Pirate Party UK: Liberators of free speech or media stirrers?

In April the High Court ruled that Swedish file-sharing website, The Pirate Bay, must be blocked by UK Internet Service Providers (ISPs). This was a result of heavy lobbying by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) and has meant internet censorship for all of us. If you try accessing the Pirate Bay today all you will get is “Website Blocked”.

To counter this, minor political group, Pirate Party UK (PPUK) launched a proxy server which allowed users to bypass the ISP block of  the Pirate Bay. The new proxy was praised heavily, touting internet freedom for all. However, this proxy was not to be. Over the last few weeks elected members of PPUKs National Executive Committee, along with their head of IT, received letters from lawyers acting for the BPI threatening them with legal action.

Much legal advice and fundraising later PPUK has decided to shut down the Pirate Bay proxy. As a member of the party I find myself stoic to the email I received which read,

“Dear Member, …it is however with a heavy heard that I write to inform you that the proxy server which the Pirate Party UK initially provided in solidarity with other parties in Europe, but later as an anti-censorship resource for UK users, has now been removed and will stay down until either the law is changes or the orders against the ‘Big 6’ ISPs are removed.”

I never agreed with the Pirate Bay proxy and the whole media uproar surrounding the matter has made me embarrassed to be associated with the party. To think PPUK raised thousands fundraising the Pirate Bay proxy issue whilst hundreds of alternative proxies are available elsewhere.

What was the party thinking? Nuts. The party needs to re-consider their arguments and direction. This all starts with the notion of free speech.

Internet Censorship VS Free Speech
One of the biggest events in internet history happened early 2012 when the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) protests took places. This saw major websites, such as Google, blackout their web services and dozens of more companies wrote letters to key members of the US Senate and House of Representatives saying that SOPA posed a serious risk to innovation and job creation, as well as cyber security.

Essentially SOPA would allow copyright holders to challenge the use of their content in any form on the internet. The outcome of which would certainly end file-sharing websites (such as the Pirate Bay) but could also close social networks due to their high use of shared material.

The enforcement of copyright would inevitably lead to the point of censorship. Something which would certainly end the organic growth of the internet, could lead to online policing and the death of social networks. Scary stuff.

SOPA raised some interesting debates which highlighted a linked but distinct difference between internet censorship and free speech. For ISPs to block the Pirate Bay was a matter of internet censorship but not free speech.

According to the Oxford Dictionary:

Free speech [noun] the right to express any opinions without censorship or restraint: it violated the first-amendment guarantee of free speech.

As per this definition I do not believe the blocking of the Pirate Bay poses any risk to our free speech on the internet. It is true that continuous censorship could lead to sites that actively celebrate free speech, such as social networking websites, being blocked but it is an outcome which seems highly unlikely. Not even the BPI has enough power to block sites, such as Facebook, operating in the UK!

PPUK’s first principle in their manifesto states,

“Our society is built upon the sharing of knowledge, ideas and culture. It is furthered by freedom of thought and expression, and protected by the role of law. The Pirate Party exists to ensure the preservation and development of these foundations”.

I know that the Pirate Bay operates by giving users the platform to share files between each other – the majority of which is copyrighted. Anybody who clearly thinks anything other than this has not used P2P file-sharing before. Yes, this material is the outcome of knowledge, ideas and culture but is produced material by large media companies.

The UK is becoming a digital economy and cannot operate at full capacity with material being shared freely – sometimes censorship on the internet is required (although totally ineffective…). Individual users should not be accused of copyright infringement but the platforms which allow sharing should be seriously looked at.

Purchased or Public Domain?
Does a consumer first purchase content or is content made available first in the public domain? This is a chicken or egg argument that industry bodies such as the BPI need to consider seriously. Much content made available in the UK across file sharing websites can be downloaded before the ‘legal’ product hits the shelves. This happens for all sorts of reasons; release timings across different countries or beta versions of software before the full article.

Sharing content is the heart beat of the internet and the BPI needs to consider their marketing tactics rather than accuse file-sharing of the demise of their industry. Have they measured the positive effects of YouTube for artists? Popular artists such as Justin Bieber and Gangnam Style have all come to fame through YouTube.

Social networks helps makes musicians money and can certainly provide fame.

Back to the Proxy

I can understand why PPUK wanted to raise the Pirate Bay proxy; it’s an easy media stunt which provided a massive splash. However, the act also almost killed PPUK of all funds and was essentially pointless as plenty of other proxies already exist on the internet.

Instead PPUK should create lots of little media splashes; commenting on social networking developments and stories that deal with internet privacy. This media hijacking could see PPUKs media coverage to be far more positive and introduce plenty of new members to the party. The public needs to take the party seriously, as technological educators who exist to inform the old boys club of how the digital world works.

This is why when I saw the below confirmation from BPI I smiled.

“BPI has today received signed confirmations from Pirate Party UK executives that they will remove proxy access from their website to the illegal site The Pirate Bay,” they said. “BPI welcomes this development. Provided Pirate Party UK complies with the confirmations, no legal proceedings should be necessary.”

It’s time for PPUK to re-visit their media tactics and get some positive public sentiment on their side.

Relax. We can be offensive again.

It all started in 2010 when a man was found guilty of sending a menacing tweet threatening he was going to blow up Robin Hood Airport. Two years later, thankfully, he was found innocent. The case was the beginning of walking a fine line between what messages on social networks are jokes and which others could be regarded as genuine threats.

The case also raised real concerns over how the transparency of the internet could be threatened by those peering in and not fully understanding the context behind communications. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has now dealt with over 50 cases relating to potential criminal messages posted online. Although how many of these were merely dark jokes and how many others were genuine prosecutable acts? It’s impossible to tell.

Well, fear no more. Today, drunk Twitter and Facebook users who post grossly offensive messages will now be let off the hook if they proudly apologise and delete the offensive messages once they have sobered up. Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions, has been doing the media rounds today has said,

“If a message is taken down very swiftly and there is remorse then it may not be proportionate to have a criminal prosecution. It is not a defence that you have sobered up but it is relevant that whatever the material was, it was taken down pretty quickly when the person realised it was inappropriate.”

To help prosecutors the CPS has developed four initial assessment case guidelines. These should hopefully cease repeat cases, such as the Robin Hood Airport incident. The initial assessment is,

1) Communications which may constitute credible threats of violence

2) Communications which may constitute harassment or stalking

3) Communications which may amount to a breach of a court order

4) Communications which do not fall into any of the above categories and fall to be considered separately i.e. those which may be considered grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or false.

Any offenses falling within the first three categories will see individuals prosecuted under relevant legislations. Any caught with their pants down holding a big point four will see, probably, no prosecution at all.

Exactly how the CPS decide to measure this, let alone understand if a user was actually drunk at the time of posting an offensive message is beyond me. For a start, who decides if an online message is offensive or not? Distinguishing between a joke, satirical view or controversial opinion isn’t always easy.

Mr Starmer may has well just have been honest and have said, “We have no idea what all this social networking business is. So we have decided to make up some silly guidelines that will help make our case workload a little bit more manageable”.

However, without wishing to seem callous, the matter of offensive online messages is an important one. Often labelled as ‘trolling’, it can devastate people’s lives and should be dealt with harshly.


What do you think of the CPS guidelines? Are they fit for purpose?

Ignore your boss. This is where Digital PR is Going.

Your boss may not realise it yet but over the next couple of years the public relations industry is going to face some really serious challenges. In fact, unless your boss is willing to take digital PR seriously then it may be time to switch to an agency who have decided to secure their future.

Clients are talking about digital, are you going to offer them digital solutions?

The ratio between public relations professionals and journalists is becoming unbalanced. With roughly 60,000 PRs working in the UK against a mere 50,000 journalists (Can’t find the reference for this but the ratio is roughly true), traditional media engagement is getting tougher. Journalists are going to face increased time pressure to file their stories and PR Professionals are going to find it harder to have their story heard.

Only a couple of weeks ago did I speak with a journalist concerning a client story, only to be told that it was interesting but couldn’t be covered due to a lack of reporters and a full publication.

Physical publications are thinning and some amateur outlets, such as blogs, are commanding equal or better visitor figures. Just look at our industry’s rag, PR Week, each month featuring slightly fewer pages. Any existing pages are then taken up by advertising. This is a trend occurring across publications of all genres.

Physical content is becoming secondary to online. Newspapers and magazines won’t die completely but instead a balance will be met with online content.

Increase competition with press relations requires PR Professionals to instead focus on digital strategies. Your boss may not be happy about this. By offering yourself up as a digital genie you may be treading on the toes of past experience and safety.

By the way, if you are looking for safety then the PR industry is not for you. Most agency ships are sinking through safety. Embrace digital or jump ship.

I’ll admit, some of social is a jargonised mess; social activity could be classed as “buzz” or “establishing thought-leadership” but most clients will expect more. The public relations industries biggest competitor is advertising and, as I have said before, this industry has cracked it. They have established their own online measurements and can directly provide clients with sales.

Some agencies have realised the importance of measurement and have established (or are on the way to establish) their own processes. Other agencies will get left behind in the digital measurement scramble. Whether you believe it or not; public relations is now required to impact sales. In my belief this has always been the case, it doesn’t devalue the rest of PRs’ offerings but it will become a growing requirement in this tough economic climate.

The future of PR is now totally dependent on how we decide to measure our online activities. Surviving the ever-changing media landscape is key for PR professionals and, as I have indicated in this post, media evolution goes far beyond social media but instead looks at the meaning behind our activities.

Now, are you ready to tell your boss this?

2013 PR Graduate Schemes

If you haven’t seen it already pop over to Social Web Thing where Ben Cotton has published a list of 2013 PR Graduate Schemes. This annual post always serves Ben’s blog well and in true blogger comradery I have re-published his post below.

If you are a budding future communicator or digital whizz kid then keep Social Web Thing blog added to your list of favourites.




Blue Rubicon
Closes: 26 January 2013

Does not run a PR graduate scheme, but is open for internships all year round, many of which lead to permanent positions.

Chime Comms
Closes: 11 January 2013

Closes: 31 January 2013

Please note Edelman now run an apprenticeship scheme which welcomes applicants from all backgrounds; both graduates and non-graduates
Closes: 31 January 2013

Fishburn Hedges
Closes: 21 December 2012 or 28 January 2013 depending on start date.

Closes:15 February 2013

Four Communications 
Closes: 1 February 2013

Hill+Knowlton Strategies 

Hotwire Group
Closes: 28 January 2013

Ketchum Pleon
Closes: 19 April 2013

Opens: December 2012

MHP Communications
Closes: 7 January 2013

Octopus Group

Weber Shandwick
Closes: 18 January 2013


Please feel free to publish the list anywhere. But if you do, please link back to Social Web Thing with the anchor text ‘PR Graduate Schemes’. This is for SEO purposes as people are searching for that phrase and it’ll help drive some more traffic to the blog.