Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

h1

Blogging could disappear as quickly as it has risen

November 18, 2009

 

Poll from PR Week: the PR industry should not trample all over social media

When something comes along and breathes life into a staid industry, but has not had time to establish deep roots, we should be careful to preserve it.

Blogging has challenged the media. Every week, bloggers rail against sloppy journalism. For perhaps the first time, there is a democratic and immediate response to any weak-minded argument that makes it onto the pages of a newspaper. It’s David and Goliath stuff, and its refreshing.

Nobody knows how the relationship between blogs and media will develop.  So far, it seems bloggers are becoming more skilled and better resourced, potentially challenging journalists. Meanwhile, most journalists I know are being asked to blog as well as write (or, from their perspective, being forced to write more for the same money!).

But the critical difference is that bloggers have not been confined by commercial interests from calling things the way they see them. This is liberating, and is something the mainstream media, with its vested interests, can never hope to compete with entirely.

Which is why its disappointing that it appears blogging is becoming tarnished by a lack of transparency.

In a nice post last weekend, Laurence Borel asked the question – should bloggers be paid to write blog posts? It’s a multi-layered question. Firstly – why not? Good bloggers should be paid, just like good online media should be paid-for.

But the big question is about transparency and the flow of money. The money should flow from the consumers of the blog, rather than from brand owners or companies. Otherwise it reduces blogging to advertising – undisclosed advertising.  This would be no more acceptable than if an ‘expert’ sold you a mortgage without telling you they were paid to sell you that particular one. Transparency is the big issue.

We should value the independence of bloggers. Sadly, the credibility of all bloggers will be damaged if there is a perception that they are taking money from the brand owners and companies they blog about. This is why it’s so important that we don’t allow this practice to take hold.

And why it’s so depressing to see that the majority of PR people in the UK have got this one wrong in a PR Week poll. The emergence of social media presents an enormous opportunity for the communications industry.  There has never been such demand for watertight strategy and precise implementation of complex and increasingly targeted communications campaigns.

The PR industry should be nurturing social media, not trampling all over it. Under pressure from the media on the one hand and encroaching regulatory scrutiny on the other, blogging is fragile enough.  Let the PR industry take a lead in setting out best practice.

h1

The Moir-Gately debate: impact of free comment

October 17, 2009

I have just read about 200 articles, blog posts, tweets and comments about Jan Moir’s sickening article in the Daily Mail on Stephen Gately’s death.

For the record, I didn’t feel much at all about Gately’s death – apart from the tragic fact that someone my age died unexpectedly. So I was surprised, last weekend, when it dominated the BBC News all day Sunday.

It was still dominating on Monday, which surprised me further. But I figured it was merely a case of an establishment figure (you know, friends with Louis Walsh and Elton John – establishment) passing away.

Moir’s article doesn’t deserve comment. It’s just stupid, and I’m sure she knows that. Her logic doesn’t follow at all, but it doesn’t matter because she’s written something to provoke a response, which is her job. Fair enough, no matter how much I think the article itself is horrendous.

But what has interested me (and why I got sucked in and spent an hour reading literally hundreds of posts and comments) is the response.

I started off reading Damian Thompson’s post on the Daily Telegraph blog.  It’s a fairly balanced piece, and makes an interesting comment about the freedom of speech among those living in the ‘social media world’.  His contention is that these ‘liberals’ believe offense is fine if you are ‘liberal’, but should be closed down otherwise.  Freedom of speech, in other words, should not be gifted to people like Moir.

This is a stupid thing to say because what Moir said was not wrong because of her particular viewpoint, it was wrong because she used a false argument to establish a falsehood as a fact.  There is a case for penalising that sort of ‘comment’.  Journalists have a responsibility not to go down that road – the freedom of the press in this country rests on that responsibility.  Her editor should have been the one to throw the book at her.

That Moir’s ‘fact’ was hateful and deeply prejudiced only makes the matter worth doing something about.  Hence the hundreds of complaints.  I would hope that only a small number of these complainants are actually saying ‘nobody has the right to say something I don’t agree with’.

But don’t say ‘gay people are X’ (X could mean sordid, or licentious, or depraved, or evil, or whatever Moir wants it to be) and assert that people who are X (Robbie, Amy, Kate, Whitney, Britney, for example) will die in a bad way.  It is not a logical argument that deserves to be aired and debated.  It is a small-minded error.

So what of Thompson’s point about ‘liberals’ and their attitude to free speech?  The reason I’ve added inverted commas to the word ‘liberal’ is because I want to make a point about Thompson’s use.  I understand the distinction between his use of the word, and it’s real meaning, which is to say something along the lines of ‘broad-minded’.  But it’s a bastardisation, and something popularised by right-wing commentators in America, such as Rush Limbaugh.

The irony is that the comments after Thompson’s post – and hundreds of other comments, posts and tweets I’ve read – are full of precisely the same illiberal (that’s how the word should be used) view that Thompson is rightly criticising.  There are always going to be some people who argue against free speech – it’s nothing to do with being ‘liberal’ or not.

But this brings me circuitously to my main point.  What really interested me was the extremity of many of the views I have read, whether extremely against Moir’s article, or extremely in defence of it.  These extreme views would not have had an airing at any point in our history, but today social media gives them oxygen.

There are religious fanatics and small-minded anti-gays, deeply ‘progressive’ blockheads and anti-capitalists, all happily (or more likely, angrily) making their case on the issue of the day.  And the issue isn’t about poor Stephen Gately at all, it’s about socially important issues – what we are entitled to say in public, how we should live our lives, how concerned we are about the direction of travel of our society.

It is the fact that these views are being expressed for free that makes them poignant.  If your livelihood doesn’t rest on what you say, you can say what you really think.  It makes for a noisy debate, and one that contains some outrageous views.  But it is impossible to argue that – if you read hundreds of those views – it is not balanced.  It just takes a while to find the centre ground.

And so I can say, I have found the centre ground, and here it is: the great British public are sad to see Stephen Gately die, they prefer to judge people based on their character rather than their lifestyle, and they think Jan Moir got this one very, very wrong.

Good for the British people.

h1

The basis of moral decisions

March 24, 2009

Best I mention first off – this blog won’t be all about morality, though it may feature from time to time. This blog will meander but is likely to include stuff about economics, science, marketing, social media and communications, as well as things that are, well, just funny, in my opinion. And this – my opinion – will likely feature heavily too (if I know myself).

So with that said, let me get to the subject of this post.  I was discussing recently with a great friend the subject of how we make moral judgments, when I was reminded of a brilliant piece of work last year by a team of neuroscientists in the US.  These scientists were looking for a scientific explanation for moral judgments, and designed an experiment where they measured the brain activity of various subjects while they were asked to make moral decisions.

They posed a classic dilemma: you discover a train is hurtling down a track and will kill five people who are in the train’s path further down the track. In the first scenario, you are offered the choice to pull a lever that makes the train reroute to a different track, where there is one person on the track. In other words, you can act to save five people by killing one. As brutal as it sounds, most people end up agreeing they would pull the lever. The neuroscientists analysed brain activity as people made this calculated judgment.

In the second scenario, you are offered the same choice – to save the five by killing one – but this time you have to push someone under the train, slowing it down so it stops before reaching the five. Most people, when offered this choice, feel that they should not intervene, even though the outcome is identical (in terms of lives saved and lost, anyway).

The experimenters examined which parts of the brain were being used to make this decision, and found one area that came alive with electrical signals when they made the decision whether to push someone under the train.  In other words, in most cases some brain function seems to have overruled our calculated view that one death to save five is better than five to save one.

The quite comforting conclusion is that, while we are able to make calculated moral decisions even where they involve purposefully killing someone, we seem to have evolved to not want to do things like push other people under trains.  Thus backing up my deep optimism towards human nature.