You can’t have missed the recent coverage of the housing and governance crisis in Attawapiskat. The story certainly captured my attention. I’ve been watching news of the situation travel over the Internet.
Social media played a key role in the coverage of this story. What particularly interests me is that the quality of some material published about Attawapiskat through social media is as good as or better than high quality legal information available through traditional legal publishing channels. And this caused me to consider again: what is the role of social media in legal publishing?
I first became aware of the dire situation in Attawapiskat through a Facebook post. One of my friends posted a link to a Huffington Post story “What if they declared an emergency and no one came?” The Attawapiskat First Nation had declared a state of emergency because they did not have enough suitable housing for the coming winter, but three weeks after the declaration, government response had been minimal.
I was dismayed (but not surprised) to find little coverage of the story in my usual news sources. But before long, comments and links started popping up in my Twitter feed. The story was indeed gaining traction. Many tweets linked to the original Huffington Post story.
But one tweet directed me to a blog by âpihtawikosisân. She had written an outstanding post entitled “Dealing with Comments about Attawapiskat”. She set out detailed information about history, context, process, and band finances. She linked to source documents. Apart from the importance and timeliness of the content, it was an effort that warmed my legal publisher’s heart: she provided an excellent synthesis of the topic and supported it with primary authority. She took exceptionally difficult material and made it understandable.
When I first read the post, a few comments had been made. But then the post went viral. I was not the only one who tweeted and linked. In the two weeks after posting, over 1000 comments were made on the primary post, and many other comments were made elsewhere on the site.
âpihtawikosisân moderated the comments, removing any hateful ranting. Many posters noted that it had become too painful to read the comment sections of the national newspapers because the posts were so vitriolic. Many appreciative and thoughtful comments were made; many deepened my understanding of the lives and challenges of First Nations people.
A couple of familiar names popped up in the comments thread. Joseph Boyden (the Giller-award winning author), and Justice Murray Sinclair (chairman of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission for victims of residential schools) both posted supportive comments.
Meanwhile, the government appointed a third-party manager for Attawapiskat. Back here on Slaw, Michael Posluns set out some good information about his perspective on third party management. I was very satisfied to see that I had connected these two posters.
The interest in this blog was exceptional given that, as far as I could tell, the author had no previous profile. She had plenty of knowledge and excellent writing and analysis skills, though. Who is this mystery blogger? Her name is Chelsea Vowel; she is Métis, originally from Alberta and now living in Montreal. She obtained her LL.B. from the University of Alberta, and is now working on her civil law qualifications.
She followed up her initial posts with interesting information about the experience of having a post go viral, and then further discussion of First Nations finances and Indian status generally.
My point is not only to compliment âpihtawikosisân for her good work. I wonder whether legal publishers have a role in supporting efforts like this. Obviously quality information could have a tremendous value for the legal profession.
Is there a place in the world of legal publishing for organized or systematic blogging (such as that found on the Courthouse Libraries BC site)? Or should we be directing lawyers to other great sources of information on the web as part of a curation or aggregation service? Is the blogosphere another place to find great authors? Or should we just get out of the way?
I’m still pondering these questions. I am certain, though, that paying close attention to your Twitter feed can lead you to pure gold.
The story continues to unfold in Attawapiskat and obviously the primary issues there have little to do with legal publishing. I hope readers of this column will take the time to read and reflect on âpihtawikosisân’s blog; she has many things to tell us.