Daily Mail backpedal on DLA attack?

On Friday the Daily Mail published a story with a front page headline “DISABLED BENEFIT? JUST FILL IN A FORM”. On Saturday, a story by the same author appeared inside the paper, this time presenting some of the objections to the first story.

I’m afraid that I remain rather cynical on this. The piece looks to me like a rather hurried climb-down by the same author that wrote the previous story. The tone of the two pieces is completely different; the first one contains many (incorrect) assertions, while the second one simply quotes various objections from charities but asserts nothing. Indeed, the words “claims” and “said” are all over the place in the article including the headline. The article does make an effort to present the correct data about numbers with evidence and amounts claimed but this is still limited to a tiny paragraph more than halfway through. Then look at the prominence given to the two articles – one was a front-page headline and the other was hidden inside the paper.

Ultimately the intention of the writer is betrayed by the choice of final paragraph – a quote from Ian Duncan Smith which again emphasises the lack of checks of permanently disabled recipients of DLA. This emphasis is purely idealogical and in my opinion an absurd stance – checking permanently disabled people so frequently costs a fortune and achieves nothing! My dad isn’t going to re-grow the discs in his spine. Blind people aren’t going to suddenly see. Paralysed people won’t suddenly walk again. Admittedly some people’s health will improve, but for people on DLA that is a rare occurence and could be better served simply by writing to the patients or their GP once a year and asking if their condition has changed.


Bias and negativity in writing

Hated by the Daily MailIt should be quite obvious to all that read my blog that I am a left-wing liberal with socialist tendencies, a deep mistrust of authority and an intense dislike for right-wing views. I make no secret of this; I mention it in my “About” page and I state my views in my articles quite often. My views obviously shape my writing and introduce a bias into what I report. When I comment on actions of the police or on Conservative party policies I am usually negative about them because I disagree with them – this is a natural consequence of writing in a blog, or indeed of my writing at all. I choose what to write about based on what I think is important or on what inspires me, and negative things usually seem more important to me than positive ones. The same thing is obvious in social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Negative statements or reporting of news items seen as negative will always be shared, liked or retweeted more than positive ones. Statements with swearing doubly so.

But is this right? After all, I really hate the Daily Mail for its bias. Nearly every headline that I see in it is something negative about things that I like or seems to me to have missed the point. Daily Mail stories show a clear bias in the opposite direction to that which I would like. They promote views that clash with mine, particularly when written by Melanie Philips, Richard Littlejohn or Quentin Letts. They often miss out facts that would detract from the impact of their stories. Further to that, they pick on people who I talk to and like, and they deliberately twist facts or even make them up to get a good story.

So what is the difference between what I write and what is written in the Daily Mail? I’ve thought about this quite a lot. Is it the format? Is there something inherently different about a blog and a tabloid in paper format? Probably not, since the Mail publish all their stories on their website, currently the second most viewed news website in the English speaking world. Perhaps it is in the size of the readership? I have perhaps two thousand visitors per month, while the Mail’s website has nearly forty million. But surely I have a responsibility to those two thousand people that visit my blog? Is it the expectations of the audience? After all, much of the audience of the Mail are expecting to read news as well as comment, while my audience are expecting comment alone. But what about when people read a news story as part of my comment? The difference narrows, since in both cases the news is presented in a cloud of carefully selected words to shape the bias of the story.

While I have had a blog for a long time and have commented on politics before, I only really started writing in depth less then a year ago. I am still being shaped as a writer. I started out with very intense comment with no effort at all to present a neutral view. More recently I have sometimes tried to make an effort to introduce a little less bias into my writing. That is for two reasons really, firstly because I would really like to inform those with a different point of view to me, and I know that strong visible bias does not help that, and secondly because I don’t want to be like the Daily Mail. Now I hope that I have not sunk to their level of personal attacks and of writing about irrelevant details of a persons life purely to shape a story, but I know that I do direct my anger and I do swear about those that anger me. There is a very fine line, and I would like to stay on the right side of it. It’s a difficult challenge. Writing about the arrests leading up to the royal wedding yesterday, I was conscious that I was angry, and that anger and bias was showing up in my writing and even in the comments I made to introduce each video. My choice of description could shape the whole article and I really wanted to write something that would make people on all sides think, not just people that already agree with me.

So in the end, what is the difference between my blog and a tabloid paper? I think of all the things that I mentioned above, the expectations of the audience has to be the main distinguishing factor. Additionally, I think the experience of the writer has to be taken into account. As I develop my writing skills I hope to be less biased and more factual. I want to appeal to a broader audience and to make people think and I can’t do that if I annoy them. At the same time, I don’t want to lose the attributes of my writing that make people actually want to read it. I’m probably going to retain a negative viewpoint overall, purely because those are the stories that attract my attention. So I’m going to be making an effort both to lose some bias and to keep my writing style, and maybe throw in something positive from time to time. I may fail in one of those things – It’s political correctness gone mad.

All your photos are belong to Facebook

Does Facebook have the right to sell your photos? Worryingly, the answer is probably yes.

The original photo as used by the Daily Mail. ©UCL Occupation

The Daily Mail published a story (The word story is used here in the loosest possible sense.) about Aaron Peters, a student involved in the UCL Occupation and the UK Uncut protests. The second photo in that article, also shown above, was taken by a friend of Aarons and was posted to Flickr, where it is licensed for re-use by others under the Creative Commons “Some rights reserved” license. This would allow anyone to use the photo as long as they attribute the copyright of the photo to “UCL Occupation” or provide a link back to the photo on Flickr, as I have here.

Copyright as shown by the Daily Mail

However, the Daily Mail has actually labelled the picture as ©Facebook. This would imply that they took the photo from Facebook, where it had been uploaded for ease of sharing with friends. It is possible that the Mail simply lifted the photo from Facebook without permission, which would be straightforward copyright violation. However, reading the the Facebook Statement of Rights and Responsibilities gives this information:

2. Sharing Your Content and Information

You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings. In addition:

  1. For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (“IP content”), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (“IP License”). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.

Basically, that boils down to saying that Facebook can give or sell your photo to anyone that they like, for any purpose including commercial use and publication in a national newspaper. The question is, do Facebook have this arrangement with the Daily Mail? Is it the case that the Daily Mail can use any photo that has been uploaded to Facebook? Do they pay per photo or do they have a blanket license agreement?

One thing is certain. I won’t be putting any more photos on Facebook.

—Addendum —

Many people are saying that the license granted to Facebook is subject to your privacy settings. That is not true. The order and the wording used clearly show that the license that you grant to Facebook overrides the preceding statement. Privacy settings such as ‘Friends only’ may have prevented the Daily Mail from seeing the picture at all, but that is not the issue here.

It is a necessary evil to grant a license to Facebook to display your photo, otherwise they could not show it to people viewing Facebook. The problem arrises because the license that Facebook claim is much broader than necessary, granting them a sub-licensable, royalty free use of your photo. That is the wording that allows them to sell your photo and keep the profits.

It might be that the Daily Mail stole the photograph without permission and the ©Facebook is  half hearted attempt to get away with it. It might be that Facebook sold the license to them. Either way, people need to know.