By Dr Perri Campbell
I remember well the mix of anxiety and excitement as a little group of Australians huddled around a strange looking box in the press area of the cavernous Chamsil Stadium in Seoul, venue for the closing ceremony of the 1988 Olympic Games. It was the first time that a picture was going to be transferred to an Australian newspaper using a fixed phone line. Fingers crossed, because we were up against deadline, it would work - Warwick Hadfield, journalist and broadcaster.
Now with the swipe of a finger journalists can upload and send images, stories and comments. This new breed of journalists - mobile journalists or ‘Mojos’ for short - are a force to be reckoned with. Mojos "can put together their story in the field, complete with images and sound, and upload it to the web within seconds of it being finished" says Associate Professor Stephen Quinn of Deakin University.
In the age of mojos, viewers of the 2012 London Olympics have come to expect nothing less than minute to minute updates, and live coverage from television networks. But many have been disappointed by NBCs delayed telecast of the Olympics and Twitter's censorship of reporter for the Indepdent - Guy Adams.
In response to NBCs delayed telecast of the Olympic Games opening ceremony Adams tweeted the following comment: 'America's left coast forced to watch Olympic ceremony on SIX HOUR time delay. Disgusting money-grabbing by @NBColympics'. Adams' also tweeted NBC Olympics President Gary Zenkel's email address and advised disgruntled fans to lodge their complaints. Shortly after his Twitter account was suspended. It was initially thought that NBC requested the suspension of Adam's account but it has since been suggested that Twitter 'proactively' identified the offending tweet and implemented the suspension. Adams claimed the email address he tweeted was not a private one and is accessible online. For many this raised the question of why he was censored in the first place.
Debates about journalism, privacy and censorship in the digital age have been reignited by the Adams Twitter controversy.
This story raises a number of issues. For some it was just plain rude to post the email address (where's your netiquette?). For others the problem is NBCs (and other networks) commodification of Olympic viewing. And finally, there are concerns about Twitter’s corporate partnership with NBC, and what this means for Twitter users. As Amy Willis for the Telegraph writes: 'Twitter's handling of the case, especially given its corporate involvement with NBC, raised questions as to the neutrality of the site, having previously insisted the tweets must flow'. Well, perhaps some (approved) tweets will flow.
Our ability to post a story or comment online to an audience of possible millions is a type of freedom distinct to our time. It would be nice to think that we can tweet whatever we like, but is there really such a thing as complete freedom of expression on or offline? It would be naive to think that Twitter operated as a platform for people to communicate any kind of thought/image they like - censorship online is always a factor (self-censorship or external censorship) for the mojo or the common user.
One thing that Twitter offers is a different/digital space in which relationships of power are given shape. In some cases all it takes to censor someone is the click of a button (i.e. minus the violence). Luckily for Adams, he had access to other audiences through the Independent and with the eyes of many on his story it is interesting to know that his Twitter suspension has been lifted.
Dr Perri Campbell is a Research Fellow in the Alfred Deakin Research Institute.