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

July 25, 2010

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.


“Sorry” is indeed the hardest word: Facebook faux pas leads to apology

March 6, 2009

A number of British news organisations have been forced to apologise and pay damages to a woman after wrongly reporting that her daughter’s 16th birthday got out of hand because people turned up to her house after the event was promoted on the girls’ Facebook page.

As Nelson would say: “Ha ha!”

The case was covered in the Guardian a few days ago:

David Price, of London law firm David Price Solicitors and Advocates, told Judge Charles Gray at the high court in London today that Amanda Hudson had been “extremely shocked and distressed” by the false picture that had been painted of her daughter Jodie’s birthday party in Marbella, Spain.

Allegations that the party had got out of hand first appeared across the national and international press in May last year, with claims that the house in Marbella had been “trashed” or “destroyed” by gatecrashers.

However, Price told the high court today that “only very minor damage was caused” and that Jodie had promoted the party on social networking website Bebo – not Facebook. [Oliver Luft, Newspapers sorry for ‘Facebook party’ story]

I’ve been concerned for some time about journalists free and easy use of Facebook as  a source, but it seems that in this case the news media concerned didn’t even do any basic fact-checking. It supports my argument that using Facebook is basically a lazy way to get a story, particularly if you’re just taking stuff from the site, or not checking when someone tells you something was “on Facebook”.

If we’re going to use social networks as a journalistic tool, I think we need to have a much more rigorous debate about it. Not just assume that the technology “can” and therefore we “should”.

Read the rest of this entry »


Join the cyber-revolt! Who owns your Facebook stuff?

February 19, 2009

I am well pleased with the current tide of resentment that’s building towards the way that Facebook is doing business.

We’ve had the amazing spectacle this week of the Facebook admins having to delete groups and personal accounts after public outrage over cyber-vigilantes baying for blood and revenge in the most obscene ways. [The witches of Facebook / Facebook vigilantes]

And, in an ironic twist of fateful timing, in the same week Facebook announced and then withdrew new terms of service because users kicked up a fuss.

The Facebook admins have been forced to create a group of their own Facebook Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, to allow users to address their concerns over who owns the rights to user-generated content on the site.

There’s certainly a fair smattering of dribblejaws on Facebook, but there’s also a large number of active citizens (netizens) who recognise the professional and social advantages of the networking site, but who are also savvy enough to argue points of law with the Facebook admins.

This could well be a watershed case about digital rights that rivals the Napster file-sharing case as a test of copyright and privacy law.

It’s a classic example of what I call the “techno-legal time-gap”. The law and the ethical regime do not keep pace with the technology. In this case it seems Facebook wants the right to sub-licence material (re-sell it) and to profit from what its members post.

Read the rest of this entry »


Facebook vigilantes “just can’t get enough”

February 18, 2009

The Witches of Facebook [so you can read background]

This is now something of a casebook social phenomenon. The Facebook vigilante groups calling for lynch mob style revenge for suspected Victorian arsonist B****** S****** are spreading like, well…actually like “wildfire”. The most prominent has gone underground, but several others have sprung up.

It makes me wonder what the Facebook moderators and the Victorian police are doing about this. Meanwhile the vicious and ignorant hate continues to dribble forth.

Burn the motherf***** like he did to all those innocent people. Jail is too good for the c*** [my edits]

The pro-lynching groups are now also claiming to be victims of an anti-free-speech brigade. It’s beyond laughable, it’s a sad indictment of the whole social networking idea. This is an example of the level of debate and discussion this is throwing up (literally)

Why do people want to protect that low life peaice of shit???..To hell with what authorities say about facebook groups on that freak not being aloud…cos we will anyway..if not on facebook else where. Its spose to be a flamming free country where freedom of speach is a high priority…. so c’mon ppl join this group im 100% in favour of it myself!!!

Personally I blame reality TV and the edumukashun system.

I see this as fairly clear evidence that we’re dumbing down public debate. I think it’s refreshingly democratic that “everyone” can join in on Facebook and I admire those hardy souls who take it upon themselves to intervene in these sick discussion lists with vigour, honesty and some humour, but really what are they trying to do?

It would seem to me almost impossible to think that getting involved in a slanging match with prejudiced and ill-educated dribblejaws is going to change anyone’s mind. All that happens in these groups is that like-minded people reinforce each other’s ignorance and find solidarity for their views.

Social networks like Facebook are not the new public sphere. They are not fora for informed debate on issues of public importance. Unfortunately, for many Facebookers it is the only media they engage in on any serious level. The interactivity is great, but the intellectual level is way down.

It’s the evil egging on the ignorant.

One line I did notice though that I think needs more attention is the way in which Kevin Rudd’s ill-considered comments about the suspected arson in Victoria being “mass murder” may have led to the legitimation of the hate-rant stuff that’s now taking off on Facebook.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Monday: “I think it’s important that the nation braces itself for more bad news. This is a little horror which few of us anticipated.””What do you say about anyone like that?” Rudd said. “There’s no words to describe it, other than it’s mass murder.”

This is how moral panics work. A “legitimate” source – in this case the Australian Prime Minister – makes a signal statement that looses the fear and gives an imprimatur to louder calls for action and revenge.


The witches of Facebook – lynch mobs dribblejaws’ style

February 17, 2009

If Facebook is the new global village, it’s a village full of fucken’idiots, simpletons and dribblejaws (with the honourable exception of all my friends of course).

One of the people accused of lighting some of the devastating fires in Victoria has had his lack of education and sad love life splattered across the news pages in a way that doesn’t appear to advance the story at all.

Accused arsonist angry at girlfriend’s rejection.

Now this has turned into a vigilante exercise in witch burning. A number of people have started Facebook groups that have, despite the protests of the founders, become lynch mobs. This group, Make it know B****** S****** is the man who was arrested for arson, is the most prominent. Here’s what founder Yvette Langstaff has to say:

People need to put a name to the crime, not be left in dark. This site is for people to vent thier frustrations of our legal system, for people to grieve & leave messages of support to our hardworking firefighters and volunteers.

Please do not post photo’s of suspect on this site and we do not condone lynch mob’s..

“Vent their frustrations of our legal system”? What the hell is this? What has the legal system done? Nothing except follow due process. A suspect has been charged and is in custody. He will face a trial on arson and possession of child pornography (if there’s a link there I can’t see it). What is there to be frustrated at? What’s with the wandering apostrophes?

Read the rest of this entry »


Facebook and surveillance: “You can leave your hat on.”

January 20, 2009

The lesson here is when you’re committing a crime, no matter how hot it gets, keep your balaclava on.

Queenstown police nabbed a burglar after posting security camera images on the internet networking site Facebook of him trying to crack a safe.

Police said it was the country’s first such Facebook arrest and they would use the site again to fight crime.

“Facebook was very handy, and it’s a good little tool,” said Senior Sergeant John Fookes. [NZ Herald]


Insulted by Facebook – another Olympic Obscenity

August 16, 2008

I have a Facebook profile. I hang out there sometimes and it’s been a really cool way of finding former colleagues and old friends that I’ve lost touch with. When I go to London in a couple of weeks I’ll be catching up with people I haven’t seen for years, but I know they’re in London and expecting to see me because we found each other on Facebook.

Social networking is here to stay, but you know, it’s still a fairly conservative space.

I saw a great New Zealand comedy act on TV last night. They’re called the Lonesome Buckwhips and they did a most excellent pisstake anthem for the Olympics. I tried to find it on Farcebuerk to add it to my music profile because I want you all to hear it.

But look what came up when I did a Facebook search:

Not only was I challenged to find out if Tom Cruise is smarter than me – he’s not, by the way. This is just more Scientology advertising on Facebook, I have no doubt.

The Loneseome Buckwhips’ song [Olympic Anthem]  I was looking for is not there, instead I was invited to download the Goo Goo Dolls track recorded to support A T&T Team USA at the Olympics. The last thing I’d ever want to do.

Get fucked Farcebuerk, get the fucking Olympics Obscenity out of my face and Tom Cruise and the Goo Goo Dolls; that’s not what I signed up for.


Facebook and the news

January 20, 2008

Murder victim opened her heart on Facebook – Sunday Star-Times – Sunday Star-Times

In light of recent posts about Facebook and other social networking sites, I thought it time to give a brief outline of my “theory” about this. I have mentioned previously I’m currently writing a book about news in the digital age.
I haven’t settled on a title yet, but it’s likely to be something like Journalism in the Age of YouTube…. I’m not sure, but the thrust is that I am writing about how social networking sites; the internet and blogging are impacting on journalism. The types of stories; the sources and even journalists themselves are caught up in this.

I just wanted here to draw attention to the ways in which Facebook, Bebo etc are now being used extensively as a “source” for reporters. Usually in the context of horrible murders, like the one discussed in the SST article linked above. In the print edition the frontpage splash is illustrated with photos taken from Sophie Elliott’s Facebook page, including a photo of her with her alleged killer.
I wonder did the SST get anyone’s permission, presumably Sophie’s family, to use this pic, or any pic of her from Facebook? Or is the assumption that because Facebook is ‘public’, no permission is required, stuff can just be ripped from there without regard to privacy or copyright issues.

And what about potential contempt of court. A photo of the alleged killer – can this influence potential jurors?

then there’s this piece from the SST’s sister paper, Sunday News
Another horrible murder and another “news” link with social networking. In this case the brother of the murdered Scottish tourist pleading with her to come home:

Come home Karen
KRISTIAN SOUTH – Sunday News | Sunday, 20 January 2008

The brother of murdered Scottish backpacker Karen Aim had no doubt where he wanted his sister to be when he made an emotional internet plea to her just after New Year.

“Forget this glass blowing carry on at the other side of the world,” Alan Aim, 23, wrote on his sister’s page on the Bebo social network website.

“My Orkney road passenger transport ambitions have doubled and could do with a bit of extra resources pulled together!

“Don’t reply to this, just get yourself back here.”

But instead of flying back to help Alan with his tourist travel business on the Orkney Islands off the coast of Scotland, 26-year-old Karen stayed on in Taupo partying with friends, working in a glass-blowing gallery and settling into the Kiwi summer.

Her decision to remain in New Zealand proved fatal on Thursday morning, when she was bashed to death just 50m from her home. She told police her name with her dying breath.

The emotional tug of this is palpable. But what about the invasion of privacy? Oh, there is none. Bebo is like a public park. If you stand in the park and have a conversation, and a reporter overhears it, would you expect it to be in the next day’s paper?

We haven’t seen the end of this explosion of cheap and nasty news based on shameless plundering of Facebook etc.

It should be a warning to us all. In cyberspace, the eyes of the world are on you. This is a surveillance society, even in tragic death.

I am keen for readers of Ethical Martini to draw my attention to stories, from anywhere in the world, that take up the themes that might be interesting for my book. All tips gratefully acknowledged. The best way to do that might be just to drop a few lines into a comment on a post that catches your eye. Or you can email me driect at the address in the top right corner of the page.


With friends like these … Why Facebook is not just a pretty face

January 19, 2008

With friends like these … Tom Hodgkinson on the politics of the people behind Facebook | Technology | The Guardian

This is a rather scathing and quite scary attack on Facebook. The argument that it is harmless and merely helps people connect is a myth says the author, Tom Hodgkinson. The real motivation of those who set it up (apparently a small group of Silicon Valley venture capitalists) is to promote the consume, be silent and die, ethos of neo-liberalism. Harsh? Maybe, but Hodgkinson is convincing.

Here’s a taste:

Clearly, Facebook is another uber-capitalist experiment: can you make money out of friendship? Can you create communities free of national boundaries – and then sell Coca-Cola to them? Facebook is profoundly uncreative. It makes nothing at all. It simply mediates in relationships that were happening anyway.

And another, that sets out the neo-con and anti-worker philosophy behind the hugely successful site. Facebook has over 60 million members and counting.

The internet is immensely appealing to neocons such as Thiel because it promises a certain sort of freedom in human relations and in business, freedom from pesky national laws, national boundaries and suchlike. The internet opens up a world of free trade and laissez-faire expansion. Thiel also seems to approve of offshore tax havens, and claims that 40% of the world’s wealth resides in places such as Vanuatu, the Cayman Islands, Monaco and Barbados. I think it’s fair to say that Thiel, like Rupert Murdoch, is against tax. He also likes the globalisation of digital culture because it makes the banking overlords hard to attack: “You can’t have a workers’ revolution to take over a bank if the bank is in Vanuatu,” he says.

but what then of the arguments that social networking increases democracy and opens up a new virtual, digital public sphere? My experience of other social networking sites, particularly American-based ones are a happy home to gun-nuts, pro-war social conservatives and wierdos.

Cruise into somewhere like Fubar (only open to members) to see what I mean. Fubar operates like an online pub, which is interesting as one of Hodgkinson’s arguments is why not just go a real pub if you want to meet people and chat. In the Fubar you can meet all kinds of rednecks who proudly support the troops in Iraq. I joined for a short time to check it out; I couldn’t find any anti-war ideas displayed. There’s lots up pumped up soldierly-looking guys and even some pornstars pimping their wares with links from their profiles to commercial sites where you can buy their DVDs etc.

Sure, there are some ordinary folk among the 1.5 million Fubar users, but it’s really a place for show-offs and voyeurs. Facebook claims to be different for sure, but how different is it really? I’m not sure, but there are plenty of wannabe pornstars there and on MySpace.

You don’t have to look for them, or interact, but it’s interesting how the adult industry colonises such places rather quickly.


no breastfeeding online – Facebook says its obscene

September 20, 2007

Facebook ban incurs ‘lactivist’ wrath – web – Technology – smh.com.au

this is another interesting little story about social networking sites. A couple of weeks ago Facebook began revoking membership rights for some users after a row erupted about breastfeeding mothers posting images of themselves on their pages.

This is a storm in a D-cup. Ban porn, sure, but pictures of lactating mothers and their babies?

So far about 10,000 Facebookers have signed an online pettion against the ban.

One mother, Karen Speed, had her account removed permanently by the Facebook breast police.
She’s writing up the saga on her blog, One small step for breastfeeding.

A group supporting the right of breast-feeding women to post their images on Facebook and to get the ban lifted on members who’s profiles have been deleted as been set up.
By 18 September it had over 18000 members. Can Facebook’s faceless administrators continue to ignore this protest?