New Position as Quello Chair at MSU

After 12 great years at Oxford, I am delighted to be joining MSU as their new Quello Professor. Not sure how my former USC Trojan colleagues will react to me joining the Spartans!  The current Director of the Quello Center, Professor Steve Wildman, a recent Chief Economist at the FCC, posted a much appreciated announcement of the appointment. I’ll be joining MSU in August 2014 and look forward to staying in touch with you over this and related blogs in the future. One of my goals will be to put the Internet and Web into the center of a forward strategy for building the Quello Center’s role in the new digital world of communication research, policy and regulation. My work as a co-principal on the Global Cyber Security Capacity Centre will continue at MSU, as will my work on the Fifth Estate, partly through the support of a project on collaboration at the DTU (Danmarks Tekniske Universitet) as well as through support of the Quello Center.  At MSU, I will hold the James H. Quello Chair of Media and Information Policy.

Announcement by MSU http://cas.msu.edu/oxford-university-professor-named-quello-chair/

 

Financial Times Opts for Independence from Press Regulation

Hope springs eternal. Wonderful to learn that the FT has opted out of both the new Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso), as well as the Parliament-backed Royal Charter system, which threatens to undermine the independence of the press in Britain. The paper is creating its own self-regulatory system through a new ‘editorial complaints commissioner’, according to The Independent (18 April 2014) and PressGazette, see: http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/financial-times-opts-out-ipso-favour-its-own-system-regulation  The FT might continue to play a role in the Fourth Estate if it continues to guard its independence. Hopefully other papers will follow its lead.

Politics and the Internet

Dutton, William H. with the assistance of Elizabeth Dubois (2014) (ed.) Politics and the Internet. London and New York: Routledge. See: http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415561501/

Delighted to see the first pre-publication copy of the four volume set on Politics and the Internet, edited by me with the assistance of Elizabeth Dubois. It is within a larger set of books published in the Critical Concepts in Political Science series by Routledge. Designed as a reference for libraries and scholars within this area, eighty four chapters reprint work that is foundational to the study of politics and the Internet, comprising four volumes:

I. Politics in Digital Age – Reshaping Access to Information and People

II. Compaigns and Elections

III. Netizens, Networks and Political Movements

IV. Networked Institutions and Governance

Politics and the Internet

A common complaint of the Internet age is that we have little time to look back, and therefore risk giving inordinate attention to the most recent work. It is certainly the case that the study of politics and the Internet is developing at such a pace that it will be far more difficult to reflect the full range of research over the coming decades. However, this collection is designed to be of value well into the future by capturing key work in this burgeoning and increasingly important field and making it accessible to a growing international body of scholars who can build on its foundations. I hope you suggest this reference for your library.

The Fifth Estate: Not the Movie

A number of colleagues have brought my attention to the popular launch of a movie, entitled The Fifth Estate. It is not unrelated to my work on the Fifth Estate, as it focuses on WikiLeaks, and such whistle-blowing Web sites are one of many ways in which networked individuals can hold institutions more accountable. For those who like the movie or the idea of a Fifth Estate, I invite you to read more. It is actually used by me as a means to convey the significance of the Internet as a means for empowering networked individuals in ways comparable to the Fourth Estate, the press, of an earlier era. See, for example:

Dutton, W. H. (2007), ‘Through the Network (of Networks) – the Fifth Estate’, Inaugural lecture, Examination Schools, University of Oxford, 15 October. Available online at: http://webcast.oii.ox.ac.uk/?view=Webcast&ID=20071015_208

 

 Dutton, W. H. (2009), ‘Democracy on the Line: The Fifth Estate?’, Oxford Today, Vol. 21, No. 2, pp. 12-15.

 

 Dutton, W. H. (2009), ‘The Fifth Estate Emerging through the Network of Networks’, Prometheus, Vol. 27, No. 1, March: pp. 1-15.

 

Dutton, W. H. (2010), ‘Democratic Potential of the Fifth Estate’, PerAda Magazine, http://www.perada-magazine.eu/pdf/003003/003003.pdf

Dutton, W. H. (2010), ‘The Fifth Estate Emerging Through the Internet and Freedom of Expression’, pp. 22-25 in A News Future and the Future of the Journalism Profession: An IPI Report. International Press Institute and the Poytner Institute.

 

 Dutton, W. H. (2010), ‘The Fifth Estate: Democratic Social Accountability through the Emerging Network of Networks’, pp. 3-18 in Nixon, P. G., Koutrakou, V. N., and Rawal, R. (Eds), Understanding E-Government in Europe: Issues and Challenges. London: Routledge.

 

Dutton, W. H. (2011), ‘A Networked World Needs a Fifth Estate’, Wired Magazine, 22 October, http://www.wired.co.uk/magazine/archive/2011/11/ideas-bank/william-dutton  

 

 Dutton, W. H. (2012), ‘The Fifth Estate: A New Governance Challenge’, pp. 584-98 in Levi-Faur, D. (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Governance. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Newman, N., Dutton, W. H., and Blank, G. (2012), ‘Social Media in the Changing Ecology of News: The Fourth and Fifth Estates in Britain’, International Journal of Internet Science, 7(1): 6-22.

 

 Dutton, W. H. (2013), ‘The Internet and Democratic Accountability: The Rise of the Fifth Estate’, pp. 39-55 in Lee, F.L.F., Leung, L., Qui, J. L., and Chu, D.S.C. (eds), Frontiers in New Media Research. Abbingdon: Informa, Taylor and Francis/Routledge.

 

 Dutton, W. H., and Dubois, E. (2013), ‘The Fifth Estate of the Digital World’, pp. 131-43 in Youngs, G. (ed.), Digital World: Connectivity, Creativity and Rights. London: Routledge.

 

 Dubois, E., and Dutton, W. H. (2013), ‘The Fifth Estate in Internet Governance: Collective Accountability of a Canadian Policy Initiative’, Revue française d’Etudes Américaines RFEA, forthcoming.

 

 

Politics and Policy of the Internet Seminar at Konstanz University

I have been spending the week keeping quite busy and engaged teaching a small seminar at the University of Konstanz, Germany. The seminar is entitled ‘Politics and Policy of the Internet’ and my 12 students are masters students in their faculty of politics and public administration. The first photo is of a subset of the class during one of our breaks.

Konstanz Students 2013

Preparing for, and giving the course, has been very useful in moving me along in completing a 4 volume set of readings for Routledge, entitled ‘Politics and the Internet’. Also it has been refreshing to hear the discussion of the readings. I’m impressed by the high standards the students have in the methodological rigor and argumentation of the various readings – excellent critics, but also in their ability to see the contributions of the work they review. The discussion of particular contemporary issues and cases has been the most interesting aspect, and I was pleased to be able to introduce the students to some of the ancient history of tele-democracy around interactive cable, videotex, and bulletin board systems. Sometimes it is useful to be older.

The EU’s Right to be Forgotten and Why it is Wrong

The Guardian today featured two articles that bring home the risks of governmental policies and directives seeking to enforce the ‘right to forget’. One was about Britain (wisely) seeking to opt-out of EU’s data protection regulation that dictates the right for people to delete information from the Internet, such as an embarrassing photo. The other article is about the British Library archiving the Web, in collaboration with other main copyright libraries. With one hand, many governments are seeking ways to enable libraries to overcome restrictions, such as copyrights, to capture our cultural heritage, while with the other hand, many governments are imposing regulations that will make it easier to erase that history. In the name of privacy and data protection, governments are legitimizing their role in censoring the Internet and Web, and creating new threats to freedom of expression.

Erasing history is not only Orwellian and unfeasible, given the scale of the Web, but it will have a chilling effect on freedom of expression – ushering in a legitimate government role in censorship, even in liberal democratic societies. It is clearly an  issue of Internet governance that any advocate of freedom of expression should not ignore. It will also create a legal swamp by expanding law and regulation in the privacy and data protection area that is already fraught with uncertainties, and arguably already covers any abuse of personal privacy that is the target of right to be forgotten rules.

My apologies for this brief position statement, but I have written more about this threat to expression in a UNESCO publication and a review in Science. If you think I may wish to forget that I wrote these words at some future date, you may want to save it on your computer.

References

Dutton, W. (2010), ‘Programming to Forget’, a review of Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger in Science, Vol. 327, 19 March: 1456. http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/summary/327/5972/1456-a

William H. Dutton, Anna Dopatka, Michael Hills, Ginette Law, and Victoria Nash (2011), Freedom of Connection – Freedom of Expression: The Changing Legal and Regulatory Ecology Shaping the Internet. Paris: UNESCO, Division for Freedom of Expression, Democracy and Peace. Reprinted in 2013; Trans. In French and Arabic.

 

Independence of the Press is Key to Any Leveson Reform

It is heartening to read Alan Rusbridger’s editorial in The Guardian of 25 March 2013, as he seems to have become more aware of some of the serious weaknesses in the proposed press regulation, which has changed in ways that may have undermined his early support. See: http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/rics20/current He calls attention to the private meetings with Hacked Off, the imposition of punitive damages on those who don’t sign up to the regulator, and the power of the regulator to direct papers to print apologies – even where to place them. Hardly an independent press nor an independent regulator. He notes: “The advocates of reform – including the Guardian – should be unenthusiastic about endorsing a messy compromise with unintended consequences and with the prospect of years of stalemate in the courts and with the regulator itself.” Mr Rusbridger does complain that few people raised concerns over freedom of the press during early private meetings among editors, but I should hope that all of the stakeholders see the value of public debate on issues that threaten the independence of the press, and freedom of expression online. Perhaps there is hope that politicians will get off this escalator towards inappropriate press regulation and take the time to find a resolution that does not threaten the independence of the press and impose governmental controls on bloggers and expression online.

I’ve expressed my own worries online: http://people.oii.ox.ac.uk/dutton/2013/03/20/how-politicians-can-endorse-a-statutory-press-regulator-and-what-can-be-done/

How Can Politicians Endorse Press and Internet Regulation that Compromises Freedom of the Press?

A classic study of public opinion found that while Americans generally supported abstract principles of freedom of expression, many would not support the application of these principles in concrete cases, such as permitting an extreme group to speak at a local school (McCloskey and Brill 1983). That the public can support concrete actions that undermine professed principles was one factor that led to elitist theories of democracy, which argued that democracies rely on elites, such as judges, and parliamentarians, to protect democratic rights and civil liberties. They can’t be left to public opinion. This does not always work.

The public and many politicians seemed to ignore a disjunction between abstract principles and concrete applications of these principles when all the parties in Britain as well as the public at large supported a statutory imposition of a press regulator, agreed early this week, while still voicing support for freedom of the press.

It is most important to focus on those expected to uphold civil liberties in the face of prevailing public opinion, our elected officials. Are they hypocrites, not seeing the inconsistency in how their stated principles are contradicted by their support for actions that will have a chilling effect on freedom of the press? Or do they see themselves balancing conflicting principles, such as accepting limits on freedom of the press in order to uphold law and policy on bribery, privacy and data protection, and libel or defamation?

I should preface my response by stating my own view that the new press regulation will have a chilling effect on freedom of the press and freedom of expression online. The obvious threat of imposing exemplary fines on papers or Web sites that don’t join the club, and are judged to have defamed a person, is clearly going to have a chilling effect across the board, and particularly on organizations without deep pockets. Providing greater support for libel actions against newspapers and Websites will lead the press and bloggers to over-censure their work in anticipation of potential retribution by the regulator, such as in disproportionate awards to claimants.

Most importantly, this creation of law and regulation by the state to control the press in print and online is the beginning of the end of an independent press – the Fourth Estate identified by Edmund Burke. The press is a Fourth Estate because it is separate and relatively independent of the state, and therefore able to hold government to account. Now we are seeing some newspapers (e.g., FT, Guardian) joining the state sponsored club of papers, losing their independence, while a few papers, such as The New Statesman, have had the courage to refuse to join this group.

So the question that I must ask myself is whether this loss to freedom of the press through the creation of this regulator is justified by other values that will be protected by the regulator. My conclusion is that it is not, but let me explain by taking you back into increasingly familiar territory, which has been well developed by many others, but ignored since the day that Mum’s Net made phone hacking a politically powerful issue.

Phone hacking is a good example as it brings together the major wrongs attributed to the press and other actors in this saga. Namely, it involved unauthorized access to personal information (violation of privacy and data protection), bribery of police officers (police corruption), and defamation (libel or slander by the press).

Immediately after the phone hacking scandal broke out, the principle focus of blame fell on the Press Complaints Commission. It was said to have had no teeth, and was ineffectual in regulating the press. Self-regulation therefore lost credibility, and this created momentum behind the Leveson Inquiry and then behind statutory regulation of the press – regulation imposed by the state although cloaked in a Royal Charter.

In the immediate aftermath of the phone hacking scandal and attacks on the PCC, I approached my colleagues enmeshed in the study of journalism and the press and argued that the Press Complaints Commission was being used as a red herring, deflecting attention from those responsible for the law and policy that should protect the public from phone hacking. Thinking I would be corrected, I found to my surprise that they generally agreed, but they shied away from openly challenging what was soon becoming the dominant narrative among the critics of phone hacking. Far from the Internet creating an ‘echo chamber’ of self-reinforcing opinion (Sunstein 2007), the groupthink within the club of those critical of the tabloids put politicians in a true echo chamber.

Clearly, unauthorized access to personal information is a violation of privacy and data protection but it was and continues to be the responsibility of the Information Commissioners Office (ICO). The ICO reported on phone hacking well before the issue exploded with pressure from Mum’s Net in the pre-Hacked Off days. Politicians failed to take onboard the findings of the ICO and support the ICO in dealing with this problem. The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) is not the ICO or Parliament. The government should give the ICO the resources and support necessary to address this problem.

Likewise, the bribery of police officers is not the job of the PCC and could never be. How could the government create a press regulator capable of taking on the Metropolitan Police. This is absurd. Again, the PCC was a red herring here as well. The arrests of many journalists over hacking and bribery – without a PCC – attests to its irrelevance here as well. While I believe the arrests of journalists has been disproportionate in the extreme, and damaging to the press, they illustrate that laws and public bodies exist to address bribery and corruption. No need for a state press regulator here.

That leaves defamation, but here again, there are major existing laws in Britain that protect the public from defamation. In fact, Britain has become world famous for being the place to bring lawsuits. American legislation has sought to block individuals bringing libel cases to the UK courts in order to protect freedom of expression in the US. Britain is known as the destination for libel tourists. But one need only think about examples in the UK, such as failure to expose allegations against the BBC’s Jimmy Saville, to see that defamation is so protected here that the public was unaware of these allegations for decades, and reported only after his death.

Freedom of the press and expression, more generally, are being shaped by an ecology of choices being made about other policies and values, including libel, privacy, security, and other digital rights, such as freedom of information. Worldwide, choices being made by public officials about this wide-ranging ecology of law and policy is increasingly restricting freedom of expression (Dutton et al 2011). Internet content filtering is increasing around the world, as is the application of inappropriate regulatory models to the Internet, such as state pressure on ISPs to control content as if they were a broadcaster. On top of this, the previously unthinkable state regulation of the press in Britain is indeed a set back, but hopefully not a point of no return.

Together these trends are threatening the role that the Internet has played in empowering individuals in ways that are creating a Fifth Estate of networked individuals (Dutton 2009). The Fifth Estate can source its own information and networks in ways that can challenge the press, government and corporate elites. However, in one ‘little’ law, the UK is putting the Fourth and the Fifth Estate in great jeopardy, at the time when independent thought and accountability are desperately needed. This is the foundation of a pluralist liberal-democracy.

What can be done? I will try to support the journalists who are speaking the truth to power, such as Simon Jenkins with The Guardian, John Kampfner, Nick Cohen, and others, who are not towing the all party line on the new press regulator, and support the papers and Web sites that have the courage to challenge this new imposition of greater fines in a country that has been a libel tourist destination, such as The New Statesman. Also, it seems clear that this new press and Internet regulation has begun to wake up an otherwise too complacent blogosphere to stop taking freedom of expression for granted. Everyone needs to be more watchful of moves nationally and internationally away from support for and tolerance of freedom of expression (Dutton et al 2011).

Academics need to stop being afraid of offending politicians and challenge the echo-chamber that the anti-tabloid press and those public intellectuals seeking revenge on the press barons that have put politicians. As a number of commentators have said, this is all about freedom of the press and expression that is critical to well functioning liberal democratic societies, and not the time or way to take revenge on the press barons. Parliament should bring concrete actions in line with their abstract principles and drop this unwarranted press regulation, since competing values are already well protected by other law and policy.

References

William H, Dutton, (2009), ‘The Fifth Estate Emerging through the Network of Networks’, Prometheus, 27: 1–15.

William H. Dutton, Anna Dopatka, Michael Hills, Ginette Law, and Victoria Nash (2011), Freedom of Connection – Freedom of Expression: The Changing Legal and Regulatory Ecology Shaping the Internet. Paris: UNESCO, Division for Freedom of Expression, Democracy and Peace. Reprinted in 2013; Trans. In French and Arabic.

McCloskey, Herbert, and Brill, Alida, (1983), Dimensions of Tolerance: What Americans Believe About Civil Liberties. New York: Russell Sage.

Sunstein, C. R., (2007), Republic.com 2.0 . Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

 

What Can You Say Online?

The Economist recently addressed the chilling effect that libel law is likely to have on Twitter, arguing that: ‘Now it [Twitter] seems to fall under the law’s shadow to a greater extent than similar speech does on the offline world’ (November 24, 2012: 37). But it is not simply libel law that could undermine freedom of expression online, it is also criminal laws addressing speech in largely pre-Internet aware days.

Taken together, Internet users – three-quarters of the British public – must be wondering what they can say online. For those in doubt in the aftermath of some actions taken against Twitter users and other online netizens, you may find a recent blog by Roger Darlington to be a helpful place to start in thinking seriously about this question.

Roger Darlington, a former member of the Consumer Panel at Ofcom, has posted a blog, entitled ‘What can’t you say on the Internet?’. He lays on the various viewpoints on this question, as well as UK legislation of relevance. You can read his blog at http://www.rogerdarlington.me.uk/commswatch/?p=4647 Take a look at Section 127 of the Communications Act of 2003, along with Section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988.

I hope you read this for yourself, but Roger argues that a strict interpretation of UK law could underpin ‘a staggering amount of content to be prosecuted under the criminal law.’ This leads him to conclude that it is time to modernize law and regulation. From his perspective, which I share, there is a need to protect speech online such that people are not subject to inappropriate or disproportionate punishments for such things as tweeting a bad joke or expressing a viewpoint that might be viewed as malicious or indecent.

Consider Roger’s viewpoint and let me know if you have a constructive view on this topic. Roger believes there should be more consistency across media, while I believe that the different communication infrastructures are different in ways that require unique regulatory frameworks. It may be that striving for consistency has led to this disproportionate coverage of online expression. In any case, I agree that this issue will only grow in importance as more communication shifts to the Internet. Consumers need to know what they can and cannot say or this uncertainty alone could have a chilling effect on speech.

There will be an increasing array of issues driven by the convergence of media and the Internet. Content regulation is certainly one key example of such an issue. Over decades, standards of expression on television have become relatively well understood, even if they are sometimes breached and the subject of complaints. But the Internet is not television and is not and – it seems to me – cannot be regulated like television. As but one example, 72 hours of video are posted on YouTube every minute, and this is only one of many video sites on the Internet.

I hope you find Roger’s blog helpful – eye opening – in framing this issue for consumers and netizens. It also provides a nice example of law not keeping up with technological change, and becoming an unintended but unanticipated constraint on technological change. If I have this wrong, let me know.

Robin Mansell’s ‘Imagining the Internet’

I had the honor of participating in a launch of Robin Mansell’s new book, Imagining the Internet (Oxford University Press, 2012). Here is a podcast of the launch, featuring an overview by Robin.
Download: Audio, Video, Slides – R MansellSpeaker(s): Professor Robin Mansell, Professor William H Dutton, Professor Robert Wade
Chair: Professor Sonia Livingstone

Recorded on 16 October 2012 in Sheikh Zayed Theatre, New Academic Building.

Big challenges face policy makers trying to balance conflicting interests in the information society. This lecture examines why digital information and complex networks make policymaking especially difficult.

Robin Mansell is professor of new media and the internet at LSE and author of Imagining the Internet.

William H Dutton is professor of internet studies at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford.

Robert Wade is professor of political economy and development at LSE.