The Leveson Report’s publication last year got huge mainstream media commentary eg front page + 16 subsequent pages in the Guardian the day after. This is probably all to the good but Leveson did miss a very big trick: 2,000 pages in his report and just one (actually a paragraph) referred to social media.
Ok, it wasn’t in his formal remit BUT the importance of social media does need to be addressed, not least because of its impact on mainstream media, for which it represents a huge additional economic pressure (see Grubbe St Hack Attack). While Web 1.0 broke the distribution model, social media challenge both the content creation and distribution models. This creates another kind of existential threat which cannot be ignored, because of the importance of mainstream media to the way our democracy works.
Formal media brands are a very important constitutional pillar and their established role in society is lost at our peril. On the one hand, we must not shut down free speech/free publishing in its modern form, e-Grubbe St etc. But on the other, the impact of social media may be deeply UN-social – it may undermine the accepted societal function of traditional media in democracies, developed over about 3 centuries, without sufficient thought being given to what should replace it.
It’s a long-term problem but the current debate is driven by short-term concerns. The reputation of the former ‘Fleet St’ is not great right now, while that of the broadcast media is hardly spotless either. And it does not help that there is also a general crisis of confidence in the political system – and we are, at maximum, just 2 1/2 years from a General Election.
We should all be concerned that any legislation produced by politicians and civil servants who are largely ignorant of the day-to-day workings and impact of social media, based on a report which ignores it, will not produce a great result. In 2013, let’s please have a real and informed public debate – and let those who have any involvement in social media think beyond the individual and commercial to the common good.