Do you have a disaster recovery plan for social media?

Given last week’s announcement by Twitter that it would comply with tweet censoring in certain parts of the world, it might be time for editors and journalists to think what this kind of policy adoption means for them, both now and in the longterm. If you are a journalist who regularly uses social media tools in your work (Facebook, Twitter, Google +), or an editor who encourages their use in your newsroom , here are five basic questions you should know the answer to:

1. What proportion of  your traffic is generated by which sites and services?

2. What proportion of  journalism and user interaction is actually carried out on third party sites and is  that material archived separately?

3. Do you know the data use, identity and privacy policies of each third party site you use for journalism?

4. Do you know under what circumstances data and content might be handed over to government or legal agencies, or blocked from use and what  is the response, should that happen?

5. What is the back-up plan vis a vis the third party sites and services in the unlikely event that something should go wrong?

These questions are easy to answer. They don’t require any specialist information or knowledge beyond access to  internal metrics. There are a number of contrasting opinions on what the Tweet censoring means. Here are some which contain thoughtful views on the subject, and offer links and advice for what to do re: deleted tweets and the ChillingEffects.org clearinghouse for tweets . Jillian York, at the Electronic Frontier Foundation with her perspective . A very positive review of the policy by academic Zeynep Tufekci , and a slightly more cautious view from Boing Boing . And an important piece, I think, from Dave Winer about the development of alternative infrastructures .

As with many policies, the implementation in terms of letter and spirit is key to how well it will work from all perspectives. However, as with all social platforms which have broad use and a commercial future,those of us who feel uneasy about developments need to remember they are not built to be the free press of the 21st century. Twitter is still the best tool for journalism that I can think of, Twitter investor and venture capitalist Fred Wilson, last week enthusiastically described it as a newspaper, and it shares many facets with a news organisation – but it isn’t one, and its development is more likely to take it away from that purpose than closer to it.

Journalism’s often ambivalent relationship with other technologies has meant that many organisations don’t have a particularly developed view of what an editorial entanglement with Twitter or Facebook really means for them in the long term. Inevitably as an increasing number of interactions take place on these platforms, it will be important for editors and reporters to make judgement calls about the right balance between what is distributed onto services with the widest possible reach, and what is kept in proprietary systems.

Large media organisations have been relatively quiet over Twitter’s policy change.  They might not have a view, or think it is at all important. Or they might not necessarily know what they think, in which case a bit of reflection might be in order.

If news organisations have organised thinking about this subject they might want to share that too. This is an area which I can only imagine growing in importance in relation to journalism, and working out the deficiencies of the system might help to galvanise more innovation into what really journalistic platforms might be.

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