Kiwi newspaper ‘discovers’ Facebook photos: “Ethics? What dilemma?”

Sunday News this week uncovered photos on 32-year-old [Carmen] Thomas’s Facebook page showing her playfully pecking the cheek of All Blacks midfield sensation Ma’a Nonu and embracing wing Anthony Tuitavake.

[Bunting, 25 July, Sunday News]

Gosh, I’m absolutely stunned with awe; marvelling at the forensic abilities of the Sunday News. How devastatingly newsworthy…the paper’s found out that a missing woman has been seen in a bar with two footballers.

Stunning stuff, let’s hope the police are as astute as Sunday News and are right now questioning the two players. They may know something about Carmen Thomas’ disappearance.

The headline suggest this momentous event has just happened and Carmen hasn’t been seen for about three weeks:

Missing mum poses with All Blacks

And isn’t it fantastic that there’s been a sighting of her, after all her anxious friends, her employer, her mother  and her child are beside themselves with worry.

“Oh, what’s that?” Hang on, check the details…Why? What’s wrong with this picture?

It’s not known when or where the photos were taken but the social networking site has recorded them as being uploaded on September 22, 2008.

Fuck me, the photos are nearly two years old.

Why is this newsworthy? Why is this in the paper?

Oh yeah, right, the All Blacks’ connection. We get to this point a few pars into the non-story. In an attempt to ‘keep it real’ the reporter valiantly attempts to link the All Blacks to the police investigation:

Investigation head, Mark Benefield, was reluctant to comment on Thomas’ online photos but confirmed police were “aware” of them, and that “there are several photographs of her on it [Facebook] in the company of people from all walks of life”.

“As far as we know at this stage of the investigation, there is nothing sinister in any of the photographs posted by Carmen on her pages,” Benefield said. The acting detective inspector wouldn’t say whether police had contacted the rugby stars.

Finbarr, mate, you are flogging a dead horse here. You’ve squeezed all the juice out of this particular lemon and there’s no more blood in this stone.

If I was Benefield I’d be reluctant too; knowing that whatever I said was going to be quoted at length in a cheesey hole-filler, arm-wrestled into the raggiest rag in the land.

What a tasteless, low-rent and ultimately meaningless bit of reporting.

And what investigative skills.

The Facebook photos are only visible to Thomas’ friends and their friends.

Not any more they’re not. Thanks to Sunday News we can all perv at them.

I’ve written before about gratuitous invasions of Facebook privacy by gawking media vultures. This is a classic case of reducing a person to the sum of their parts. I have no doubt that if there had been any ‘racier’ images, the Sunday News would have had no qualms about publishing them.

And let’s be clear, every newspaper in the country would do it too.

This is a wild-west frontier in journalism ethics and at the moment everyone’s behaving like a drunken cowboy in a saloon.

It’s not good enough. It is time for news organisations to establish some ethical and fair use guidelines around the plundering of Facebook for images and story leads.

There are legitimate reasons why journalists should be using social media tools to enhance their reporting; but sitting on your arse in the office downloading what is really someone else’s private property is not one of them. There are copyright issues here – is it stealing?

And of course it would seem that these egregious breaches of privacy can be overlooked because all you’re doing is exploiting some other numbnuck’s inability to operate the complex technical settings on Facebook.

Let’s be clear: what you’re doing is not journalism.

There is no pubic interest in publishing two-year old photos of Carmen Thomas with a couple of footy players; all it does is satisfy the ego of a couple of hacks without conscience.

It makes me sick.

The reporter doesn’t say how he got access to Ms Thomas’ private photos, but I guess it doesn’t matter does it. Whatever privacy settings you have on your Facebook page, to the news media goon squad it’s all public property and access is just a click away.

After all, if you’re too stupid to stop us, too fucken bad, we’re coming; guns blazing and whiskey-stained breath on your neck.

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