Net Neutrality Ain’t Dead Yet, But It’s On Life Support

If you’ve been paying attention to the news the past couple of days you may have heard that the US Senate narrowly (52-47) voted to reverse the FCC repeal of net neutrality rules. But don’t pop the cork just yet. For the Senate vote to mean anything will require that the House follows suite, and that the ensuing legislation makes it past the veto pen of President Trump. Neither of those are likely to happen.

If you haven’t been tracking this story all along, FCC chairman Ajit Pai’s net neutrality repeal is scheduled to take effect on June 11, unless Congress acts to overturn the FCC’s decision. So while you will hear plenty about Net Neutrality in the coming weeks, most of the political noise will be posturing to drum up support for the fall midterm elections. If you like Net Neutrality (the policy put in place in early 2015 by the Obama administration) and want it to stay, you will be encouraged to vote for Democratic candidates for congress. And if you think that Net Neutrality is unnecessary government regulation of the telecommunications industry, you will be encouraged to vote for Republican candidates.

If you’ve read news headlines that make it appear that the Senate vote is going to stop the repeal of Net Neutrality, you are a victim of having just a portion of the info necessary to be an informed citizen. And sometimes have a little information is as bad as having none.

Russia used Facebook to Try to Influence the 2016 Election

New reports are surfacing claiming that Russia was behind an effort to influence the 2016 Presidential election. Facebook itself is releasing information suggesting that it carried approximately $100,000 of advertising that was “connected to about 470 inauthentic accounts and Pages in violation of our policies.” Using fake Facebook accounts, highly-targeted ads pushed traffic to websites designed to promote a narrative that was pro-Trump and/or anti-Clinton.

Zuckerberg had previously claimed that social media manipulations were not responsible for the Trump victory, but these new revelations may reopen that debate. In response, some lawmakers are calling for regulations that would make political ad buys on social media more transparent.

Twitter has also indicated that it will look into Russian meddling that may have targeted their platform.


Ellsberg, Manning and Snowden: The Saga Continues

In this short list of famous leakers–Ellsberg, Manning and Snowden–each one has had to walk a delicate tightrope between  two, potentially,  very noble causes. On one hand is the exposure of wrong doing. On the other is the rule of law and the legal process designed to protect us from systemic corruption. Just like Nik Wallenda’s traverse of the Grand Canyon gorge, high-profile leakers or whistleblowers take great risks when they choose their course of action. And like a tight-rope walker, they are all alone once they leave the safety of terra firma.

The press and the government exist in a dynamic state of symbiosis: a tension between the public’s right to know, the government’s responsibility to provide security, and an individual’s right to some expectation of privacy. Individuals and organizations keep secrets because it gives them an advantage, or because it prevents others from knowing about, or exploiting, a weakness. When powerful individuals and entities (corporations, governmental agencies, organized groups) use their power for wrong…in ways that break ethical, moral, or legal rules and regulations, secrecy protects them from being outed and punished.

Enter the press. Journalists have long accepted the responsibility of shining a light into dark corners. Their job is to uncover and expose wrong-doing so that public pressure, or the law, can step in to correct the wrong. But journalists need help uncovering secrets. They often need someone on the inside, someone who has access to privately held information, who is willing to give that information to the journalist. Sometimes it is simply verbal information about where the investigative journalists should look, and what they should look for. Other times it involves documents or data that the insider gives to the journalists. The insider has the access, and the journalists has the investigative skills to collect and report on the facts that are relevant to the issue.

Daniel Ellsberg, “the most dangerous man in America“, became famous for releasing documents to the New York Times about the US Government’s failing policy in Vietnam. Public sentiment was already turning against the war when the Pentagon Papers threw gasoline on the fire. Ellsberg was prosecuted under the Espionage Act of 1917 but charges were later dismissed.

Bradley Manning, private first class in the US Army, was arrested for using his security clearance to download classified documents which he then released to WikiLeaks. Manning pleaded guilty to 10 of 22 charges earlier this year and his trial began just a few weeks ago. If convicted Manning could face life in prison.

Edward Snowden was an employee of the military contractor Booz Allen Hamilton when he downloaded, and leaked to the press, documents about the National Security Agency‘s surveillance program. According to the Guardian newspaper, “Snowden will go down in history as one of America’s most consequential whistleblowers, alongside Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning.”  According to a recent poll by PEW Research, the public is split on whether the NSA leak serves the public interest. However, the public favors, by a significant margin, the criminal prosecution of Snowden. But age is a factor. Younger respondents are more likely to believe that the leak serves the public interest and are less likely to support prosecution.

The latest reports indicate that Snowden is making his way, with the help of Wikileaks legal team, to Ecuador where he will seek political asylum. The South China Morning Post is also reporting that Snowden took the job with Booz Allen Hamilton with the intent of collecting evidence of NSA spying. If that report is true, Snowden’s moral justification for his actions may be fatally damaged.

Resources for additional research:

Where there’s smoke…

whitesmokeYou may have heard that the Catholic Church is in the process of selecting a new Pope. The Church has been slow to embrace certain changes, e.g. women priests and same-sex marriage, but they have not been as slow to adapt to new communication media. The recently retire pope, Pope Benedict XVI (@pontifex), became the first Pope to join Twitter in December of 2012 and the Catholic Church has more than 413K likes on its facebook page.

Some may find it ironic then that the Church, in this modern digital age, still uses smoke signals to announce the results of a successful election. When the bishops have selected the new Pope, the smoke from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel will switch from black to white.

In a world of high-tech solutions to most every problem, there are plenty of options for staying informed of the latest news in this breaking story. With the tag line, “when the smoke goes up, you’ll know what’s going down”, the website is on top of the latest developments. At the website you can sign up to receive instant notification of the election by either text or email.

For the ultimate in simplicity you can visit

Or you can download an app for your smart phone. Some of the apps provide biographic background on the candidates. All promise to keep you up to the minute with breaking news. Not to be outdone, the Pontifical Council for Social Communication has released the Pope App. Before you know it the Vatican will have its own YouTube channel.

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave

The ancient Greek philosopher Plato lived about 400 years BC and is well known for his many contributions to modern thought. But did you know that he wrote about modern mass media thousands of years before they existed? Watch this short video on YouTube and see if you can identify the modern mass medium that is depicted by this allegory.

For more about the making of the short film, visit this website.

Pink Ribbons and PR Missteps

The social media buzz machine turned into a buzz saw late last week for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. If you’ve been anywhere near this social media maelstrom you know that the Komen Foundation has taken a major hit for its decision to cut funding to Planned Parenthood, and then reversing the decision, all within a 72-hour period. According to Advertising Age, the incident “showed how a brand can boomerang from one of the most loved into one of the most reviled in a head-snapping two days.’’

First a little background. Over the years the Komen Foundation, and their Race for the Cure, has raised billions of dollars for diagnosis, treatment and research of a disease that kills about 110 women every day in this country. The foundation gives away tens of millions of dollars every year and some of that money, about $700,000, had been going to Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood was using that money to provide screenings and mammogram referrals to women who might not otherwise be able to pay for these services. But Planned Parenthood is also the largest provider of abortions in the US, and that has resulted in close scrutiny by members of congress who want to ensure that government funds are not being used to provide abortions. Planned Parenthood is currently under investigation by congress with regard to its financial dealings and that was the initial reason cited by the Komen Foundation as to why they were withdrawing funding from Planned Parenthood. However, as negative responses mounted the story began to change. The Foundation countered that Planned Parenthood does not provide mammograms, only referrals, and that this change in funding was about being more responsible stewards of precious resources. You can see their initial response in this YouTube video.

Proponents and opponents have taken sides, sometimes determined by their view on the always-contentious topic of abortion. Critics of the Komen Foundation’s decision to halt funding to Planned Parenthood saw the decision as knuckling under to political pressure from the pro-life lobby. As you might guess, the reversal fired up the pro-life crowd who had been pleased with the earlier decision.

This blog is not a forum to debate the relative merits of either side in the culture war raging around abortion, but this case-study provides an opportunity to observe how a non-profit, known for years of service in the battle against breast cancer, could so quickly find itself under attack by many of the people that it claims to serve. The power of social media to aggregate discussions and dissent is once again center stage. Reaction to SOPA and PIPA last month, and now this…demonstrates the raw energy that can be focused by the impassioned use of  these modern-day megaphones. There’s another angle that students of media should consider. How you learned about this event may also be shaping your understanding of the issues at stake. According to an op-ed in the NYT, the media’s coverage of the story has been biased by the media’s failure to understand the perspective of those on the pro-life side of the issue.

Part of the problem facing Komen is that they appear to be giving in to political pressure…first from pro-life, then pro-choice, political operatives. Even after issuing an apology for their earlier decision plenty of anger remains. Some of their funding sources are now saying that they will stop giving to the Komen Foundation and only time will tell if the Foundation can bounce back from this misstep.  Somewhat ironically, both the Komen foundation and Planned Parenthood are reporting increased giving in the wake of the scandal. Planned Parenthood reported that it had raised $3 million in a 72-hour period, including a $250,000 pledge from NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Additional Resources: Kaiser Health News has collected summaries of news organizations’ reports on the debate.

NOTE: if you respond to this post please do your best to keep your comments focused on the media issues related to the story.

What was the big media story of 2010?

According to Mark Glaser at PBS’s Media Shift website, 2010 was full of big stories about the media. Glaser lists his top 10 and tacks on a few honorable mentions as well. You may or may not agree with the author that WikiLeaks deserves the top slot, or that Facebook and the Apple iPad come in second and third. What I’d like to know is–what story, about the media, that broke in 2010, was the most significant to you, and why? Remember, this is not about just any significant story that the media covered, (e.g. the BP oil spill, the rescue of Chilean miners or passage of health care legislation), but rather a story about the media industry itself. Use the comment link below to tell us what you think was the top media story of 2010, and why it deserves that honor.

Misogynistic Hip-Hop Lyrics: What’s the Big Deal?

In class today we discussed the prevalence of misogynistic lyrics in rap and hip-hop music. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to hear from more than a few of you, and I’m curious about what others think about this issue. To rephrase the issue, is it okay for popular rap and hip-hop artists to denigrate women? If so, are women paying a price for accepting attitudes and images that reduce them to sex objects and second-class citizens? And if not, why do people defend the music and the musicians that perpetrate these images? Before you weigh in, watch this five minute video on YouTube:

Before posting a reply remember that this is not a forum to attack a culture, subculture, ethnic group or individuals belonging to any group. Keep your comments civil and attack the issues…not other posters.

Justice Department Argues for Stiff Fines for Copyright Violations

In a legal brief filed this week the Obama administration argued that a judgment of $675,000 for copyright infringement is not unconstitutional. The defendant, Joe Tenenbaum, is accused of illegally sharing 30 tracks. In their argument the DOJ recognized that the stiff penalties serve the purpose of deterring millions of users from taking a chance when it comes to file sharing and illegal downloading. The DOJ earlier supported a $1.92 million fine against Jammie Thomas-Rasset for sharing 24 tracks.

Of more than 18,000 individuals sued by the Recording Industry Association of America since 2003, only Tenebaum and Thomas-Rasset opted for a jury trial. The others simply paid four-figure settlements rather than face litigation and the risk of huge damage awards.

Because of a public relations backlash, the RIAA discontinued its campaign to prosecute illegal file sharing in December of 2008. Instead they have begun working with ISPs who, they hope, will provide disincentives for those who share files illegally.