After writing a piece that looks at the broken legal system in regards to social media and subpoenas recently, I got a great response from Emily Bell, director of the Tow Digital Center at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. I’ve updated the piece to reflect her thoughts, but also wanted to share her full reaction here. She addresses the increasing challenges of protecting sources and journalistic work in a networked environment:

“I think that evidently Twitter has behaved as honorably as it can in the circumstances, but its reactions are those of the existing management in a specific set of circumstances – there is no set of standards or codes which oblige Twitter to behave as well as it did. What has to be troubling in all of these instances is how things could be different if circumstances or ownership changed. there is already so much data on those systems, and how many people really understand that they don’t own that material?

I would imagine that after Wikileaks, investigative journalists would keep most if not all of their interactions away from social media platforms, if they hadn’t already. These are not secure, and never will be, as they are governed by commercial rules and, in some cases, shareholders whose primary interest is not journalistic.

One of the more problematic areas is that of course in the future potential whistleblowers are unlikely to be versed in data security and the policies of individual networks as some journalists, and treat private systems for messaging as just that, without realising that their data might be given up quite easily.

In thinking about the future of the press, it is important to think how we can protect sources and this kind of communication in a digital and networked environment. It is important that the future free press also allows participants some kind of control over their identity and data – I guess that is the huge challenge for journalism in an age when tools wil increasingly be distributed.”


4 thoughts on “Emily Bell on Protecting Sources in a Networked Journalism Environment”

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