A polite letter about online accuracy

I rarely feel the urge to submit a letter to a newspaper, thus inadvertently supporting a trend that sees women write in far less frequently than men.

But here’s what I’d write in response to Joan Smith’s piece in the Independent on Sunday about the dangers of the web. I tried to post a similar point online but LiveJournal, which powers the Indy’s online comment system, didn’t allow it for some reason.

I probably won’t send it. Mainly because it would frustrate me to see it without the links.

Joan Smith complains that ‘[online] posts that politely take issue with a published article are hugely outnumbered by snarling invective, much of it based on incorrect assumptions and careless misreading of the original text’.

Yet an example in her column the ‘Unsociable truth behind social networks’ (IoS September 6) undermines her argument.

She refers to an incident in which Lisa Greenwood, a civil servant, was sacked after she ‘used her work email account to post [an attack on Hazel Blears] on an internet forum’.

This is factually wrong. Presumably Smith has read the Telegraph’s, or the Mail’s, or the Mirror’s inaccurate versions of events, which remain largely uncorrected online.

In fact, Lisa Greenwood sent a private email directed at Blears from her work account via the MP’s website. The Telegraph also incorrectly made a reference – now removed – to MySociety’s TheyWorkForYou.com, the site via which Greenwood located Blears’s website and contact page, not where she posted her message.

The Guardian’s technology editor, Charles Arthur, followed the story up, after MySociety founder and director Tom Steinberg clarified the situation on the organisation’s public email list. Correct accounts then appeared on the BBC and the Guardian sites.

The irony is this: the inaccuracy repeated by Smith occurred as a result of stubborn mainstream journalism habits. Why don’t the newspapers correct the copy? Responsibility isn’t always taken by named and supposedly accountable writers either.

Judith Townend



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