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If all our news were truthful, questions would be illegal…wouldn’t they?

9 Apr

I have started an argument with an online news editor.

I could have done a thousand other things but the voice inside my head said: “Go for it! Speak up NOW!”

This is the same voice that once advised me to accuse a policeman of lying on oath while I was standing in the dock and had already managed to annoy the judge.

This voice also advised me to confront two street robbers who held very long knives and were in the process of throwing a mini cab driver onto a railway line.

This voice gets me into trouble but it also saves my soul. It allows me to confront and to question when the easy way out is to ignore or withdraw.

The online news editor – we shall call him by his acronym ‘ONE’ , is a reasonable, educated and good – natured soul. I know this for a fact because of ONE’s replies so far.

ONE has enough to do already without needing to waste time engaged in spurious debates with strangers. ONE’s replies to my criticism have been in the form of questions. ONE moves the debate between us onward with intelligence and good humour and I try to respond in the same way.

I hope I succeed because if I do not, I know that ONE will spot the crack in my armour and a spear will dispatch me in an instant. I am certain that I would do the same if I get the chance.

Now, I am going to reveal what I am arguing with ONE about. Perhaps, you will suddenly see me in a different way.

We are arguing over the use of the question mark.

*?*

For a  journalist, the question mark is sacred. It drives their world, their identity and their reason for turning up for work each day. They ask questions.

For a reader, the question mark is an outrage. A reader seeks answers. We only read because we already have a question mark in our head. We are trying to remove the damned thing.

ONE writes headlines with a question mark at the end.

I don’t like this. I tell ONE that it is not the job of a journalist. Journalists should not write headlines that end in a question mark.

ONE replies to me:

“Why??????”

I instantly adore ONE’s answer and I want to frame it. Behind a sheet of slate.

“Because I believe that the essence of reportage is to provide answers, not debate uncertainty”

ONE replies to me:

“Agreed, reports should probably explain rather than pose questions, but surely Twitter is not reportage?????????”

I chew over my relationship with Twitter before suggesting to him:

“It evolves as we use it, changing from look-at-me platform to echo-platform to breaking-newsroom. Hot news at its best, period.”

ONE has better things to do and goes off and does them.

I use the time to write this post on my WordPress blog and clarify my battle plans. Have I won my point? I doubt it.

ONE has asked the Big Question.

Is Twitter reportage?

The word reportage is defined as the means of reporting news.

ONE is making an important point here.

ONE is suggesting that Twitter does not itself report news but is instead, something other. Twitter is a ‘platform’, a soap-box on which we can all stand and shout.

ONE is suggesting that Twitter is the means by which we link to news. It is not the news report itself.

ONE is pointing out that by capturing our attention with a question mark, we will follow the link to the report and read the story. ONE is selling the story on Twitter and not reporting it.

Now, this is a wonderful day for me and ONE to be slugging this argument out. Why? Because yesterday morning, Margaret Thatcher died of a stroke. Thatcher was once a famous and powerful British Prime Minister.

Margaret Thatcher’s death is just a simple and natural occurrence. We get old and we die. It happens to us all.

But Thatcher’s death has unleashed a huge news battle across the internet and the lives of those in Britain. Some welcome her death and others mourn it.

Those that welcome her death do so because the secrets that she hid from the world when she was a powerful leader are now one step closer to being released for the press to report. Many of these secret documents can only be released after her death.

Those that mourn her death are the ones who broadly benefit from those secrets staying locked away.

The most powerful interests are held by the press who wish to maintain her image as a force for good.

The weakest footing is held by those who cannot argue their case until all the documents she hid away are revealed to the world and become common knowledge for the first time.

You see, Thatcher used her power to suppress facts from being reported that might harm her power to rule or cause unrest among the already angry sections of  Britain’s population.

Those among us who personally witnessed the gross censorship and distortion of news under her rule are powerless to speak out because our evidence is locked away in dusty vaults.

We purse our lips as her powerful friends weep Hollywood tears at her passing so that they gain a better seat at her funeral wake.

We wait until we can question what actually went on in secret and get an answer. We cannot do this yet because the facts are still withheld from the journalists who will reveal them. Some files are locked away for seventy years.

One day they will come out. One day, the news will be more truthful than it is today.

ONE is right.

Twitter is just a railway station where trains carrying truth arrive and depart. We get on them if we choose and we are transported to where we want to be. ONE is just a guard with a flag, shouting the destinations and helping people get on board. You want to go here? Get on this carriage. You want to go there? Next train.

But Twitter has one unique element.

It is not owned by the wealthy and influential news groups who have an interest in pitching a certain version of the truth.

Twitter is the place where truth, lies and fantasy are all available and we are allowed to choose. Where the process of news starts and where it is advertised once it is ready for us to read it.

In between us and our news is a man or a woman who has to ask questions on our behalf.

And ONE has to occasionally ask us questions to make sure that we are listening.

And a truth unspoken is a lie that sleeps.

Is your new car watching over you?

14 Feb

001newcars

In the 1980’s, if Britain or the United States governments had declared that every citizen must report their personal whereabouts and also to whom they spoke, there would have been an understandable mass revolt and rioting in the streets.

Instead, we citizens were sold the mobile or ‘cell’ phone.

Lured by the promise of entertainment, technology and kudos, we rushed out and bought phones for ourselves and our children.

We bought the phones willingly. The needs of government were met.

It was all about information – being connected and being in communication. Being the first to know, the first to hear.

Twenty years later, we now understand how our cellphones pinpoint our position and our conversations and texts are widely and routinely intercepted and analysed ‘in the interests of National Security’.

Our billing information has been sold and resold a hundred times. British Police forces have sold personal details of car crash victims to ambulance-chasing insurance firms. Apparently, that is okay by us. Absolutely fine.

Since we are anxious to be seen as law-abiding citizens, we trade in our privacy in a way that was utterly unthinkable, even as recently as 1990. We ignore the outrageous  invasion of our privacy by Google, Microsoft and a million life insurance and healthcare agents who now own copies of all our private details.

Some of us actually help out by uploading our private life and photo album details to Facebook.

Next on the agenda of big business and world government: our car.

“…all citizens shall declare their car  journeys, itineraries, speeds attained and addresses visited…”

We are sold ‘infotainment’ and connectivity packages for our new car. We buy them, using our own money.

Intel put it perfectly in their press release:

“…Cars are gradually transitioning from an information isolated island to a mobile information processing platform…”

The statement is almost benign in its apparent casualness.

However, be not fooled. The parking camera package that you bought because you are too stupid to park your own car can now record the license plate of the car behind and in front.

One click of a switch at “Headquarters” and every driving citizen becomes an unmarked Police cruiser, fitted with Automated Number Plate Recognition.

Your three year old car already tells tales on you to its manufacturer. When you send it in to the dealer to have it serviced, you naively believe that the big red box it gets plugged into tells the mechanic what is wrong.

It doesn’t. It uploads data to the manufacturer, who then tells the mechanic what is wrong. The manufacturer now knows if you hit the rev limiter…while in sixth gear. How often the ABS has been activated today.

028rwtrafficYou naughty thing, you! Let us hope that the manufacturer doesn’t tell the Police, or you’d be in deep trouble. Or your insurance company. Or your leasing company. Or your boss, who is considering you for promotion.

Perhaps, having read this far into my post, you are inclined to believe that I am being a little paranoid? Well, it only takes one click and your car uploads its data. The only question that remains is: to whom? 

Your car is already programmed to transmit your speed. Your sat-nav already does so.

Governments around the world are waiting for your opinion. They like opinions. It saves them having to ask.

When will the switch be ‘clicked’?

Well, that really depends on how we citizens feel about it. This is the ‘Big One’. All our other information is already accessed by the State in most Western countries but our car is the last frontier. It has always given us the feeling of freedom.

If we citizens realise that our car is now no longer a source of freedom but instead just expensive transportation, we may decide to take a taxi instead. We may rebel and refuse to buy our next car.

So the trick is to make us want to buy our next car.

It won’t be hard. Governments have progressively increased taxation on older cars and manufacturers have raised the prices of key spares to the point where it becomes uneconomical to keep them working.

As consumers, we take the hint. We buy a new car. Besides, the new one comes with an ‘Infotainment Package’…

Slam dunk.002bankrobber

The bank robber of the future will strip you, tie you up in the trunk of your car, drive to the bank and rob it in your name.

They will walk back to the car and plug in a second-hand ECU under the hood. They will dial a police crime line with your phone, drop it in the gutter and then drive you out to the woods.

There, you will be reunited with your clothes and shoes and given your keys back and told to drive off. As you gratefully sit behind the wheel, the robber will shoot you in the head, put the gun in your hand, close the door and then walk away.

According to the medical records that your doctor sold to your insurance company without your knowledge, you were taking anti-depressants.

According to the Police, always anxious to solve crime, there is an awful lot of even stronger evidence.

CCTV footage shows a person of your height and wearing your clothes and shoes, with a mask. Your phone and your car were tracked across town to the bank. Your phone is found, soaking wet – so no fingerprints there – but its call records are examined. Later that day, you are found behind the wheel of your car by a kid walking his dog.

Why you did it and where you hid the money will remain a mystery. Your life insurance company refuses to pay out to your family.

Isn’t technology wonderful?

Human Rights Industry for sale. Click here to add ‘Human Rights’ to shopping cart.

6 Nov

If you are reading these words, then you are a conscientious citizen who cares about protecting human rights.

Or else,  you are an employee belonging to one of  hundreds of worldwide government organisations who monitor the internet for early signs of organised dissent.

If you fall into both categories then your body may soon be found by a passer-by.

If you are ‘time-poor’ or otherwise have a boss who wears sunglasses inside the office, here are the two links:

This one is to the RFK Training Institute.

This one is to the BBC who have written an online article about them.

Off you go. See you back here later.

Over the last two years, Roadwax has noticed a couple of disturbing trends within the media.

1) The increasing use of the term “Human Rights Activist”.

2) Investigative journalists who mock Twitter for being a fickle gossip shop yet all have Twitter accounts.

Let’s take a closer look:

1) “Human Rights Activist”. Er…someone who actively promotes human rights? Not just a “Human Rights Supporter” – someone who supports basic human rights but…well…someone who goes a little bit further. Maybe, too far.

Even the most right-wing dictator or left-wing Supreme Leader supports human rights. It always looks good on their CV or resume and calms fears that they might actually be a right-wing dictator or a left wing Supreme Leader. But hey, running around and actively supporting Human Rights – now, that is just asking for trouble. Best stay at home and click ‘like’ on a Facebook campaign when asked. Don’t push it. Don’t get active. You need to be a trained pro to do all that stuff. Best leave it to someone else.

On what date in history did we normal humans apparently stop actively supporting our rights? Or, is popular media beginning to use the term ‘active’ as a kind of negative adjective, a nudge in the ribs to their readers and viewers?

“Watch out for Dave. He’s an Education Activist. He openly questions the teachers at parent meetings.”

“Watch out for Ella. She’s an Animal Welfare Activist. She persuaded her local store to stop selling battery-farmed eggs.”

Supporters are supposed to fill seats in the stadium and watch the activists do the work.

Nonsense. Dangerous nonsense.

We should all be Human Rights Activists. We should regain ownership of the term.

Which brings me neatly to point number 2).

Again, in the space of a couple of years, Twitter has gone from lightweight world chat-room to premier source of breaking news.

How do we know? Well, we could conduct a simple scientific experiment:

1) Have a huge storm hit a major city. New York will do fine.

2) Go on to Twitter and watch what ordinary people say and upload as pictures.

3) When someone uploads a picture of a shark swimming in their yard…

4) Watch how long it takes in seconds before major news websites carry the story…

5) …before dumping  it and instead running a “How to Spot a Faked Photo” article.

So, without causing any cruelty or suffering to animals, we can test out how the major news-gathering organisations work these days.

They watch Twitter. They use a mixed bag of paid and unpaid freelance reporters to report from the front line. They use activists.

Staff reporters visiting dangerous places? Not likely. Have you any idea how expensive and embarrassing it gets when a staff reporter gets their head stuck in a toilet in a Kiev brothel or runs down a local warlord’s mother-in-law while driving a Sixt Rental Toyota in Afghanistan? Nope. Staff reporters do the restaurant reviews and click on Twitter.

The RFK Training Institute have spotted this trend. The BBC have spotted the RFK Institute spotting this trend. Roadwax spotted the BBC spotting the RFK…oh – you know how word travels.

The RFK Institute in Florence, Italy are opening their doors today.

They are offering to train Human Rights Activists how not to get caught, killed or disconnected. The big beasts. The ones who report human rights abuses in other people’s countries. Countries where nobody can tell who the guys with the guns and the Toyota pickup truck work for. The guys outside your house.

If you want any more information, email  Valentina Pagliai on:  pagliai@rfkcenter.com but do not waste her time. They are apparently looking to focus efforts on the most high priority cases – the men and women who already have to hide from tyranny to stay alive long enough to report it.

The BBC says that the RFK Institute are going to sell courses to teach human rights activists how to protect themselves online from being tracked, monitored, shut down or effectively marginalised.

The first students will enroll in January 2013.

Strange.

Instead of offering all this information free to everyone via the internet, the RFK Institute is carefully hand-picking a few whose names will be kept secret and who will be trained behind closed doors.

Instead of freely revealing all the tips and tricks that every human ought to be aware of to be kept safe while using the internet in 2012, RFK is teaching maybe fifty or a hundred paying guests.

They will become the elite who can protect themselves from prying agencies. RFK Institute will issue the qualifications, I assume. Control the market, as it were.

The RFK Institute has just created the Human Rights Industry.

It has just put a price on knowledge instead of uploading it for free to everyone.

If I become a donor to this charity, will I get a monthly newsletter that includes a helpful ‘handy tip’ on how to keep my freedom online? I doubt it. I sincerely hope not.

The RFK Institute appears to be ‘professionalising’ human rights activism.

My heart hurts.

Lydia Callis, Interpreter, is deleted. ‘Killing the messenger’, Bloomberg Style…

30 Oct

Last night, as New York state (and also half the world) watched TV news for information on Pretty Damn Big Storm Sandy, a star was born.

As New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg  droned relentlessly onward like a Caterpillar D8 bulldozer (shown below), Lydia Callis translated the true meaning of his words for those listeners who still believed in the power of life and who still had hearts that beat.

By 02:00 hrs GMT, as the storm was thrashing Lower Manhattan, Lydia had a Twitter account that was trending like a rocket. She was gaining followers  in a way that meant only one thing: she had become an overnight sensation in the literal sense.

Her outstanding, intuitive and skilled visual interpretation of Bloomberg’s words was truly electrifying to watch.

It was made more so by the contrast between her vivacious delivery and his life-sucking, soul-crushingly unmemorable droning. 

Lydia spoke to the living and the hard of hearing.

Mike spoke to the telegraph poles and the concrete kerb stones.

By morning, Lydia was receiving the kind of internet media attention that spelled trouble. People loved her. People adored her. People wanted to see more of her rather than Bloomberg.

One just knew what would happen next…

In a simple feat of 1950’s Russian Communist Party subtlety, Lydia has been deleted. Airbrushed out of the history of New York’s worst night.

Camera footage of her at Bloomberg’s side on the night of the storm has been cropped so that she is no longer in view. You can just catch a glimpse of her elbow if you have sharp eyes. Yes, the footage looks slightly grainy now; it has been cropped and enlarged  to counter for the fact that it is zoomed in on Mike.

Her upbeat Twitter account comment which she made last night:   “I’m back…!” has gone.

So have all her other comments and posts.

So has her Twitter account.

All that remains is a hashtag page for ‘SignLanguageLady’ – her own original account address. It leads to nowhere. She is now nobody. She has become a ‘non-person’.

Some might argue that it does not befit a mayor’s interpreter to upstage a mayor.

Others might counter that it does not befit a mayor to make his atrociously poor communication worse by removing his interpreter.

Some might argue that she diverted attention from Bloomberg’s words.

Others might argue that this was an act of supreme charity and kindness since Mike has no talent for communication. Not a shred. Nada.

Lydia mentioned last night that, although she loves working with Mike, when Bloomberg tries to “habla” (speak Spanish) – she stops signing. 

Her comment has now been removed from the internet.

Bloomberg has as much in common with the Hispanic community as a hat stand does with a pork pie. This is not a thing that should be pointed out. If it is, then people might think that he is unelectable in the Hispanic community.

People might be right. 

Bloomberg does not speak for and does not speak with the people. He should not be a mayor.

Callis (or: Callas – the spelling that used to appear) spoke for and to the people and she should be.

Cyber-casing: Did you just Geo-tag your car keys to a criminal?

10 Jul

She ‘likes’ Audi on Facebook. She uploaded the name of the cafe she is currently in to Twitter. The keys are in her bag, by her feet. Her phone is visible on Bluetooth.

Criminals are increasingly focusing their efforts upon those people who upload valuable data to social networking sites.

“Cybercasing”  is the term used to describe the process by which a criminal can anonymously monitor a potential victim by watching as they sequentially upload valuable data about their possessions and their current geographical location.

A Simple Example:

Facebook Status Update: “A picture of me and my new Audi at the dealer franchise in Dallas!”

then, two days later…

Twitter Update: ” In Rocky’s Bar, Dallas with Kim. Come and join us!” – sent via iPhone App

The criminal already knows what you look like (you posted your beautiful face on Facebook, didn’t you?) and you told them what you drive. They now know your precise location (you just uploaded a helpful map to Twitter using your iPhone, didn’t you?) and that you are relaxing in a cafe bar.

Just as the Darwin Awards were invented in the 1990’s to honor those who killed themselves through their own stupidity, so time may be running out for those who openly advertise their valuable possessions and their geographical whereabouts to 900 million complete strangers.

Insurance companies already refuse to pay out on theft claims from people who have left their keys in their car’s ignition…only to find that some absolute cad has slipped behind the wheel and selected “Drive” while they were chatting to the postman or getting something from the house.

It makes sense to assume that it will not be long before the insurance industry takes a dim view of those who sequentially reveal information to strangers about their identity, location, their valuables and where to find the keys.

Most police forces, just like professional criminals, make full use of un- encrypted cell phone messages and social networking sites to hunt down their prey. In the case of the Police, they are usually trying to intercept a particular person but criminals are interested in knowing where someone is  for the opposite reason: if the person is at the beach, then they aren’t at home. If they drove into town then their keys are certainly with them. If they are out celebrating with friends then they may not be on their guard.

Professional athletes have known for some years that their houses are most likely to suffer a break-in while they are away competing or playing their sport. Everybody who follows sport knows where they are going to be at a certain time on a certain day.

But it seems to be a lesson not yet learned by the average person that Social Media reveals their own movements and plans just as clearly if they openly publicize their social interests, hobbies, friend network and current location.

Love motorbikes? Of course you do. Particularly Harleys. You have a profile of yourself on the Harley-Lovers Site. You post on the forum. You uploaded a picture of your pride and joy. It is one of the rare ones, very desirable. There’s you, in the picture, next to it. You even got three “likes” for the picture. Fantastic bike. Way to go!

Then, you  bought some rare enamel Harley badges on e-Bay. Real bargain! The guy posted them to you sameday. Top seller. Great guy.

That’s right.

You just gave your full address to a complete stranger who now knows exactly where you live.

What’s that you say on Facebook? You and your partner have got tickets to see Radiohead play and you’re in ecstacy ‘cos its her turn to drive?

Excellent.

You will be away from home for at least six hours.

The wireless alarm box will act dumb once I climb my ladder, unscrew the cover and remove the back-up battery. A suction-pad glass cutter on the back door will stop the neighbors hearing anything. Your fuse box is exactly where I expect it to be.

The Harley is in the garage and the keys will be in the drawer in the kitchen.  You have a dog? Nope. You used to.

You can keep the ladder. It wasn’t mine, anyway.

It is becoming ever more crucial that people understand that it is not cool to upload information to websites that can identify and link you like the cross-hairs in a sniper’s gun.

If you value your folk and your possessions, keep it private. Think carefully about whether it is a good idea to keep the same  username across different websites.

Be sociable but always be smart.

E.U. “Cookie Law” changed at 11th Hour: Wolves to be protected from sheep.

9 Jun

BBC Radio 4 News ran an excellent interview on Friday 8th June with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).The BBC has been quick to monitor business response to the EU “Cookie Law”.

The interview with the ICO’s spokesman was an attempt to discover whether the newly-implemented “Cookie Law” was being obeyed. The Cookie Law demanded that websites seek explicit consent from visitors to their site before that site is allowed to store tracking data about that user. When you consider how many ways cookie data can be stored and used against the interests of the consumer, this is not an unreasonable idea.

But very recently, just prior to the implementation of the law on 26th May 2012, the ICO suddenly added a clause to allow websites to exempt themselves from the law (and the need to ask permission) if something called “implied consent” was given by the visitor. The definition of “implied consent” appears to be that the person continues to use the website.

This is a bit like introducing a seat belt law that says: “Passengers in a car must wear their seat belt or face legal action…with the exception of those passengers who persistently do not wear their seat belt.”

Roadwax dispatched a top reporter to cover the BBC Radio interview. By sitting really close to the radio and turning the volume up, the following information was overheard:

BBC Interviewer: “Has the ICO been monitoring websites to ensure compliance with the new Cookie Law?

Man from ICO: “websites…? You mean internet websites…?”

BBC Interviewer: “Yes. Have you checked to make sure that businesses with websites are complying with the new law?”

Man from ICO: “Do you mean websites run by businesses…?”

BBC Interviewer: “Yes.”

Man from ICO: “Well…I should imagine that they have…I mean, these business people are jolly good sorts, mostly.”

BBC Interviewer: “Have you monitored the situation – yes or no?”

Man from ICO: “Well…it is still very early days. I mean, you can’t rush these things. It is all terribly complicated.”

BBC Interviewer: “So, you haven’t actually done anything to monitor the situation.”

Man from ICO: “Oh, well, I wouldn’t say that exactly. I mean, we sent someone down the shop to buy a pen…”

BBC Interviewer: “A pen…? How does that constitute monitoring for compliance…?”

Man from ICO: “Well…it pays to write things down, you know. We thought buying a pen might be a good start.”

BBC Interviewer: “Well, we at the BBC have been monitoring the situation.”

Man from ICO: “Gosh…! How frightfully clever! How did you do that?”

BBC Interviewer: “We contacted businesses and asked them whether they were complying.”

Man from ICO: “Yikes..! That all sounds thoroughly like a Sherlock Holmes story. How exciting!”

BBC Interviewer: “We discovered that a lot of businesses have not complied.”

Man from ICO: “No…! Really..? Gosh…! Well, bless my Aunt Betty. Really…?”

…and so it went on…and on…and on…

Facebook “advised analysts to cut (valuation) forecast before float”.

23 May

Facebook…A Place For Feds

The Press Agency Reuters claims that Facebook told selected business analysts to reduce revenue and earnings forecasts for their stock flotation while it pursued it’s marketing campaign to raise it’s share price.

You can read the full Reuters article here.

It is unclear at present which market analysts were contacted with the new downward-revised forecast by Facebook and which were not but it is apparent at present that public investors may not have been contacted, nor were privy to the revised forecast.

Facebook shares have already dived 8.9% since launch, wiping more than $19,000,000,000 of market capitalization from the original $38/share initial offering.

It appears that private investors (the many ordinary members of the public who may have bought shares) were not informed by Facebook of this new, reduced estimate of the true share valuation prior to flotation.

On the contrary, Facebook was busy plowing ahead with it’s intense publicity campaign, actually talking the share price up while Morgan Stanley and other select analysts were being told the real news.

Since the legality of such behavior is currently under scrutiny, and since Facebook’s revised (downward) estimate of it’s true value are linked to the discovery that the market for future revenue was incorrectly analyzed by Facebook, this may mark the high-water point in Facebook’s place in the history of contemporary Social Media.

It has always been my personal contention that Mark Zuckerberg wished to float Facebook partly to escape impending legal culpability for law-suits brought about by Class Actions; his position at the top of Facebook left him personally exposed to truly massive personal financial loss and even prison sentences while he stayed in control.

My estimate is that Facebook will now lose share value at a rate of 30% over the next 12 month period, caused by aquisition of unstable Start-Ups, Supreme Court litigation and migration of its users to other sites.

My estimate is that Facebook will be as insignificant a player in the Social Networking sector as MySpace by 2015.

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