Mathew Lowry

Another attempt to dash off a post without making it an epic, based on whatever’s in my Inbox/ToDo. This time: Facebook, Twitter: are these the unavoidable tools for the future of European democracy? (pdf*, 9 pages + annexes), by Pauline Desmarest, Internet Communication Manager for the Robert Schuman Foundation, and presumably @Fondation Schuman

(* Yep, it’s about Web2 and social media, and it’s only available in pdf. Don’t bother going to the site to leave a comment, because you can’t. So much for Web2.
Update: See below.)

It’s easy to be picky, so I’ll do my best not to note all the minor inaccuracies and commonplaces presented as key insights. Maybe there’s someone still living in a cave who didn’t know that “social norms are changing“, true for at least the past 2-3 centuries.

Is Twitter and Facebook all there is?

The omissions are more striking. It seems odd that the accreditation of bloggers to the European Council is not worthy of mentioning, despite being the clearest evidence yet that the tectonic forces rearranging the relationships between government, media and citizens have finally reached Brussels.

But this probably reflects the paper’s apparent underlying assumption that social media is limited to Facebook and Twitter. From the original EN version (now sadly lost – see updates):

“Facebook will not make Europe, but it will be unavoidable for the future of European democracy.”

Blogs are barely mentioned, despite providing the only “long form” social medium where EU issues can be properly discussed. In fact the only blog cited as an example to follow is the Commission’s Waltzing Mathilda, which has seen 5 posts in the past 7 months and publishes comment spam.

[Aside: An excellent example of high quality, blog-based conversations between EU Institution and civil society can be found on Ron Patz’s Schizophrenic Council post. Given the paper’s support for transparency, the omission of in-depth conversations such as these from the paper’s scope is striking, particularly as the author rightly points out that Facebook-based slacktivism is not a replacement for real democracy.]

Even within its frame or reference (Twitter, Facebook), one sees the same lack of discernment between ‘activity’ and ‘result’. The widely derided “Ask your Question” initiative on Facebook, where Herman Van Rompuy was supposed to answer questions on EU policies last Europe Day, is seen as something the European institutions should do in the future. Take a look at the disappointment and skepticism in the comments. I wonder whether the author did.

Plagiarism or flattery?

But most of all, I get an eery feeling of deja vu.

This has all been said before, mainly by various BloggingPortal editors, with the most obvious source being lacomeuropeenne. Despite voluminous citations from official papers from the EU Institutions, however, none were cited.

I believe at least one other blogger will post soon with some examples – here are some from my own blog:

EU politicians and professionals must have simple arguments to hand to counter preconceived, often false ideas that circulate on the Web

– see just about everything I’ve ever written about how the EU’s web1.0 site – EUROPA – must be built to support a Web2.0 strategy

The idea of involving Internet users is important in order to burst the Brussels “bubble” that is already on the social network…

– Where do I start? How about with The Brussels bubble may be growing, but it’s still a bubble? Or everything I’ve written with the bxlsbbl tag?

Finally, the paper has an entire section on “In support of the creation of an “EU Community ManagerIt would therefore be interesting for this position to exist within European institutions … the term is not used in any job description”

– I first called for this with Vacancy: EU Online Community Manager (June 2009). The relevant tag is ocm (for online community manager).

Let’s be clear: I’m not saying I invented any of these memes. I am saying that there has been a whole bunch of people discussing them for years. It’s odd that none at all were cited. But not that surprising.

UPDATE 1: the plagiarism is on a totally other level at In Le plagiat atteint-il aussi l’espace public européen en ligne ?, Michael Malherbe shows how entire paragraphs from his blog were copied, pasted and only lightly edited by Desmarest. I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s just so incredibly obviously nicked.

UPDATE 2: it’s now in HTML, but still not commentable.

UPDATE 3: References to Michael Malherbe’s work have now been added to the HTML version, following TwitterPressure. It’s now full of how “Michael explains this“, and “Michael explains that“. Sure wish I’d kept that PDF! 😉 Still no mention of my posts discussing this a year earlier, but then she probably had an unpaid French-speaking intern do the Copy/Paste/GoogleTranslate for her, so I won’t be holding my breath or losing any sleep. Shame they didn’t go to Phase #3, though.

UPDATE 4: Thanks to Michael for the pdf (in FR this time), re-inserted above. No idea if there’s the original EN version is still out there somewhere.

UPDATE 5: They have now completely withdrawn the paper from their website. To visit their website now, it’s as if this whole storm in a teacup never happened.

While they have emailed me about this issue, I don’t blog about emails. Simply withdrawing the paper without acknowledging publicly the mistakes they have made is not a good way to restore credibility – it looks like their trying to airbrush the affair from history, and pretend it didn’t happen. That’s not a very good way of reassuring their audience that they have learned anything from the affair. And it’s an excellent way of confirming that they have no idea, as an organisation, about the way the media landscape has evolved.

UPDATE 6: The French blogosphere reacted somewhat oddly to this affair. 27 etc first pointed to other cases of plagiarism by FRS in Plagiat : à la fondation Robert Schuman, on copie-colle plus vite que son ombre ! , but conclude that “Quant aux blogueurs, ils s’offrent une victoire à la Pyrrhus“, and followed up with another post where they publish the apology which FRS are emailing about but don’t seem capable of publishing on their own site. I made a flippant remark about ‘pet bloggers’ on Twitter, which was misplaced given 27etc’s first post, but it does seem a strange thing to do.

Meanwhile, in Plagiat à la Fondation Robert Schuman, la blogosphère dégomme plus vite que son ombre, Fabian Cazenave defends the indefensible, claiming that the FRS were open and that « On aura donc sur internet … très peu de la saine réaction [de FRS] qui a eu lieu après. » Which is simply bullshit – there has been no saine reaction at all – bar getting other bloggers to do their apologising for them. Moreover, I think this post (6 updates and counting) shows that the blogosphere does exactly the opposite of « passés à autre chose, tout simplement«, as he claims.

UPDATE 7: For the sake of completeness and to give credit where it’s due, yesterday (22/6) someone sent me a link to an article on the FRS’ site publicly recognising that their paper “employed a number of analyses taken from the internet without systematically mentioning who the authors were“. The article is dated 30 May – the same day as the offending paper! 😉 This is ridiculous, but probably just a CMS-based publishing error, which (happily) also ensures it never appears on their Home Page.

The article also claims the paper was “was withdrawn from our site immediately“, which is not actually true unless you measure “immediately” in days. Given their paper-based communications mentality, this is probably the case. But still, it’s better than getting external bloggers to publish their apology for them (see Update 6).

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  1. Actually, those who blog take it seriously. The authors of the paper – which was eventually withdrawn completely – were at fault for focusing on Twitter and Facebook. Both are too shallow to tackle – at least by themselves – an issue as complex as the EU.

    This shallowness was reflected in the quality of the “research” done for the paper. I wouldn’t judge the European blogosphere by it – it’s actually pretty healthy, with new blogs appearing frequently (bloggingportal, for example, now tracks well over 830). The paper, by contrast, is dead and buried.

    Thanks for dropping by.

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