How sincere is self-described “social news network” Rappler.com in its efforts to reform its ranks? That remains to be seen though, to be fair, it put up a new “Corrections” page where “factual errors and systems infractions” will be listed and, presumably discussed. You wonder though why such a page is even necessary considering that a “news” site that makes liberal use of the word “social” in all of the marketing blurbs it issues copiously to its hipster-wannabe followers would need to dedicate a single page through which its audience can call-out “errors” and “infractions”. Normally every unit of content published by a truly “social” Web presence is subject to the commentary of all who consume it.
You’d think then that a “social news site” like Rappler would have a robust enough mechanism inherent to the very fabric of its operating model to harvest insight and reality checks from its routine interaction with its users.
Then again, this is Rappler. The embattled new-age news outlet is emerging as quite the bastion of philosophical inconsistency. Indeed, it seems that no less than its CEO Maria Ressa herself has become an ironic liability owing to the “arrogant” way she responded to allegations of copyright infringement being thrown at her people by an enraged online community. This was after, among many other cases cited since then, its writers summarily lifted photos from various social media sites and used them in their own published articles. While the propriety of using content published on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook (where profiles are set to “Public”) remains debatable, the main point of contention was in the way a Rappler watermark was embedded in these photos when they appeared on their site.
When asked about these practices, Ressa merely tweeted “Social networks are in public domain, something to keep in mind.”
Rappler has since posted an official statement on these plagiarism allegations on its Facebook page….
Plagiarism is a serious matter that Rappler does not take lightly. We have internal processes to safeguard against it and, in the event these safeguards fail, we have sanctions for those who commit mistakes. Just like other news groups, we have administrative procedures that are in place. These include due process. We are aware of lapses committed by some of our staff whose attention we have called. Rappler has also acknowledged these lapses and has apologized to concerned individuals, even as we have dealt with specific cases in private. While content posted on social media is in the public domain, it does not and should not give people the right to use it as their own. We stand by this principle and continue to measure ourselves by the highest journalism standards.
Well, let’s forget for now the irony of a so-called “social news network” having a dedicated “Corrections” page and focus on how serious the Rappler crew really are about taking on board some constructive feedback. Stepping back a bit, it is easy to see that plagiarism allegations are but a small subset of the banal intellectual dishonesty of Ressa’s team of “thought leaders”. If we recall, the very concept of a “social news network” itself remains lacking in coherent and compelling definition — something Yours Truly cited waayyyy back at inception in January of 2012.
Shortly after that, Ressa was also involved in an online flare-up with columnist and blogger Katrina Stuart-Santiago over the latter’s publishing her opinion about what agendas might be underpinning the interesting timing of the entry of Rappler in the Philippines’ media industry (January 2012, after all, was the beginning of the impeachment trial of former Chief Justice Renato Corona in which Rappler‘s brand of “online journalism” played a key role — more on this later). The pivotal tweet in the exchange came from the elder “journalist”:
@angel_alegre funny @radikalchick never asked me before she wrote and am only a tweet away. Guess that separates the pros…
Pressed by Stuart-Santiago on what exactly the elder “journalist” should have been “asked”, Ressa responded with a sledgehammer:
@radikalchick [a.k.a. Katrina Stuart-Santiago] Ask for an intvw – before making libelous charges based on assumptions alone. Wouldn’t publish without it.
Even back then, Ressa had already exhibited that same arrogance many supposedly cluey netizens are noticing only now. Indeed, worse than this arrogance is in the way Rappler management remains silent on (and presumably tolerant of) the way its reporters Magtanggol de la Cruz and Carmela Fonbuena committed possible offenses against Philippine bank secrecy law by revealing details of Corona’s financial holdings with PS Bank during his trial. Ironic, considering the supposedly wise words of Chief “Thought Leader” herself…
Because corrupt people don’t think they’re corrupt. Just like evil people don’t think they’re evil. How do you get to become corrupt or evil? You take one small step across a line.
Take responsibility for what you say and what you do. Will you act this way if everyone can see what you’re doing? Statements like ‘only following orders’ or ‘everyone else is doing it’ abdicates responsibility. Remember, how you behave is completely under your control.
Finally, what is the big idea behind Rappler’s so-called “Social Media for Social Change Chat Series” which over much of 2012 saw its “reporters” galivanting around the country in what appears to be some sort of “thought leadership” roadshow? As I recall there were two things particularly interesting about this engineered media circus. One was how a “news” reporting organisation like Rappler had busied itslef over this time creating its own news. To be sure, each of these “chat” legs done at a major Philippine city was headlined by Rappler on prime locations on its site and tweeted incessantly by its cadre of “reporters” and “thought leaders”. Second was how the whole thing was orchestrated through the graces of sponsorship by Smart Communications. Corporate sponsorship. There’s nothing that casts doubt on a media organisation’s credibitlity more than it being in bed with Big Business.
So now that Rappler.com has a “Corrections” page where “factual errors and systems infractions” can be raised by its users, perhaps we can now expect that Ressa and her top honchos can be a bit more forthcoming when it comes to lending a bit of clarity around some of these affronts to its own grassroots-as-business-driver philosophy by netizens who dare to ask. On the matter of their plagiarism, Ressa has issued the following apology in response to comments posted on this new feedback facility…
My apologies if [the tweet] came across as arrogance. It was plain tiredness and carelessness. I was travelling from NY to Manila, and when I landed in Narita and Manila, I saw a series of irate tweets, some of which were name-calling Rappler. I could’ve responded better.
“Could have”, sure. As to whether you will in the future, Ms Ressa, remains to be seen. It might take some time before God’s Gift to Journalism comes down from Mount Olympus to engage us socially.
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