On December 19 near Kings Cross in Sydney a man was detained and threatened with arrest under the Terrorism Act.
How do we know? Not thanks to the mainstream media, but because of Twitter and the blogosphere, including young media workers who are below the radar of most mainstream journalists.
The person who was threatened, new-media-man-about-the-web Nick Holmes a Court, is not the first nor the most vulnerable citizen ever to have alleged police abuse of power. Yet the way this story broke is not only an interesting example of how new media can work faster than some journalists. More important, it shows that in this new world we are not alone any more, even late at night and on the street. We are not only citizens, we are networked citizens, or can choose to be so, and this is a powerful thing.
So what happened? Holmes a Court was near his Potts Point apartment when he saw police apparently conducting a search. He started to film them on his Blackberry, and they responded by threatening him with arrest, seizing his Blackberry, deleting the video and scanning his emails, text messages and contacts.
Initially shocked, Holmes a Court told his extended online network about this experience almost straight away – by posting a message on Twitter, where he writes as @nickhac. If you are on Twitterh and follow nickhac, you can read that Tweet, lodged at 10.42pm on December 19, here.
From here, his story was picked up by his fellows interested in new media. I first heard about it when Ben Grubb, an eighteen year old who runs a web hosting business on the Sunshine Coast, blogged about it here. He followed up with a podcast interview of Holmes a Court. (Today, Grubb is boasting that his coverage of the issue has led to 10,522 unique visitors to his site.)
I knew Grubb slightly, having met him at a Future of Journalism conference in Melbourne a few weeks ago. While middle aged journos like me were winging about our disappearing jobs, he gave us an example of someone acting as a journalist and with a job in new media without ever having been on the payroll of a mainstream organisation. I am not even sure he has left school yet.
I am glad to say they did – not thanks to me necessarily, but simply because they were linked and networked with the places where the story was being discussed. Fellow Twitterer and Courier Mail journalist David Earley was first and fastest. Despite holidays and the like, he did this story, which got on to news.com.au.
The Sydney Morning Herald then did this follow up a day later, written by another young journo with a presence on Facebook, the blogosphere and elsewhere. (Sadly it managed to get Holmes a Court’s name wrong, calling him Nick Hac, which is a version of his Twitter username. Strange, given that his family of origin – yes, those Holmes a Courts – is surely one of the potential news angles.)
Holmes a Court has lodged a formal complaint with police, and doubtless we will hear more – if we Twitter and read blogs.
In his latest comment on Grubb’s site Holmes a Court says:
You are right in many regards, my story is representative of only one side of the event. And I’m sure the officer on the other side of the table would say i was being a jerk. Quite frankly i wasn’t respecting their “authoritah” and probably valued my own civil liberties above them getting the job done. A debatable topic.
I wholly admit – was probably being a bit cheeky when i decided to film them. And to be honest I was deliberately making a point about the rights of the citizens to “police the police”. I didn’t expect the reaction I received though.…
All this has caused me to reflect. I have written elsewhere about other people – neighbours of mine – who allege police abuse of power, and who have been terribly badly treated at the hands of the media.
So much so, in fact, that I have at timeshaad to remind myself of what is good about journalism.
Now I am wondering if my neighbours would have emerged in better shape had they been on Twitter, armed with a mobile phone that also took video, and with a bevy of media-savvy young people among their followers.
In other words, with the ability to get their story out there before the network of professional copy-hungry journos and their too-close-for-comfort police sources get to work.