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Coe Abstract

Global Institute for Freedom and Awareness

Collaborative Research on Institutional Dynamics in Open Societies

A Seismic Shift? An Evaluation of the Impact of New Media on Perceptions of Freedom of Expression and Privacy

Peter Coe, Lecturer in Law, Aston University

New media platforms have changed the media landscape forever, as they have altered our perceptions of the limits of communication, and reception of information. Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp enable individuals to circumvent the traditional mass media, converging audience and producer to create millions of 'citizen journalists'. This new breed of journalist uses these platforms as a way of, not only receiving news, but of instantaneously, and often spontaneously, expressing opinions and venting and sharing emotions, thoughts and feelings. They are liberated from cultural and physical restraints, such as time, space and location, and they are not constrained by factors that impact upon the traditional media, such as editorial control, owner or political bias or the pressures of generating commercial revenue. A consequence of the way in which these platforms have become ingrained within our social culture is that habits, conventions and social norms, that were once informal and transitory manifestations of social life, are now infused within their use. What were casual and ephemeral actions and/or acts of expression, such as conversing with friends or colleagues or swapping/displaying pictures, or exchanging thoughts that were once kept private, or maybe shared with a select few, have now become formalised and potentially permanent, on view for the world to see.

Incidentally, 'traditional' journalists and media outlets are also utilising new media, as it allows them to react, and disseminate news, instantaneously, within a hyper-competitive marketplace. However, in a world where we are saturated, not only by citizen journalists, but by traditional media outlets, offering access to news and opinion twenty-four hours a day, via multiple new media platforms, there is increased pressure to 'break' news fast and first.

This paper will argue that new media, and the culture and environment it has created, for citizen journalists, traditional journalists and the media generally, has altered our perceptions of the limits and boundaries of freedom of expression dramatically, and that the corollary to this seismic shift is the impact on the notion of privacy and private life. Consequently, this paper will examine what a reasonable expectation of privacy may now mean, in a new media world.