The opposite of outrage?

“Elderly war-hero imprisoned for six months for making a recording of an event.” Here’s the protest site.

There’s enough in there to trigger outrage on so many levels!

Where’s our respect for someone who fought for our freedoms? We thought proportional sentencing was going up the spout after the riots, but this? Isn’t this just like Kate Belgrave and her great work to bring public council meetings under greater scrutiny?

In short, you’d expect Twitter to have exploded.

That Messrs Fry, Linehan et al would have been besieged with appeals to amplify the story. That they may even have responded. You’d think some of those wingnuts who made such a blogtastic fuss about my namesake and his shotgun would be right on it. (You can Google all that for yourselves. It began with libertarian outrage but quickly crossed into mainstream.)

But there hasn’t been an explosion.

In that particularly awkward dance of observer and observation, this blog post will no doubt “raise awareness” and make a few more people notice Mr Scarth and his plight.

Anyway, straight away I’m looking for mainstream media coverage of this travesty of justice. And I’m not finding much. Results for “Norman Scarth jailed” give me a lot of blog posts, but that’s all.


My attention is now very piqued.

I talk to @newsmary about it. She’s noticed this too.

And mindful of my recent post about negative dynamics in networks, I start to realise that the absence of “expected” outrage is, of itself, modifying how I feel about Mr Scarth’s case.

In short, it doesn’t smell right.

I found some other stuff too, about his previous brushes with the law. About a conviction for violence. About time spent in jail. (Google can be harshly unforgiving like that, no matter if the sentence has been served. More on this anon, in relation to my membership of the Sector Panel looking at transparency in respect of criminal justice data use and release by government.)

But I’m very eager not to judge the case one way or the other. It’s not my role, and there isn’t enough decent evidence available, even if I were so inclined.

What I am observing is that the lack of an expected response can by itself modify feelings about a situation.

Is this another sign of the conditioning we’re experiencing as our melding with the online world matures?

A few home truths about online pornography

I read this curious article this morning.

It’s got a strong whiff of “being seen to do something”, while shying away from some of the more serious realities.

I am not an expert on this topic, but neither am I that coy about it.

So here are a few comments that might be informative, as none of the principal players involved seem that keen on actually getting to grips with the reality of the subject matter.

Back in the 1970s, when many of our policymakers and politicians were growing up, porn was generally found in skips and hedgerows. Ripped-up, soggy copies of Playboy and Penthouse formed our mental models of the genre. The women (there were no men) were beautiful, semi-naked, and generally decorous. There was stuff about fast cars. There were made-up letters about unlikely liaisons on aeroplanes.

{Health warning for the sensitive: if you don’t want to read some frank words about what things are really like, don’t continue. Perhaps try and get some people to vote for you to make laws and stuff instead. Get some misinformed articles published in the mainstream press. Pretend you have no idea about any of this, and hum la-la-la when anyone raises the subject. That sort of thing.}

The more gynaecological poses were the province of darker stuff, imported from Scandinavia or Holland and sold in plastic bags in dark little shops in city back streets.

But we didn’t like to admit we knew phrases like “Color Climax” so we stuck with the safer, top-shelf, tee-hee-hee Playboy as our model. (I actually saw a tweet yesterday where the word “penthouse” in an unrelated context was used as a cue for a joke about smut. It’s become part of our vocabulary).

So roll forwards to 2011 and we’re having a bit of a fret about this thing called online porn, and how it might be corrupting the young and how it might be dealt with.

And the example that’s being dragged out from the (unavailable) Ofcom report is playboy.tv.


So that’s what we’ve got to watch out for? Have you looked at it? Look at it. It’s pretty harmless. Almost slightly silly.

Online, it’s much like the magazine, glossy, playing out fantasies of gorgeous hostesses, fast-car lifestyles, Malibu and other such bollocks. Lots of splashing around in bikinis, but not as far as I could see, a hint of a vulva in front of the paywall. Soft porn. For anything else, you need to pay. I didn’t. And why would I?

Because the world of the shiny member sites (sorry) and their sort-of-soft-and-not-that-corrupting-really “pornography” isn’t the world of online porn.

Google the word “porn”. Seriously. Be brave. Your mum won’t find out. I promise. (Unless you use her computer. In which case, don’t.) You won’t see playboy.tv, or anything like it, on the first few pages of results. I got bored scrolling through the screens and didn’t find it.

You will find YouPorn, PornHub, RedTube and numerous clones. All free to view, no registration required, all hardcore, and with content of quite mixed provenance.

Some of it looks like straight lifting of content from other sites–I’m generalising here, and not referring specifically to the sites named above–and not alleging any criminality (so please don’t sue my ass).

Some appears to be user-generated content, submitted by “amateurs” with a bottle of lube, a webcam, a glazed expression and a cheap rug.

And the rest is the last screech of the old blue movie industry, giving away its back catalogue in a desperate attempt to drive a bit of traffic to its members’ site, where it hopes to lure a tiny percentage of truly stupid visitors into signing up to a never-ending subscription, using all the tricks in the book.

Fancy regulating that sort of environment? Interchangeable, come-and-go (or indeed go-and-come) sites, all peddling identical material? Asking them politely if they’ll implement a PIN number coding system on their front doors? Good luck with that.

These sites, generically, are known as tubes. Want to find something particularly “specialist”? Google your desired search term along with the word “tubes”. You’ll find it. Remember Rule 34 of the Internet.

The Internet is full of free, unrestricted, unregulatable hardcore porn. There. I’ve let the cat out of the bag. And told you how to find it. And playboy.tv has nothing to do with it. Who knew?

So the interesting story then becomes: why not be more honest about this in articles like that Guardian piece? Why pretend that targetting (or trying to target) a few well-known names will reshape society into a better place?

Is it because we can’t break our habit of associating the word Playboy with porn? Can we not move on from what we found on the school gym roof in 1981?

Have we just got such a taboo about the subject that anyone with any standing who writes with any kind of informed knowledge about the subject risks a chorus of “nyah nyah nyah and how would you know, eh, eh?” that will effectively tarnish their public profile for ever. (Deep breath in seeing how this blog post goes down then…)

Is it because we’re trying to hide these terrible truths from susceptible young people who might otherwise never think of putting the word “porn” into Google?

Or is it because we’re trying to look like we’re doing something, rather than actually doing something? And going after well-known names is the most acceptable and easiest way to do that?

And when we can’t really control how they behave, or close them down (which we can’t, as they’re most likely not within our jurisdiction) then it’s just that bit easier to start the push for stronger filters of sites which aren’t approved by our establishment, and finally bring this bloody Internet thing under some control. Because we’ve shown we tried all the other approaches, first, haven’t we?

I genuinely don’t know. But I’m a bit tired of a pretence that the world is one way, when very many people know it isn’t but can’t easily speak about it.

This is going to be a long old social and political battle; keep your eyes open for the next skirmish. It’s going to get very interesting.

A Glossary

This glossary of social media and digital engagement terms comes from a recent piece of my strategy work. It’s skewed towards the government sector, in terms of language and examples. Feel free to use any of this that might be useful for other purposes. Or to challenge my definitions. Or, perhaps, to add glaring things I’ve missed.

Blog: Derived from “Web log” – originally a regularly-updated journal on which visitors (and the original author) could leave comments. Now generally used for a site (or section of a larger site) where text-based content can be created in the form of short articles, almost always open for comments to be posted. These comments may be subject to some degree of moderation.

Campaign site: Website created in association with a specific promotional campaign; usually for a defined period of time; may include facilities to receive user feedback and present an opportunity for engagement.

Commentable document: A facility for hosting a document under review, usually divided into manageable sections, and permitting comments to be left for the author – and to permit dialogue between commenters. Combines some of the features of a wiki for collaborative working, but retaining an initial document structure throughout. Has been used on a number of government policy documents made available for digital consultation. One tool that delivers this functionality (an implementation of WordPress) is Commentariat. e.g. http://interactive.bis.gov.uk/lowcarbon

Content-based networking sites: e.g. YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr, TripAdvisor – sites based on content of a certain type (e.g. video, images, reviews) with a strong element of user feedback, user-generated content (UGC) and elements of social networking (e.g. ability to create groups, forums, favourites, peer-to-peer relationships etc.)

Crowdsourcing: The use of digital (or other) media to allow the contribution of information or ideas from a wide range of people, usually around a topic, a question, or a request for innovative suggestions.

Dashboard: a utility that searches and aggregates information from many channels across the internet, and displays it all in one place, in real time, for management, monitoring or consumption purposes. Example: www.netvibes.com/socialcare

Digital engagement: The use of interactive techniques to improve service delivery and information provision via digital media technology.

Email subscription: Although not ‘social’ in terms of community formation and peer-to-peer interaction, allowing users to register email addresses to receive personal(ised) updates represents a form of digital engagement. Digital tools build a two-way relationship: the user receiving content, and also experiencing some sense of being part of a community, even as information recipient.

Forum: Area for registered members to discuss specific topics. Can form part of a wider overall site. Characterised by a core user base making multiple contributions and often sharing relationships or culture. Forum content may or not be moderated.

Group: A type of forum generated by users within a social networking or similar type of site. Shares many of the characteristics of a forum, but can be more volatile. Members (who are a subset of the members of a larger form or social network) will typically interact for a shorter period of time, usually around a specific single issue. Creation of fan pages (or similar designations) also effectively forms a Group.

Metadata: Information about information. Often invisible to the user, metadata allows content to be classified, structured and sorted. Tags represent a use of metadata.

Microblogging: e.g. Twitter, Identi.ca, Yammer (the latter within corporate environments). Member communities sharing short message content, openly and by direct peer-to-peer message. Highly flexible in their use, and prone to rapid escalation of issues: creation of “a Twittermob”.

Moderation: Editorial judgement over or control of user-generated online content. Numerous varieties exist, from moderation by peers or by the site owner/author, to outsourced arrangements where professional moderators assess and process comments on a larger scale.

Post: To publish content to a blog, micro-blog, forum or website, either as a new topic or as a comment on existing content. Also, as a noun, to describe the content posted (synonymous with ‘blog post’, ‘forum post’ etc.).

Private social networking site: A social network intended for a specific community of interest. Offers similar features to an open social networking site, but almost always sets conditions and controls over entry and participation. E.g. sites set up using Ning.

User-generated content: Any content provided by users, rather than the owners of an online environment. May or may not be moderated (see above)

User feedback: A specific type of user-generated content: that created as a response to provided informational content. Can take the form of freeform text comments, ‘votes’, likes/dislikes, or more detailed survey-type information.

Social bookmarking: A method by which people can store, organize, search and share articles, blog posts and other information. There are many different libraries, each with their own bookmark, including Digg, de.lici.ous and Reddit. Increasingly, posting content links as tweets or to Facebook profiles provides a common form of bookmarking.

Social marketing: The use of marketing techniques to achieve desired social outcomes (e.g. behaviour change). May or may not involve the use of social media. Included here to avoid confusion with social media marketing.

Social media: Digital tools that permit people and organisations to interact freely with low (or no) barriers to entering a conversation.

Social media marketing: The use of social media to promote a particular cause or product. May or may not have social marketing implications. Included here to avoid confusion with social marketing.

Social networking site: A website offering general-purpose networking features to all who may want to join. Facebook dominates the adult market; Bebo has a focus on a younger/teenage audience; MySpace is now focused on music/video content and may be regarded as a content-based networking site, albeit one with a high membership.

Tags: Keywords describing online information that allow other users to search for relevant information.

Twitter: The best known of the micro-blogging platforms. Users contribute short messages, either on the twitter.com website, or using a number of third-party ‘client’ applications: whatever the route, interaction happens in a consistent and open way. Terms include:
Tweet: to post content (short messages up to 140 characters long)
Re-tweet: to republish another’s post. Good for spreading messages widely, or adding commentary to them
Hashtags: words or phrases preceded by ‘#’. This allows them to be grouped together and easily searched.

Webchat: A structured discussion using instant messaging to a host, who then responds. Usually moderated.
Example: http://webchat.number10.gov.uk

Wiki: An open collaboration environment in which users may freely (or with some controls) create and modify content as a community. The best known example is Wikipedia, where an open community collaborates to create an encyclopaedia, but wikis can be used for tasks as varied as communal creation of a policy document, or managing the names and interests of attendees to an event.