Accountability is the new zeitgeist of cyberspace. Rupert Murdoch is leading the charge that other proprietors will surely follow: to monetise online newspapers. Separately, Lord Mandelson announces government plans to disconnect and potentially criminalise broadband users who use file-sharing to avoid paying for music.
It is no coincidence that at the same time the economic insanity of freesheet newspapers is being curtailed with the imminent closure of thelondonpaper. As I have argued before, such newspapers cannot rightly claim a meaningful circulation. They are merely dumped into the hands of passers-by with no commitment either to purchase or to read the content. Thus their value is diminished for the communicator who wishes to reach a credible audience.
Even more intriguing than the inevitable move towards monetisation of content is the simultaneous shift towards a measure of editorial accountability online. This month has seen the jailing of a Facebook misuser for cyber-bullying and the legally enforced disclosure of the identity of a number of anonymous bloggers. At the same time, Wikepedia has announced it is imposing new editorial controls to curb malicious or accidental inaccuracies. With hundreds of millions of people worldwide making Wikepedia their first port of call for information, its founders have realised it is time to shift away from its ‘embrace the chaos’ formula and create something more dependable.
No-one should lament these changes. More rigorous editorial accountability makes it possible for publicists to better control the message. The stripping of bloggers’ anonymity gives reputation managers the tools to act against comments that are defamatory of brands or individuals. Growing accountability marks the maturing of the new media in which we all increasingly ply our trade. Communicators should celebrate the taming of the cyber frontiers as the medium enters a new age of responsibility.