Hard News by Russell Brown


Get a Clue

The things people say and do on the social internet are now an important source for news reporting. It doesn't matter whether you like it or not: it's a simple fact. Kids talking on Bebo have driven the story of the Augustine Borrell murder for more than a week now. But reporters harvesting online need to make sure they have a clue.

Tony Reid, the One News reporter covering the Zaoui story on Friday clearly did not have a clue.

The text version of the story contains the same elements as the original report. It covers Ahmed Zaoui's "first day of freedom" -- it's Ramadan -- and moves on to this:

But not everyone is jumping for joy. On the internet, there were many blogs expressing their anger at the SIS's decision.

"He should have been turned around at the border. His family will now arrive and all will go on a benefit and live in a state house," one blogger said.

"New Zealand will regret this decision to let this parasite into our country," another commented.

In the report that aired on the 6pm news, the two quotes are excerpted and presented over clearly identifiable screen shots of, first, Kiwiblog, and then a Hard News page on Public Address. Anyone who didn't know better would have gained the impression that the respective bloggers -- ie: David Farrar and myself -- were the authors of the quotes.

Clue One: People who write blogs and people who post comments in subsequent discussions are not the same thing. Both those quotes should have been described as comments by readers of Kiwiblog. As David Farrar points out, letters to the editor of a newspaper are never confused with the paper's own editorials.

Clue Two: The text implicitly attributed to me was not even posted to this site. I was quoting a comment posted to the discussion at Kiwiblog, and identified it as such. The One News report quoted the same comment. Should I therefore attribute the sentiments in question to Television New Zealand?

One News is lucky that David and I are doing no more than registering a modest protest here. A similar slip involving someone else might have wound up in a broadcasting standards complaint or worse. If One News wants to pay me to come and brief its reporters on the use of the internet, I daresay I can find the time. But it's not exactly rocket science.

Meanwhile, geeks are buzzing over an extraordinary leak: six months' worth of internal emails from a company called MediaDefender, running to more than 6000 messages. MediaDefender works for major copyright interests, including the Recording Industry Association of America, providing intelligence on the scale and content of P2P traffic. And, with its black hat on, it creates fake torrent sites and broken torrent files to dissuade and frustrate users.

It appears that one MediaDefender employee created a Gmail account, to which he automatically forwarded all his company email. He then went and signed up to a P2P torrent using that Gmail address and the same password he used for his Gmail. He connected to the forum from an IP address the owners knew was associated with MediaDefender. Shit happened.

This isn't unambiguous. There are, after all, obvious and massive copyright breaches at the centre of this. The leak puts all the company's employees at risk of ill-judged retribution: the emails included spreadsheet attachments that contain personal information.

But the emails are out there now -- available, ironically, as a torrent. They confirm that MediaDefender was in fact carrying out "honeypot" and entrapment activities that it had told journalists it had no part in.

Excerpts in this extensive discussion on Slashdot will doubtless be of interest to MediaDefender clients who want to know what the company really thinks of them. And, basically, the company's entire strategy is now out in the wild -- someone has even helpfully set up a threaded HTML interface to them. It's all incredibly interesting -- unless, of course, you happen to be involved.

And, finally, it'll be interesting to see how the Bush cultists handle this one. In his forthcoming book, former Federal Reserve chairman (and Ayn Rand fanboy) Alan Greenspan slams President Bush for fiscal fecklessness and praises Bill Clinton's understanding of economic policy. The other zinger: "I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil."

PS: As our readers have discovered, Prime TV's page for Weeds has been hacked. I guess it could be some clever marketing subterfge, but if it is, it's lost on me.

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