight in the context of the current case, and can properly be departed from.”

The Ministry of Justice’s latest estimate, at midday on Tuesday, shows the courts have dealt with 1,277 alleged offenders of whom more than 700 have been remanded in custody. Two-thirds of the cases were in London.

By midday on Monday, 115 people had been convicted; more than three-quarters of those were adults. About 21% of those appearing before the courts have been juveniles. The proportion of alleged youth offenders was higher in Nottingham, Birmingham and Manchester. An MoJ spokesperson said: “Everyone involved with the courts and prison service has put in a huge effort to make that possible and that work will continue.”

But doubts are now being expressed about the fairness of some sentences. For example, one student has been jailed for six months for stealing a bottle of water from a supermarket.

Sally Ireland, policy director of the law reform organisation Justice, said: “The circumstances of public disorder should be treated as an aggravating factor and one would expect that to push up sentences by a degree, but not by as far as some of the cases we have seen.

“Some instances are completely out of all proportion. There will be a flurry of appeals although, by the time they have been heard, those sentences may already have been served.

” There’s a question about this advice [from justices’ clerks] and whether it should have been issued at all. We would expect them to be giving advice [to magistrates] in individual cases rather than following a general directive.”

Rakesh Bhasin, a solicitor partner at the law firm Steel & Shamash, which represents some of those charged following the riots, said some reported sentences seemed to be “disproportionate”.

Paul Mendelle QC, a former chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, said: “The idea that the rulebook goes out the window strikes me as inherently unjust. It sets all manner of alarm bells ringing. Guidelines are not tramlines. There are guidelines and they take account of aggravating and mitigating circumstances.

“There have been rulings following the Bradford riots and Israeli embassy demonstrations that said which sort of guidelines should be followed. I don’t see why [magistrates] should be told to disregard these.”

The judiciary and the MoJ have denied that they were involved in circulating the advice to justices’ clerk last week.

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