BBC and Guardian respond regarding editing the Paul Chambers Twitter joke trial tweet

I yesterday reported on the BBC mis-quoting the Paul Chambers ‘Twitter joke trial’ tweet. The organisation edited the tweet, drastically changing its context, and turning a gooky if perhaps ill-considered social media message into one that resembled whatever it is the CPS presumably thinks Chambers meant.

The BBC’s version:

Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit… otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!

The original:

Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!

The changes in bold:

Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!

As far as I can tell, the BBC article was subsequently edited at least twice, and, oddly, the tweet is still incorrect, omitting ‘and a bit’. Not good. The Guardian also messed up in a similar fashion in its latest article on the case. Along with writing my blog post, I mentioned the Guardian error on Twitter, copying in the Guardian account and that of its writer, and I filed a complaint with the BBC. The replies I got were interesting.

First, the Guardian. Writer Martin Wainwright (@mswainwright) took the time to write to many people who contacted him, apologised and said he’d simply gotten too busy. He then, amusingly, retweeted the entire tweet before the edited article went live. (Let’s hope the CPS wasn’t watching, eh?) He also sent me the following message:

Thanks ever so. I’ve had a curious day today: student bins, transit of venus, weather (twice), Ibsen’s Doll’s House, the Tweet, sheep racing in Barnsley and the poor Heathcliff actor. This is an explanation, not an excuse I hasten to add, tho’ one intrsesting thing is that the Northerner (my main love these days) gets you very used to corrections and comments in the thread and maybe I’ve eased off a bit knowing how many pleasant people there are who put me right kindly. Or it’s just age (62).  Anyway, sorry this isn’t a proper Tweet at all but thanks v much & to others who may come across this.

In short, then: writer in a hurry; makes an error; gets corrected; makes corrections; apologises. Note that the article’s headline was also amended, as was some of the copy, to make the former less accusatory and the latter more accurate. All good.

So, the BBC. My complaint stated that the edit was not in anyone’s interests, introduces bias, and changes the tweet’s meaning and context. I suggested that either the article should have stated the tweet was edited, included it in full, or included ‘censored’ profanity (i.e. Cr*p!), and noted that in the text. Here’s the reply I received from Laura Ellis, Head of New Media, BBC English Regions:

Initially we omitted the sections of Mr Chambers’ tweet that we thought may cause offence because they contain swear words.

I do not believe this fundamentally alters the sense of the tweet that he posted, however, we have since reconsidered and in the interest of absolute clarity we have included the full tweet.

Some quick points. First, if an entire case hinges on the meaning infused within 140 characters of text, it does everyone a disservice to change those 140 characters in any way, regardless of the ‘offence’ they could cause. Frankly, one might argue images of broken, battered, bloodied bodies in warzones might cause offence, but the BBC has shown plenty of those in the past, because it’s in the interests of the story. So mild profanity is no excuse, especially when it changes the context of the tweet. (Clearly, Laura disagreed, and also ignored my point about how the BBC could have gotten around the problem via cunning use of asterisks.)

This entire event also throws into light questions surrounding integrity and reporting in general. Journalists are too busy these days, which can lead to errors. And in some cases corrections will be made, despite, apparently, some organisations not initially thinking such things necessary. Even in the best-case scenario for corrections—i.e. what happened with the Guardian—there’s still the likelihood that information has been picked up by other sources and spread around the web. I’m not sure what the solution is, but I sure hope the industry finds one soon.

(Should you wish to donate to the trial fund for Paul Chambers, you can do so here.)

May 29, 2012. Read more in: News, Technology


If others know more about us, we know more about them

From a Guardian article on Twitter Joke Trial:

The utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer says we should welcome the exponential increase in the possibilities for surveillance. If others know more about us, we know more about them. We will move to a free and open society. We will be less ashamed of our secrets and less censorious of our neighbours. Disclosure will bring the greatest happiness to the greatest number.

That or people will tend to lie even more than they do now.

February 13, 2012. Read more in: News

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Is Apple’s Siri feature anti-abortion?

Articles on MobileBeat and Amadi Talks have sparked an online row that Siri—and by extension Apple—is anti-abortion. This is on the basis that Siri does not respond successfully to questions about abortion clinics or abortion itself. If this really is the case, then Apple’s position here is at odds with its relatively liberal stance. Apple employees took part in pro-LGBT It Gets Better, for example, and it’s to participate in World Aids Day (The Loop); a blanket ban on pornography through the App Store is the only outright ‘moral’ clampdown I can think of.

There are also some things to bear in mind before attempting to rip Apple’s board a new arsehole over this issue (or, if you’re anti-abortion yourself, congratulating the company):

  1. Siri is still in beta. The software is full of holes. If you’re outside of the USA, you cannot even search for any businesses. Even in the USA, it’s full of bugs and often misinterprets input.
  2. Siri isn’t intelligent. Arguments about Siri being anti-abortion and misogynistic appear to have some credence when you’re mindful that it can reportedly infer someone’s demands to go to a strip club, and yet it ignores abortion terms. But Siri’s about one step up from a 1985 Infocom text adventure. The lack of understanding about abortion could easily be a hole in the feature’s ‘understanding’, or something that hasn’t been added, or something that a male-oriented team didn’t realise was important enough to correctly or fully define.
  3. Siri often uses generic answers. One comment I’ve seen is that Siri answers “I just am” if you ask: Why are you anti-abortion? This isn’t confirmation about anything, given that Siri offers the same answer if you say: Why are you a penguin?
  4. You can send Apple feedback. If you believe Apple’s in the wrong and doubt any of the possible reasoning I’ve offered (or simply want to ensure Siri is updated accordingly), visit the Apple website and offer some constructive feedback.

If Siri comes out of beta and it’s clear Siri’s still treating the term ‘abortion’ as a business (as it currently does when you ask “What is abortion?”, although “Define abortion” brings up a short description via Wolfram Alpha) and essentially blocking results to centres and institutions that Google and Bing offer, fair enough: there’s clearly something very wrong at Cupertino. For now, though, I’d argue Amadi Talks offers a perfectly sensible perspective on the issue:

Is this the most terrible programming failure ever? No. Is this worth a boycott of Apple? I don’t think so. What it is, however, is a demonstration of a problem. Especially when certain topics seem to be behind a black wall where information that’s readily available online is not being “found” or presented. This is something that Apple and/or Wolfram Alpha need to address and rectify.

In other words, don’t go crazy just yet, but this is something Apple needs to address.

November 30, 2011. Read more in: Apple, News, Technology

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Has Samsung really overtaken Apple in the smartphone market?

Kenny Hemphill for MacUser:

There’s been a great deal written over the last few days about Samsung apparently overtaking Apple to become the world’s biggest smartphone handset manufacturer by sales volume. But is it really true?

Spoiler: probably not.

October 31, 2011. Read more in: Apple, News, Technology

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An explanation of what happened to Apple (AAPL) shares this week

Apple: We’re going to make $LOTS!

Analysts: We predict Apple is going to make $UNICORN!

Apple: Uh…


Time passes…


Apple: We made $LOTS plus!



Very little time passes…


AAPL down over five per cent.


So, Apple is making money hand over fist, and bettered its own guidance, but it fell short of whatever figure analysts dreamed up (MG Siegler provides insight into the main error analysts made), and so Apple’s results are disappointing and its shares have been hit. In case you’re wondering, here’s what disappointment looks like in the world of Apple financials:

  • Quarterly revenue of $28.27 billion (up from $20.34 last year)
  • Quarterly net profit of $6.62 billion (up from $4.31 billion last year)
  • Gross margin was 40.3 percent (up from 36.9)
  • 17.07 million iPhones sold (21 per cent unit increase)
  • 11.12 million iPads sold (166 per cent unit increase)
  • 4.89 million Macs sold (26 per cent unit increase)
  • 6.62 million iPods (27 per cent unit decline)

So, bar the iPod’s inevitable decline (although with half the iPods sold now being the more expensive iPod touch, unit sales aren’t as important as income in that sector), Apple’s doing quite well, unless you’re say, a numbskull analyst or tech hack who believes the words and figures coming from analysts rather than the actual figures.

Meanwhile, in what’s, surprisingly, not another reality altogether, Yahoo! managed to announce a 26 per cent fall in earnings and watch its shares rise, because the fall wasn’t as bad as investors had feared.

In conclusion:

  • Be hugely successful but not as successful as idiot analysts think you might be, with little justification for their idiot figures: SHARES GO BOOM!
  • Be a crap, directionless company without focus, but don’t screw up quite as much as people think you will: SHARES GO FWEEEEE!

*96 headdesks*

October 20, 2011. Read more in: Apple, News, Opinions, Technology


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