Tag Archives: social media law

Defamation research and social media mean it’s time to consider reform

By MARK PEARSON

The Sydney Morning Herald recently published my commentary welcoming the NSW Government’s rethink of defamation law in the light of recent research showing a large number of cases involve ordinary citizens (rather than celebrities) and social media posts (as distinct from media publications).

It was titled ‘Social media gives people a wider audience for their bile – and defamation laws must reflect that’.

Here is the extended unedited version for those with a special interest:

The decision to review NSW defamation laws announced yesterday is overdue, and changes need to address several aspects of the legislation as well as the very human flaws of vindictive remarks, fragile egos and ignorance of the law.

NSW District Court defamation expert Judge Judith Gibson called for reform this week, pointing to the rise of Internet-related defamation cases, a phenomenon unanticipated when uniform defamation laws were introduced throughout Australia in a landmark 2005 reform.

Her argument was underscored by research released last week by the UTS Centre for Media Transition which found that more than half of defamation cases over the past five years involved reputational damage in a digital medium, up from 17 per cent in 2007 when social media was in its infancy.

The common perception that defamation cases typically involve celebrities suing the media for millions of dollars – like recent litigants Rebel Wilson and Geoffrey Rush – is a myth. The study showed that among the 189 decided cases from 2013-2017, only one third of defendants were media companies, and only about one fifth of those bringing the action were celebrities or public figures.

When you read the detail on the cases, it becomes clear that most defamation cases are contests between ordinary citizens over negative remarks they have made about each other on social media, websites, emails and other means of digital communication.

With the advent of social media, everyone is a publisher in the eyes of defamation law – and many more people in far-flung places can see or hear the nasty things we say about each other.

Broken friendships, business disagreements and political or moral debates escalate and get vindictive and personal.

There was the first Twitter case where a misguided former student posted a social media character assassination against a school teacher because he mistakenly thought she had cost his father his job.

And the disgruntled businessman who used the social media platform WeChat and targeted emails to tell the world a meat trader was a conman, corrupt and a criminal, with no factual basis.

And the Victorian junior football umpire with Asperger’s Syndrome who was taunted on a US autism website with falsities that he was a pedophile and was faking his condition.

For centuries there have been some people inclined to write poison pen letters, spread nasty rumours and to post sick messages on public noticeboards and toilet walls. The Internet and social media has given them a wide audience for their bile and some of these now result in defamation trials.

Prior to the 2005 reforms, defamation law in Australia was a complicated mess. Major variations existed across the states and territories on a host of issues, including the limitation periods in which people could bring an action and the defences available. ‘Forum shopping’ was rife, with plaintiffs selecting the jurisdiction where the law best suited their case.

The reforms were remarkable in that attorneys-general in eight states and territories reached agreement and forged the changes through their parliaments.

But those laws are desperately in need of reform if they are to catch up with the social and technological changes of the past decade.

The ‘offer of amends’ system introduced with the last reforms was a novel initiative to keep actions out of court with encouragement for an early offer of damages and an apology. But it is complex, often appealed, and other mediation incentives should be put in place to educate parties about settling their differences earlier to avoid the public and personal expense and distress of litigation. Alternative remedies to damages and injunctions would be a bonus.

The triviality defence is flawed and needs to include something of the flavor of the UK’s “serious harm” test – requiring serious reputational harm as a prerequisite to an action.

Changes also need to encourage public interest journalism rather than punish it.

Journalists deserve a stronger public interest (qualified privilege) defence which does not fail when they refuse to reveal their confidential sources and allows for minor errors in important exposés.

And the truth defence should be narrowed to focus on the single most obvious defamatory meaning to give certainty to the reportage so that lawyers do not generate more obscure meanings a journalist might never have anticipated when researching a story.

The implied freedom to communicate on matters of government – a welcome but technical initiative of the High Court – should be enshrined as a formal statutory defence and satirists should get their own defence to better protect robust political critique via parody and satire.

But in tandem with defamation reforms we need government investment in digital legal literacy. School and adult learning curricula must include the basic legalities of social media and Internet use – stressing the key risks posed by defamatory and contemptuous posts.

Teachers might use some of those moral aphorisms our mothers used to tell us.

They would scold us over our nasty comments with “Do not say to others what you would not want said to you”.

And they would soothe our fragile egos:  and “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”

Education and mediation encouraging mindful communication might resolve some defamation actions before they even start.

 


Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

© Mark Pearson 2018

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Rare victory for truth defence in vocational education case – #MLGriff

By MARK PEARSON

CASE REPORT: Charan v Nationwide News Pty Ltd [2018] VSC 3

The Australian newspaper had a rare victory using the truth (or justification) defence to defamation in a recent case involving a vocational education businessman.

Pure truth defences rarely make their way through the courts because they are usually either settled or decided on other defences such as honest opinion, fair report, triviality or qualified privilege.

Plaintiffs will not usually undergo the pain of public defamation trials if there is some semblance of truth to the allegations against them which will be aired for all to see in media coverage.

 

Facts

On November 20, 2015, The Australian newspaper published a print article (‘Watchdog takes peak training college to court’) and a similar online version (‘ACCC to take top training college Phoenix Institute to court’). The story was about proposed court action by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) against a vocational training college called Phoenix Institute owned by the publicly listed Australian Careers Network company (CAN) in the midst of a general crackdown on the sector over unscrupulous door-to-door marketing practices. The article mentioned earlier media reports that alleged Phoenix had sent sales staff into housing commission estates, pressuring potential students to join up and stated that the parent company was under investigation by both the Federal Department of Education and the Australian Skills Quality Authority and that its shares had been suspended from trade for the previous month. The article identified the plaintiff, Atkinson Prakash Charan, as one of the company’s heads and stated he had amassed a $35 million fortune from the vocational education business. In short, it suggested that, “whilst under his management, VET organisations acted unscrupulously, in breach of regulatory standards, and that he made a large amount of money as a result of that conduct” (para 2). Mr Charan had in fact left the company about a year earlier and The Australian the next day published a correction to that effect in its print edition and later an online apology for the error.

Law

The plaintiff pleaded eight imputations arose from the article, which the judge grouped into four headings:

  1. Mr Charan was head of ACN, a company which engaged in unscrupulous business practices that took advantage of vulnerable consumers

  2. Mr Charan was head of ACN, a company which engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct.

  3. Charan was head of ACN, which engaged in unscrupulous door-to-door marketing practices to vulnerable consumers

  4. Mr Charan [as head of] ACN carried on a business which was significantly non-compliant with quality standards (para 27).

The defendant Nationwide News – publisher of The Australian – argued successfully that imputations 2 and 3 did not arise and defended the imputations of unscrupulous business practices and significant noncompliance with quality standards successfully using the justification defence by proving that the imputations were substantially true as required under section 25 of the Defamation Act 2005. To prove the unscrupulous conduct allegations it had to convince the court under the civil burden of proof – the ‘balance of probabilities’ – that there was ‘clear and cogent proof’. To do so it drew upon a host of material obtained after the publication, including:

(a) the oral testimony of a number of witnesses who had worked in the CTI group;

(b) the oral testimony of three “students” allegedly enrolled in CTI courses conducted by CTI companies;

(c) the contents of a series of audit reports, student interviews and file reviews (with associated documentation) of CTT and AMA, carried out in 2015 under the instructions of DET; and

(d) a large number of emails and associated documents flowing to and from Mr Charan and other officers or employees of the CTI companies” (para 77).

The latter included records of phone calls and messages subpoenaed from Mr Charan’s telephone service provider Telstra.

Justice Forrest found the plaintiff was ‘was an entirely unreliable witness, not only on this issue but as to all matters relevant to his claim’ (para 111). He concluded with a concise summary of his 768 paragraph judgment:

(a) Mr Charan was defamed in both the written and online versions of the article;

(b) the article defamed him by conveying imputations that:

(1) Mr Charan managed a VET organisation which engaged in unscrupulous business practices which took advantage of vulnerable consumers which resulted in him making a large amount of money; and

(2) Mr Charan managed a VET organisation which was significantly non-compliant with quality standards

I am satisfied that Nationwide has established the substantial truth of both imputations. (paras 762 -763).

Lessons for professional communicators

Several lessons arise from this rare but successful use of the justification (truth) defence by a publisher:

  • Considerable evidence can be required to prove the truth of imputations stemming from an article, and sometimes this has to be located after the reporting and publishing process has finished, although as much evidence as possible should be available at the time of publication;
  • A publisher defendant can still win a case on the pleaded imputations even if there is basic error in the story – in this case the fact that Mr Charan had not been formally involved with the management of the company for a year. (Of course, such errors should normally be avoided).;
  • Defamation cases can be enormously expensive. In this case the 35-day trial was reported to have cost both side mores than $3.5 million in legal fees (Duke and Vedelago, 2018)

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

© Mark Pearson 2018

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Changes to drone laws force a rethink of their risks

By MARK PEARSON

Much has changed in the regulatory landscape in the two years since Scottish drones expert Dr David Goldberg and the ABC’s Mark Corcoran addressed a Griffith University seminar on the law and ethics of the media use of drones and graduate student Sam Worboys and I wrote a paper on the topic.

Brisbane lawyer Daniel Popple (Norton Rose Fulbright) updated colleagues at the Law Futures Centre yesterday (April 27) with an engaging seminar titled “Drone regulation in Australia: Opportunity and liability abound in the new regulatory void”.

He explained that the recent deregulation of drones by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) meant the recreational use of small drones had minimal restrictions and that it was easier to utilise drones for commercial purposes.

“However, behind this potential sits a complex web of liability which has the ability to catch would-be drone pilots unaware and facing significant fines and potential imprisonment,” Popple said.

He identified a range of laws impacting upon drone use including negligence actions from damage to person or property, radiocommunications and aviation laws, privacy, surveillance devices legislation, trespass or nuisance actions, and work health and safety legislation.

For those who missed the engaging talk, Popple will be speaking again in Brisbane in June as part of a panel of speakers addressing drone regulation.

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© Mark Pearson 2017

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

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DEFAMATION CASE UPDATE: Zoef v Nationwide News Pty Ltd – identification and offer of amends appealed #MLGriff

By MARK PEARSON

CASE UPDATE: Zoef v Nationwide News Pty Ltd – 2015, 2016 and 2017

I blogged in 2016 about a case where the mistaken identification of an innocent octogenarian tailor in place of his alleged gun-running son produced a useful case study for media law educators trying to explain the basic elements of defamation.

Indeed, the NSW District Court case of Zoef v Nationwide News Pty Limited & Ors [2015] NSWDC 232 remains an excellent introduction to defamation, although in October 2016 the NSW Court of Appeal overturned the publisher’s defence of “offer of amends” which was originally granted by the lower court, in the appeal case of Zoef v Nationwide News Pty Ltd [2016] NSWCA 283, and awarded the plaintiff $150,000 in damages. The appellant, Mr Tony Zoef, also had a partial victory in a more recent appeal over the backdating of the damages award, costs and interest owing in Zoef v Nationwide News Pty Ltd (No 2) [2017] NSWCA 2.

The first appeal is useful for educators explaining identification issues in defamation and the “offer of amends” defence requirements under s 18 of the Defamation Act 2005 (NSW) (Defamation Act) – and its equivalent in other Australian jurisdictions – while the 2017 appeal holds little value for media law teachers.

The case centred upon an article published in The Daily Telegraph on 22 August 2013.

It appeared a relatively straightforward case of confused identity, where the reporter mistakenly attributed to the older Mr Zoef – a suburban Sydney tailor – the alleged crimes of his son who lived at the same address. At trial, the sole basis on which Mr Zoef’s claim was dismissed was the newspaper’s defence that Mr Zoef had failed unreasonably to accept its offer of amends.

The article in the Telegraph (22-8-13, p. 9) carried the heading “Tailor’s alter ego as a gunrunner”, which might also make an interesting topic of discussion for students around the issue of sub judice contempt: Does such a heading carry a presumption of the accused’s guilt when accompanying a report of a preliminary court appearance? [The article in question is attached to the judgment as a pdf file.]

The article portrayed a then 81-year-old suburban tailor (with a distinctive surname ‘Zoef’) as a gun-runner who had been arrested, charged and appeared in court facing charges related to him holding a huge cache of weapons and ammunition at his home.

Police had indeed raided his premises and had found weapons and ammunition in the house’s garage, occupied by the tailor’s 43-year-old son, who shared his father’s name and was the actual individual who had appeared in court facing those charges.

As I blogged in 2016, the trial judgment by District Court Judge Leonard Levy is a fascinating one for student discussion because several basic concepts in defamation were contested and resolved, including:

  • imputations – how they are worded and presented
  • the misidentification’s impact on the plaintiff’s relationships, business and emotional state
  • the question of identification and case law establishing the extent of defamation of a second person with the same name and address as the first [*** considered on appeal].
  • whether a claim for defamation will hold when some other identifying factors do not match one of the named individuals. [In this case, while the headline identified the plaintiff as a tailor, the article featured a small photograph of his 43 year old son and mentioned the younger man’s age]. [*** considered on appeal].
  • whether the defences of a fair report of proceedings of public concern could apply when there were serious inaccuracies in the article
  • whether an offer of amends had been reasonable and whether it had been accepted by the plaintiff [***the trial judge’s decision which was subsequently overturned on appeal].

The trial judge had held that, despite the serious errors in the reporting of the story and a dispute over whether the publisher’s offer of amends was reasonable and had been withdrawn, the newspaper was entitled to the offer of amends defence.

In the leading appeal judgment, Justice Fabian Gleeson stated:

Taking into account the seriousness of the defamatory imputations and the significant hurt they caused the appellant, the damage to his business as a tailor, the unequal prominence the respondent afforded to the proposed correction and apology and their resultant inadequacy, the modest monetary component of the offer, and the likelihood of the proceedings being successful, the offer of amends was not reasonable. His Honour was in error in finding to the contrary and upholding the respondent’s defence under s 18 of the Defamation Act. (at para 78).

His reasons for that decision involved a step-by-step appraisal of the offer of amends defence and thus make useful instructional material for educators wanting to explain this defence to students. It should also serve to remind journalists that the offer of amends is very much a ‘lawyers’ defence’ – not something that should be handled by journalists or editors independent of legal advice – and given its time constraints it means that counsel from lawyers on the efficacy and wording of any such offer should be sought promptly.

The publisher also challenged the trial judge’s findings on whether the plaintiff had been identified in the article when it carried a photograph of his son and stated his age as 43 years old.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial judge’s decision that Mr Zoef Sr had been identified in the article despite those countering factors. Justice Gleeson ruled:

The article in this case contained a prominent and sensational headline, which, when read together with the first paragraph (par 29), would be reasonably understood to refer to the appellant. The strength of the general impression thereby created surpasses and dominates that of the subsequent reference in par 30 to a “43 year old” which is not something the ordinary reasonable reader might be expected to have focused on, let alone re-read or reviewed. It lacked the prominence of the sensational headline and the focus on the local, relatable indicia of the identified person’s name, profession and locality in the foregoing paragraph.

In respect of the photograph, his Honour’s finding that it was “immaterial” is supported by three considerations. One is that the photograph was small, cropped, and, as his Honour found, “less than distinct”. Next, the appellant gave unchallenged evidence in cross-examination that his son was not known to his customers. No identification would therefore have been made on a visual basis by the appellant’s customers. Finally, the use of historical photographs in newspaper articles is not so uncommon as to render unreasonable a conclusion by the ordinary reasonable reader that the article (with an unfamiliar photo) referred yet to the appellant. (paras 159-160).

So there you have it. The Zoef case – both at trial and on appeal – holds valuable lessons for media law students and educators are encouraged to use it as a case study. I have done so successfully with both journalists and tertiary students.

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Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

© Mark Pearson 2017

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Identification error leads to a useful case for teaching the basic elements of defamation

**See UPDATE after appeal**

By MARK PEARSON

[research assistance from Virginia Leighton-Jackson]

The morphed identification of an innocent octogenarian tailor and his alleged gun-running son produces a useful case study for teachers and trainers trying to explain the basic elements of defamation.

The NSW District Court case of Zoef v Nationwide News Pty Limited & Ors [2015] NSWDC 232 centred upon an article in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph (22-8-13, p. 9) with the heading “Tailor’s alter ego as a gunrunner”. [The article in question is attached to the judgment as a pdf file.]

The article portrayed an 86-year-old suburban tailor with a distinctive name as a gun-runner who had been arrested, charged and appeared in court facing charges related to him holding a huge cache of weapons and ammunition at his home.

Police had indeed raided his premises and had found weapons and ammunition in the house’s garage, occupied by the tailor’s 43-year-old son, who shared his father’s name and was the actual individual who had appeared in court facing those charges.

The case is a fascinating one for student discussion because several basic concepts in defamation were contested and resolved, including:

  • imputations – how they are worded and presented
  • the misidentification’s impact on the plaintiff’s relationships, business and emotional state
  • the question of identification and case law establishing the extent of defamation of a second person with the same name and address as the first
  • whether a claim for defamation will hold when some other identifying factors do not match one of the named individuals. [In this case, while the headline identified the plaintiff as a tailor, the article featured a small photograph of his 43 year old son and mentioned the younger man’s age].
  • whether the defences of a fair report of proceedings of public concern could apply when there were serious inaccuracies in the article
  • whether an offer of amends had been reasonable and whether it had been accepted by the plaintiff.

On the question of identification, Judge Leonard Levy ruled:

Para 37   …where a plaintiff has actually been named in a defamatory publication it is not necessary for the plaintiff to show that those to whom the material was published knew the plaintiff: Mirror Newspapers Ltd v World Hosts Pty Ltd (1978 – 1979) 141 CLR 632, at 639.

38   Even so, the plaintiff must establish that the defamatory matter should be understood to be referring to him: Consolidated Trust Co Ltd v Browne (1948) 49 SR (NSW) 86, at 91. The determination of that question of identification is not to be decided by a consideration of what the publisher intended: Hutton v Jones [1910] AC 20.

39   In cases where a defamatory publication names one person but another person of the same name has been defamed, this can give rise to more than one claim: Lee v Wilson and Mackinnon (1934) 51 CLR 276, as cited in Australian Defamation Law and Practice, Volume 1, TK Tobin QC, MG Sexton SC, eds, 2003, at [6050].

40   In determining the question of identification, the question is, would a sensible reader reasonably identify the plaintiff as the person defamed: Morgan v Odhams Press Ltd [1971] 1 WLR 1239. …

49   In my view, the combined context … serves to adequately identify the plaintiff….

52   …the article strings together the plaintiff’s name, his profession, the fact that he lives in his home in the Sutherland Shire, and has a business altering the clothes of locals all point strongly to the article mentioning the plaintiff by his name and is sufficient of his personal situation to indicate it was him who was the subject of the article.

53   Those details all follow the sensational headline “Tailor’s alter ego as a gunrunner” thereby making a connection between the plaintiff and the described illegal activity concerning the cache of weapons and ammunition found at the premises.

54   The fact that an unclear undated photograph of Tony Zoef appears in the article (at par 38) is immaterial. The fact the article identifies the age of the person the subject of the article as being a 43 year old does introduce an element of possible confusion (par 30) along with the indistinct photograph (at par 38), but inaccuracy of some details appearing in a newspaper article is not an unknown phenomenon.

55   The salient feature is that the plaintiff was named in the article with sufficient of his personal details to suggest he was thereby identified, although the latter details are not essential to that finding.

56   As the article in question named the plaintiff, in my view thereby identifying him, this forms the basis of his right to bring the proceedings without more being shown by him. The fact that there were two persons at the premises named Tony Zoef is immaterial. Both persons of that name could bring proceedings for defamation in their own names: Lee v Wilson and Mackinnon (1934) 51 CLR 276.

59   …I am nevertheless satisfied that the material complained of should be understood as referring to the plaintiff even though the publisher may not have intended that to be so: Consolidated Trust Co Ltd v Browne (1948) 49 SR (NSW) 86, at 91.

60   I consider that … an ordinary sensible reader would identify the plaintiff as the person the subject of the material complained of because of the specific of his name, profession, and locality as already explained. Such a reader… would not read such a sensational article as the one in question with critical and analytical care.

61   The article would be approached by such a reader with the permissible amount of loose thinking, and that reader would be reasonably entitled to draw the conclusion that the article was referring to the plaintiff, even though there were some elements of confusion such as a less than distinct photograph and a different age mentioned to that of the plaintiff. An ordinary reasonable reader would not necessarily know the plaintiff’s age or his level of interest in matters to do with space. The headline of “Tailor’s alter ego as a gunrunner” would catch the attention of such a reader and permit the general impression of the story being a reference to the plaintiff: Mirror Newspapers Limited v World Hosts Proprietary Limited [1978 – 1979] 141 CLR 632, at p 646; Morgan v Odhams Press Ltd [1971] 1 WLR 1239.

The judge also considered the important question of the impact of headlines:

44   In cases involving headlines, it must be borne in mind that the ordinary reasonable reader will draw conclusions from general impressions when reading the matter complained of. Such general impressions are necessarily formed by the technique of using prominent headlines to communicate the principal message of the publication, and it must be recognised that in that process, such material may diminish the reputations of those affected: Chakravarti v Advertiser Newspapers Limited (1998) 193 CLR 519, at p 575.

A large portion of the judgment centred upon whether a defence of ‘offer of amends’ should be upheld under s 18(1)(c) of the Defamation Act. The judge held that, despite the serious errors in the reporting of the story and a dispute over whether the offer of amends was reasonable and had been withdrawn, the newspaper was entitled to the offer of amends defence.

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Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

© Mark Pearson 2016

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Privacy as a value for democratic societies – Beate Roessler #mediaiplaw

By MARK PEARSON

It is only in the past twenty or so years that the societal value of privacy has become of interest and still more recently that there has been a particular focus on the value of privacy for democracies, University of Amsterdam Professor of Ethics Beate Roessler proposed to the 2015 IP and Media Law Conference at the University of Melbourne Law School today (November 24).

“Privacy protection is necessary not only for individual freedom and autonomy but also for the functioning of the democratic society,” she said.

Professor Beate Roessler from the University of Amsterdam

Professor Beate Roessler from the University of Amsterdam

Beate Roessler is Professor of Ethics at the University of Amsterdam and chair of the Capacity group of Philosophy and Public Affairs. She also chairs its Department of Philosophy. In her keynote address she explored her work examining the difficulty of keeping up privacy standards on social network sites and the role of anonymity in social/political relations and the consequences of the loss of that anonymity.

Professor Roessler pointed to statements by Edward Snowden in 2013 and 2015 as an interesting focus upon the democratic value of privacy, where he had justified his revelations partly upon the contest between the state’s surveillance and the individual citizen’s privacy.

She listed three steps in the conceptualisation of privacy – firstly, the classic conception of Warren and Brandeis as the right to be let alone, the fundamental idea being that the right to freedom is protected by, and dependent upon, the right to privacy.

The second step after Warren and Brandeis was the ‘social dimensions of privacy’.
“The social norms which regulate privacy enable us to play different roles,” she said. “They enable us to play these different roles and have these different relations.
“If I started telling you now about my grandmother I would violate the demand of the role I am playing here. It is not just my autonomy, but it is also the norm itself that regulates our relations.
“Privacy is also a social practice, meaning the norms protect individual privacy and the right is part of the practice.
“Also respect for the privacy of other people is part of the practice. It is part of the deal of the social norms of privacy. The right to privacy and respect is always socially contextualised.

“The idea that we are democratic subjects is also the idea that our privacy is protected.”

She explained that the value of privacy has for the most part of the last hundred years been conceived of in purely individual terms: the protection of privacy being important or even constitutive for the protection of individual freedom and autonomy.

The third step after Warren and Brandeis was the significance of privacy for democracy.

“I want to argue that it is precisely this social and democratic value of privacy which is at stake in the digitized society,” she proposed.

She said events in Paris this month had not changed her mind about the value of privacy in democracy, but did make the issues more challenging to address publicly.
“Political participation is dependent on the protection of privacy,” she said.
The loss of privacy affects all social and political relations between people, she argued.
Although the right to privacy remains important as an individual right, the Snowden revelations have made clear that violations of privacy have immediate impact on our social lives as well as on liberal democracies.
Privacy is under pressure in the digitized society through state surveillance, consumer surveillance, via the ‘internet of things’, and through social network sites with the voluntary sharing of personal data including the self-tracking devices and the quantification of self movement.
“New technologies do have an impact on our relationships, for better or for worse.
“The right idea is to think about what does privacy do in our society, and if that changes how far can we go with that change?”
She used privacy settings as an example of the status of privacy in society: “Standard preferences are public, but privacy is an extra task or an achievement.”
“Our personal data are analysed by companies that are collecting, storing and mining as the default. It is what is happening if we do nothing.
“Forgetting, deleting is an extra task, an achievement.”
Anonymity was important to privacy, but as Snowden revealed our anonymity is not protected any longer.
“Lack of anonymity can cause loss of freedom, harmful for the individual and democratic society,” she said.
She pointed to the use of drones as the next “massive threat”.
She said arguments against anonymity such as accountability and public security did not allow for the fact that neither had increased markedly in recent years with large scale surveillance.
“The threat of a life without the protection of privacy involves the transformation of social and political relations,” she concluded.
“If we have to assume there is no privacy protection any longer in our social relations it means our social relations tend to get homogenized.
“How can I understand myself as a democratic subject if I can’t assume any longer that my privacy is not being protected?
“How do we change and how does society change, when our sense of privacy changes, when we lose the differences in self-presentation, possibilities of political participation, and when we lose the possibilities of control?”
From 2003-2010 Roessler was Socrates-Professor for the Foundations of Humanism at Leiden University. Before, she taught philosophy at the Free University, Berlin, Germany, and at the University of Bremen, Germany. Roessler studied philosophy at Tuebingen, London, Oxford, and Berlin and completed her PhD in 1988 at the Free University Berlin (on theories of meaning in analytic philosophy and hermeneutics). In November and December 2015 she is visiting as a research fellow at University of Melbourne, Melbourne Law School. Her publications include Social Dimensions of Privacy: Interdisciplinary Perspectives (edited with Dorota Mokrosinska, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2015) and The Value of Privacy (Polity Press, 2005).

The full conference program is here. Our paper (Pearson, Bennett and Morton) was titled ‘Mental health and the media: a case study in open justice’ (see earlier blog here) and was presented yesterday (November 23).

Those interested in privacy as a topic might also see my timeline of privacy in Australia here.

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Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

© Mark Pearson 2015

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Stakeholder theory as a way of viewing social media policies and risk

By MARK PEARSON

My Skype guest of the week for our Social Media Law and Risk Management course this week is Professor Andrew Crane from York University in Toronto, Canada, the author of one of our key readings for the week on stakeholder theory.

The article is co-authored with Trish Ruebottom and is titled ‘Stakeholder Theory and Social Identity: Rethinking Stakeholder Identification’, Journal of Business Ethics, Vol. 102, Supplement 1: Ethics, Corporations, and Governance (2011), pp. 77-87

We discussed the application of stakeholder theory to social media risk management and policy development. Professor Crane starts by explaining the basics of stakeholder theory (video and transcript below). Enjoy!

INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

Mark Pearson (@Journlaw): I am delighted to be joined here today by Professor Andrew Crane who is the George R Gardiner Professor of Business Ethics and Director of the Centre of Excellence in Responsible Business at the Schulich School of Business in the York University in Toronto, Canada. Welcome Andy.

Professor Andrew Crane: Thank you Mark, it’s a pleasure to meet you.

MP: Well you’ve done a lot of research and writing in Stakeholder Theory, and my students have actually been reading one of your co-authored articles on the topic. And for postgrad students who are relatively new to this theory, would you mind just giving a nutshell summary for them?

AC: Sure. Stakeholder Theory is a pretty simple idea in many respects, you know. It’s really about the idea that corporations in particular are not just there to serve the interests of shareholders. So Stakeholder Theory was designed to give us a way of thinking about other ways of understanding both the ownership of corporations, but in particular how decisions should be made. So, who should be involved in decision making, and how should the benefits that are, driven by corporations, the value that is created by them; who should it go to? So Stakeholder Theory is really about those sorts of questions, so who can affect organisations, but also who is affected by them, and what sort of rights do they have in respect to that stake they have, how should they be consulted, how should they be involved in the decision making, and those sorts of things. So it’s a very broad theory, and I saw that in one of your other readings you had the paper What Stakeholder Theory is Not, because there is a whole sort of set of different ways of understanding what it is – you know, it’s a very simple idea: there are multiple constituencies in any organisation, but then when it comes to [the question] of well, who is actually included and what are the implications of that, then it becomes a much broader discussion of the purpose of corporations.

MP: Yes, and we see that at its simplest level, I guess it’s just simply a matter of stakeholders being there to serve the interests of a company, and the main stakeholders being the shareholders and the customers and the corporate directors. But really your article and the other one you mentioned certainly extends that a lot further and it enters that corporate ethics field, where a company and its decisions have so many more stakeholders interests at play.

AC: Exactly

MP: So, coming to your article which starts to talk about social identity and basically presenting a grid which shows some intersection of what might be seen as a traditional role in relation to a corporation, and other social roles someone might play. Would you mind just talking us through the basic principles there and your spin on that?

AC: The basic way we understand stakeholders is the kinds of interactions that they have with the firm; so we think about them as either customers or employees and suppliers, regulators or NGOs or whatever else they might be. That’s typical kind of transactional view of who those different constituencies are. But the reason why different groups may actually mobilise or try and gain legitimacy in relation to firm, how they might press their claims, the kind of stake that they think they have, is not always about those simple transactions that they are engaged with. The reasons that people do things, the reasons people collect together to collaborate and press their claims upon firms are also about who people believe they are, about their social identity. So what are the bonds that connect me to other people that means these are the things that bring people together and make them mobilise in a social movement or some sort of pressure towards companies. So it may well be that I’m a customer of a firm, but I’m might simultaneously also be an employee, I might also hold shares in that firm; and I’ve got all kinds of different relationships with that firm at any one time. What we are trying to do with (Stakeholder) Theory with our paper is to say well, when people actually do try and press their claims, it is often about who we feel connected to that’s important. So the fact that I’m a white, British male for example who lives in Canada, that is very important for why I may be involved, why I might connect with certain firms. For example, it might be very different if I was a woman or a person of colour, or any other kind of quality which might impact on how I connect with companies.

MP: Well it seems, because of that very reason, to lend itself to an examination of social media in relation to a corporation; and particularly in the case of an emerging crisis because people with different social identities might fluctuate more towards social media for different reasons and in different places. Have you thought yourself about the interaction of Stakeholder Theory and social media in the corporation?

AC: I think one of the important ways of connecting up Stakeholder Theory and social media as well if a firm is trying to work out who it should be communicating with through social media; who the constituencies who are important; Stakeholder Theory provides a framework for that, because it gives us a way of thinking through who are the legitimate constituencies that we should be connecting with, how can we distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate, and also between who are the more powerful or less powerful that we should be connecting with. Stakeholder Theory is often seen in very instrumental terms in that sense; it is a strong instrumental approach there which says firms will care about stakeholders that matter – those that have power, those that have legitimacy, those whose stakes are very urgent. So social media is all about power in many respects; it’s about who you can influence, who you can connect to, how many people in your list of Twitter followers and what have you. So for firms it provides a framework for them to establish who matters in terms of their different constituencies. If we take it in an ethical dimension, take it in a more normative perspective, we say well ‘what rights do those people then have’? What sort of rights do you have as an employee, as a consumer, as a broader stakeholder of an organisation in relation to how it is going to communicate to you – in terms of protection of privacy, protection of various rights in terms of bullying and other things through social media?

MP: Yes – and also I think it can catch some corporations by surprise if they haven’t thought through particular social media stakeholders, or people who are using social media who may be stakeholders. And we see this with these grassroots campaigns against major corporations where they’ve underestimated the power of public momentum and social conscious using social media – which fits with your social identity perspective on that, doesn’t it?

AC: Absolutely. I think one of the interesting things here is that we tend to think of stakeholders in terms of a hub with spokes, right? Here’s the firm, here’s the decision making unit, and here’s the employees, here’s the consumers, here’s the suppliers, here’s the others; but social media is all about interconnections between different stakeholders and between different groups. You can’t think in those terms anymore if you’re trying to understand social media. Stakeholder Theory has limits in its traditional view and understanding it, unless you take it to a much more networked, much more nuanced kind of understanding of the types of environments that firms are interacting with.

MP: Well, while Stakeholder Theory might be very useful in research and the academic and looking at corporations and their interaction with various stakeholders, how useful is it as a practical tool in an organisation? So if you were a marketing manager or a public relations manager and you wished to avert some crisis in your company by trying to ascertain who the various stakeholders are and their respective interests.

AC: It can be very useful. It depends how you use it. It can be very effective at helping firms become prepared for identifying the various constituencies they need to be concerned about. If you take it seriously you need to be creative about trying to imagine who those constituencies are, because it is not just who is going to affect you now, when you think about a particular decision, who is going to be affected further down the line. So it can help you to identify these constituencies, but it can also help you to start thinking about, well, how can we predict what the type of response will be from those constituencies, depending upon how much power they have, how much influence, leverage, whether they are connected to other stakeholders in ways that mean they can leverage even greater influence and those sorts of things. So you can start to predict the kind of responses that may happen based on simple stakeholder framework that then gets into the idea of who has power, who can influence what is going to happen in the firm.

MP: And could you see it fitting in any way into the planning and drafting of a social media policy within an organisation?

AC: Certainly, yes. Both in terms of identifying who should be included in that policy, but perhaps more importantly, who should actually be involved in even devising the policy. Stakeholder Theory is all about who should be involved in decision making, so the question will be can we just set up a policy and then kind of send it out and everyone is going to abide by it. Well, realistically, that is not how social media works is it? It is a very unruly phenomenon. So it’s also thinking about who should be involved in the decision making. Who are the parties who are affected by this, and with our social identity card on it. So it’s not just ‘okay we need to involve our employees, or we need to involve our consumers’, but what particular subgroups of those employees or consumers might we need to be concerned with? So Facebook had its big issues with lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans community a couple of years ago by making sure that everyone had their real name as part of their Facebook profiles. This community was saying that they wanted also to express other identities as part of their names. So if you don’t have those groups involved when you’re setting up that policy in the first place, you’ve got all sorts of problems down the line when you realise you’ve upset core constituencies without thinking what it is that bind us all together in terms of our identity.

MP: Well that’s terrific, thanks Professor Crane. It’s great to have one of the authors of our readings talking to us about the subject matter at hand, and I would really thank you for your time today.

AC: It’s been a pleasure, thank you very much.

© Mark Pearson 2015

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

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