Tag Archives: The Age

“Trial by social media worry in case of Jill’s Meagher’s death” – Social media and the law

Jill Meagher’s recent disappearance and death has touched many people. How do we know? Because social media has been a platform for the sharing of news and emotional comments from an enormous number of people. Not only family and friends shared Jill’s photo on Facebook, it seems the shock of Jill’s disappearance and fear for her life has touched many others, and they have been publicly expressing their reactions. The Facebook page set up to find Jill currently has over 83,000 likes.

There’s no denying that social media – in particular, Facebook and Twitter – have been harnessed by people who believe that dissemination of information through these media will reach the widest audience – and hopefully make a difference to the life of Jill Meagher. Sadly, although this journalism from the ground has allegedly aided the search for Jill, and led to the arrest of Adrian Ernest Bayley, the outcome has been tragic, and people have continued to use social media for their outpouring of sadness and condolences to Jill’s family and friends. Now the Facebook and Twitter updates point to the possibility of interference with the legal proceedings if people continue to use social media as a platform for anger and accusation.

“Overnight, the sentiment was very much of grief and sadness and now this morning, anger is starting creep into what is being shared and re-shared.”

With that anger comes responsibility to social media users, who become content publishers when they post. That may require a knowledge of media law.

Thomas Meagher, Jill’s husband, today urged people to consider what they posted on Twitter and Facebook.

“While I appreciate all the support, I would just like to mention that negative comments on social media may hurt legal proceedings so please be mindful of that.”

This message has been tweeted by the Victorian Police and others today. Julie Posetti is one of these people.

Julie is a prominent journalist and journalism academic, and is currently writing a PhD dissertation on The Twitterisation of Journalism, examining social media’s transformation of professional journalism. In today’s article in The Age she explains the issues associated with public commentary about the case and the accused.

“In this particular case, it would be awful to think about the potential consequences including an incapacity to prosecute somebody because of trial by social media, for example,” said Ms Posetti, who is writing a PhD on Twitter’s role in journalism.

“We all are very familiar with the term trial by media and it’s a real problem, but we also now need to be aware of the potential implications of trial by social media.

“Practically, [and speaking] generically, as soon as a person is arrested, we need to stop talking about what we think we know about that individual because there is a risk that his or her defence lawyers could argue that there’s no possibility for a fair trial in this country for the person who’s accused, because so much information has been published.

I’m ignorant about social media laws – do we have clear and current laws in Australia relating to social media? A quick Google search led to audio and transcript of an ABC Radio National “Law Report” episode with guests Mark Pearson, Professor of Journalism at Bond University, and Julie Posetti.

Photo by Jeffery Turner on Flickr

The transcript of this episode can be read here. We should read this to our students as we discuss the whole new area of legal implications associated with the issue of personal and public blending through social media. We need to inform ourselves about these issues, and schools should be focusing more urgently on these matters as social media becomes the way the world works, not just kids on Facebook – although that needs to be dealt with too – but the way news is shared, the way businesses are run, the way projects are created and managed, the way people collaborate globally with today’s technical possibilities. Why would we put aside important curriculum to discuss social media in our classrooms? Well, as Mark Pearson says in the ABC interview,

And only last year we had a British gentleman who posted a witty tweet, or what he thought was a witty tweet, about blowing up an airport, and he was just expressing it as satire, he said, because he was frustrated that snow had stopped flights from this particular airport, but unfortunately national security and police agencies don’t always have a sense of humour, and they certainly didn’t in that case, and his house was raided, he was arrested, he was charged with national security offence and he finished up being released, of course, but he suffered a whole lot through the process and spent some time in the big house, at least temporarily, as a result of it. Something none of us need in our lives.

The implications of social media are vast and serious, but the access to the new form of ‘journalism’ is there for anyone with a phone or internet access. If teachers are uncomfortable in this new and always changing arena, then all the more reason to learn together. It’s not a fad, it’s not going to go away.

Mark Pearson explains social media law:

The basic laws are pretty much the same as they applied to journalists and media organisations in the past. So, your fundamental law of defamation, contempt, confidentiality, all of these areas, you know, the core law is still the same, it’s just that some circumstances have changed with new media and social media.

It’s so easy to post that short, quick post without thinking, and without education our young people are more likely to get into trouble. When are schools going to integrate digital citizenship into the curriculum, along with other literacies? How are we going to prepare for this as teachers?

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What have I learned from VCE?

This article in The Age resounded with me – Surely there’s a better test was written by Alexandra Adornetto, Year 12 VCE student at Eltham College and, at 17, already an author of a popular children’s trilogy starting with The shadow thief.

Of Alexandra’s initial questions,

How have I been shaped by my learning experiences? What skills have I developed that are valuable and transferable in the workplace? What lessons have I learned about the value of education?

– I wonder most about the last one: What lessons have I learned about the value of education? Or even, what have I learned about learning?

Alexandra’s answer is negative; she sees students having to work

within a system that reduces achievement to a game where strategies are more important than ideas.

Her cynicism flows from the fact that

the sum total of my education will soon amount to nothing more than a figure — an ENTER score that will determine which percentile I fall into statewide and which courses I will be eligible to apply for.

I agree with Alexandra when she says that

the system fails to recognise the diversity of skills and most subjects do not allow students to demonstrate skills in a form other than a written exam.

I’ve started reading Rethinking rubrics in writing assessment by Maja Wilson, which, at one point, talks about decontextualised teaching of literacy through ‘separate literature, speech, and composition courses’. In the past ‘Reading, speaking, and writing were simply a means to dialogue with professors, peers, and the community at large about matters of public interest.’

Andrea Lunsford (1986) describes an integrated, language-rich environment that supported powerful literacy.

Classroom activity… was built around “oral disputation.” One  student chose and presented a thesis, often taken from reading or class discussion, and defended it against counterarguments offered by other students and the teacher. In addition, students regularly gave public speeches on matters of importance to society, in forums open to the entire college and the surrounding community… the students learned more from their peers than from their teachers … this model of oral evaluation and the form of student speaking societies provided an audience, a full rhetorical context, and motivation for discourse, features woefully lacking in later “set” essays and written examinations.

Maja Wilson goes on to imagine how ideal this kind of learning would be. This would be the antithesis of the VCE as we know it, and as described by Alexandra. Instead of receiving ‘a static score from faceless evaluators’, a student could receive a type of assessment ‘not to rank’ the written content, but purely as feedback to aid learning and develop abilities.

Assessment would be free to interact positively with learning since ranking … was not its main objective.

In her article, Alexandra goes on to point out the many skills students possess in activities they do outside of school which are not taken into consideration in the VCE assessment.

Life skills, innovative ideas and community involvement — what intelligent nation needs these? It’s obviously much safer to work towards the goal of conformity. Here is just the beginning of a list of skills that exam results cannot possibly hope to reflect: interpersonal skills, the ability to entertain, how articulate we are as speakers, our ability to work as part of a team, the ability to deal with challenges and invention.

I’ve often thought the same, and when I see the curriculum packed to bursting with content that teachers struggle to cover, I’m not surprised that they often lament the lack of time to develop important skills.

It doesn’t take long to figure out that our current system does not reward creativity or cater to the diversity of skills and abilities possessed by students. What it does reward are formulaic learners and those with a good memory.

I don’t claim to be an expert, but I noticed a difference between, for example, the Psychology course offered within the VCE  and that within the International Baccalaureate. VCE Psychology seemed to be largely a matter of content memorisation, whereas IB Psychology involved higher order thinking.

Alexandra comments:

Other knowledge-based subjects such as legal studies, psychology and history ask us not to apply knowledge but simply to recall and regurgitate the contents of our hefty textbooks.

It’s interesting how Alexandra’s suggested solutions harken back to the older system of assessment described by Wilson in her book:

Clearly an overhaul of the current system with a review of its goals and objectives is in order. Until universities take a radical look at their selection procedures, nothing is likely to change. How much more sensible would it be to include an oral exam (where you might talk through your ideas or your achievements) as a percentage of our final assessment?

I like the way Alexandra thinks, I like her suggested alternatives:

Perhaps the presentation of a folio of achievements would go a long way in presenting us as individuals with a unique contribution to make. Perhaps a hands-on project in a preferred area of study should be a compulsory assessment task.

Yes, Alexandra is cynical about the merits of VCE, and grim in her description of the final exams:

As for us, we will be writing furiously for three hours, surfacing only to check the clock and take periodic sips from our water bottles from which we have assiduously removed the labels in compliance with yet another inane regulation, designed to eliminate cheating.

What do you think? Is she being too harsh?

As for me, I hope that this year’s VCE students will at least be able to demonstrate the extent of their study efforts, not like the poor girl during this year’s English exam whose watch stopped, freakishly, at the same time as the wall clock, and was caught out at the end with only two thirds of her examination paper completed. So much frustration and upset – two years of effort spoiled by a fateful turn of events.

I recommend The English Companion ning which has a rich discussion between Maja Wilson and educators of her book.

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