Moral panic on the interweb, part #963

Andrew Keen continues his crusade against the amoral and amorphous blob consuming us all, in today’s Telegraph.

While I find his particular brand of techno-pessimism a welcome counterweight to some of the techno-utopianism that exists out there, one or two aspects of today’s polemic (issues he raises time and time again) merit taking issue with. Namely:

As Clay Shirky argued last weekend at Ryerson University, the Internet has so confused and collapsed the distinction between audience and author that the ethical rules of the old economy no longer work. The old dichotomies of content and advertising, once governed from above by all-powerful, centralised organisations like the FTC and News Corp, have been made increasingly redundant by the internet.

The implied monopoly on ethical rules embraced by the ‘old economy’ frankly doesn’t line up with this surfer’s day-to-day experience, neither of new media nor old.

To imply that the Internet is a moral wasteland seething with swivel-eyed, loony-tune demagogues, and free-riding spongers, does a severe dis-service to the millions who contribute their well-reasoned opinions, expertise and knowledge.

There is also an implicit golden-ageism about the old media here, which just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Perhaps Andrew might further elaborate on just how ‘all-powerful’ the FTC has been historically, with regard to enforcing ethical standards on the US broadcasting media. For example, Commercial Alert, and Sourcewatch both provide several examples and research demonstrating the creep of product placement into news programming there.

Meanwhile, in the UK we have seen a clamour for reform of the Press Complaints Commission. A range of voices from outwith the old media (MediaWise) and within (The Media Standards Trust) are now using the Internet to mobilise, and hold old media to account on policing their ‘ethical rules’. These groups wouldn’t exist if everything in the garden were rosy.

While it is true that the online medium brings with it ethical challenges, to frame the changes we are living through as, in effect, barbarians storming the gate, does no credit either to the new media, nor the old.

Open communication and transparency should be at the centre of media standards. And online can be a very effective platform upon which to develop these virtues.


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