The Loneliest Jukebox

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Saturday, April 02, 2011

Exceeding 140 characters

I had a brief Twitter exchange with my old friends at Media Lens today.
The background is that Guardian editor Alan Rushbridger has locked his Twitter feed so he can't get  incoming tweets from Media Lens. I suspect locking the feed means they can't read his tweets either.

I tweeted that this hardly constitutes an infringement of democratic rights and got three replies (and maybe a Freudian slip):

Media Lens @GrahamBarnfield Graham, forget freedom of speech - do you believe in the freedom to read what people write and to send them messages?
[Er, yes. Why forget free speech?]

Media Lens @GrahamBarnfield We meant 'leaving free speech aside'. If u agree on both, it makes +no+ sense to suggest AR had good reasons for banning us?
[Here I said it was basically up to AR. But it is worth saying he didn't ban Media Lens, or even its Twitter feed; he just stopped getting their incoming tweets and hosting them in his timeline.]
Media Lens @GrahamBarnfield True (by definition), but irrelevant to what we're discussing.

Just to recap: do I believe in the freedom to read what people write and to send them messages? Yes. That said, the first one is qualified slightly, in that I don't think such freedom extends automatically to people's private correspondence. (Maybe Rushbridger is now tweeting personal stuff.) The second one is that sending messages doesn't create any obligation for people to read or host them. For instance, Media Lens' page compiling reviews of Newspeak does not link to my mixed/negative review of the book. Free speech does not oblige them to add this link.

While such colleagues as Terri Senft write about this in more depth, it's also clear that the internet is used in ways that continue to blur the boundaries between private and public. For instance, someone compiling my recent EBay purchases or listing my Facebook friends would be creepy, but it would have been me who put the information there to begin with. Getting them shut down would breach freedom of speech, but ignoring them wouldn't.

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