Week 9 - Janice, karen, Vanessa and Yannie

Top News of the week: The Sarkozy's rumor

Within social networks on the Internet, every one of us enjoys freedom of speech in order to establish interpersonal relationships or spread news in the community. The news of the rumor about the French President Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni, is well spread on Twitter recently. The rumor has never been supported by any proof or even paparazzo pictures, so this “news” did not gain much credibility among Twitterers until a professional journalist of a French website, Baron, repeated the news on twitter. In this case, the story discusses not only about if information on the Internet, which a communication medium is not strictly regulated by laws in most of the countries, is always true and credible, but also different obligations when each person is carrying when performing in distinct “social contracts”.

It is not a surprising phenomenon that Internet users have become skeptical when receiving messages since there are numerous pieces of false news and even fraud circulated on the Internet and among various social networks. Particularly when the news relate to well-known social and political figures, as well as celebrities in the showbiz, people have already been trained to take those “news” as rumors, which are supported with the same or more dramatic forwarded messages but without any verification. Yet, when pieces of information are spread by a professional journalist or an expertise in the media industry, they will immediately gain credibility in the community with no doubts or challenges.

The possible risk therefore hides in the identity of professionalism. Since professional journalists in the modern world receive a pretty high social status from the public with respect and reliance, reports from them are seldom challenged with further evidence or investigation by the public in order to verify the authenticity and accuracy of the news. It is lucky that the story in this case relates to the Sarkozy’s. To the worst circumstance, it also influences the reputation of the French government and its international image. Yet, if professional reporters utilize their identities and deliberately abet or incite the public to rebel or act against governments or any opposing political parties, social disputes or chaos would likely be aroused. It is ridiculous that the speculation about the President Sarkozy and his wife has not only appeared on Twitter, but also on a tabloid from Europe to Asia. Newspapers, a more credible medium compared with other media like the Internet or TV, unbelievably repeated the same hearsay without proving its accuracy. Hence, the hypothesis above is possible.

To Baron, the news she retwittered (repeated in the Twitter language) could just be a kind of joke and a chit-chat with her friends. Yet, she admitted that this was a lesson teaching every single individual that we should “respect the rules of journalism, wherever you are writing”. Baron’s speech demonstrated that we, as authors or even citizen journalists, should bear the responsibility when enjoying freedom of speech, and as audiences, we should be critical and skeptical enough when receiving messages from any communication platforms. Still, there is more to discuss, what if Baron did not use her real identity of a professional journalist when retwittering the Sarkozy’s rumors? If she had masked herself in another Twitter account that people cannot recognize her journalist identity when posting the speculation, the hearsay would not have gained much credibility and the tabloid mentioned above would never include the “news”.

In England, a similar rumor can become sort of libel and it is bounded by laws which can be applied with equal force to all forms of media, suggested by Mark Stephens, a leading London libel lawyer. Still, there is no such a law in France, so Baron, other Twitterers who helped spread the hearsay and the tabloid cannot be sued anyway. Yet, if there are similar cases over Twitter of which is an international social network, libels from one person of a country against another individual of another nation, could possibly be brought into lawsuits. Controversies on these matters will therefore likely be seen. Before infringement is made upon social stability, harmony and peace, and serious psychological harm is made on humans, some fundamental rules regulating the use of media should be outlined and established.

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