Privacy in the age of social networking
research commissioned by the Press Complaints Commission (PCC)
indicated that 78% of internet users would think twice about posting
material on social networking sites if they thought there was a
chance of it being republished by the mainstream media. Given that
journalists regularly do use Facebook, MySpace and others as sources
of information, it is perhaps surprising, therefore, that the
Commission has received only a few complaints about the use of
material taken by newspapers from social networking sites. However,
two recent adjudications give an indication of where the PCC stands
on this subject. In Mullan, Weir and Campbell v Scottish Sunday
Express, the Commission concluded that the newspaper had invaded the
privacy of teenagers who, as children, survived the Dunblane
massacre:- "Since the [shootings] they had done nothing to
warrant media scrutiny, and images appeared to have been taken out
of context and presented in a way that was designed to humiliate or
embarrass them. Even if the images were available freely online [as
they were], the way they were used - when there was no particular
reason for the boys to be in the news - represented a fundamental
failure to respect their private lives. Publication represented a
serious error of judgement on the part of the newspaper."
Conversely, in Goble v The People, the Commission took the view that
publication of information was justified in the public interest,
even though the complainant's Facebook profile could only be
accessed by his online ‘friends' (one of whom contacted the
newspaper):- "The individual in question was a serving police
officer, commenting on a matter that was the subject of considerable
media and public scrutiny. He had done so in a way that made light
of a person's death and the role apparently played by the police.
There was a clear public interest in knowing about police attitudes
(whether publicly or privately expressed) towards the incident. In
any case, posting such controversial comments to people who were not
obliged to keep the information secret was likely to involve an
element of risk on Mr Hayter's part, given his job. The Commission
considered that any intrusion into privacy was justified by the
public interest, and there was therefore no breach of Clause 3 of
the Code." So what are the lessons from these rulings? The
Mullen et al case demonstrates clearly that
cannot automatically justify the use of material simply on the basis
that it has appeared previously on the internet and is, therefore,
‘publicly available'. Even if an individual has not
taken steps to protect their personal information (by hiding it
behind strict privacy settings), newspapers will have to consider
whether republication of the material shows respect for the
individual's privacy. The same might apply in cases where the
complaint is not that publication breaches Clause 3 (Privacy) of the
Code but Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock). That part of the
Code requires newspapers to ‘handle publication sensitively'.
Therefore, while it might be perfectly reasonable to obtain and
publish a picture of someone who has died from the internet, care
should be taken that any image does not show the individual in a way
that is insensitive to the feelings of close friends and family. On
the other hand, as the Goble case demonstrates (and as the PCC set
out in its ruling in Mullen et al) it can sometimes be acceptable
for the press to publish information taken from social networking
sites, even if the material was originally intended for a small
group of acquaintances rather than a mass audience. This is
normally, however, when the individual concerned has come to public
attention as a result of their own actions, or is otherwise relevant
to an incident currently in the news when they may expect to be the
subject of some media scrutiny. In short, if journalists are using
information that an individual has sought to protect behind strict
privacy settings, they will need to demonstrate a clear public
interest for doing so.
journalists should ask themselves many of the same questions as they
would when deciding whether to publish any other material. For
instance:- what is the nature of the material (how personal is it)
and what is the public interest in publishing it? But they also need
to consider questions that are specific to this issue, such as: has
the person sought to restrict access to the material; is the person
actually responsible for uploading it themselves? The impact of
social networking sites on the media and on the PCC will be
discussed at an seminar being held on 11 March 2010 in collaboration
How do you, our
readers, feel about the media using social networks like this?
Email our news room today!
Office of Fair Trading Faces Legal Challenge From Consumers
Campaign for Real Ale, on Tuesday, 22 December 2009, announced it
will issue a legal challenge to the Office of Fair Trading’s
decision to reject its super-complaint on anti-competitive practices
in the UK pub market. CAMRA is pledging
funds to the appeal, but is depending on consumers helping to raise
further funds to ensure this vital legal challenge can stand the
best chance of success.
In October 2009 the consumer group criticised the Office of Fair
Trading (OFT) for failing to protect consumers by taking no further
action to address consumer detriment in the pub market following
CAMRA’s super-complaint submitted in July 2009.
Under the Enterprise Act 2002, CAMRA is entitled to appeal the OFT’s
decision to the Competition Appeals Tribunal, and has decided upon
this course of action to continue fighting anti-competitive
practices in the UK pub market.
From Tuesday, 5 January 2010, CAMRA is calling upon consumers to
visit the CAMRA
website and contribute to the
‘Consumers v. OFT Pub Market Ruling’ Campaign Fund.
Mike Benner, CAMRA Chief Executive, said:- "CAMRA has taken
the decision to appeal due to the inability of the OFT to deal with
the problems affecting the UK pub sector. CAMRA’s super-complaint to
the OFT was based on securing a fair deal for the pub-goer, and
building a sustainable future for Britain’s pubs. However, we
believe the OFT did not take reasonable steps to understand the pub
sector, and more generally why over 50 pubs are closing per week
across the UK. We’ve seen the consumer watchdog scrutinised in
previous years with the success of the Association of Convenience
Stores’ appeal in 2005 in overturning the OFT’s decision at
Tribunal. Pending the success of our appeal, CAMRA remains
optimistic of Government intervention or a referral to the
Competition Commission for a full investigation into the UK pub
Bob Young, a former member of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission
and respected Principal of Europe Economics, has said the OFT’s
response was “as inadequate as CAMRA’s super-complaint was
compelling. The OFT has not seriously considered whether there is
fair competition at a local level which ensures that consumers, or
pub landlords for that matter, get the best deal. This is a critical
shortcoming in the OFT's response to CAMRA."
Mike Benner concluded:- "We now urge consumers and associated
trade bodies to get behind our ‘Consumers v. OFT Pub Market Ruling’
Campaign Fund in the New Year and support our appeal."
recital in memory of mother
is a second year dance student at the Liverpool Institute for
Performing Arts (LIPA), will put on two dance performances with his
course mates from 6pm on Tuesday, 12 January and Wednesday, 13
January 2010 at LIPA in memory of his mother, who he recently lost
to oesophageal cancer. The shows will consist of commercial dance,
contemporary dance and lyrical jazz.
Tom, aged 21, is organising the shows for the charity Barrett’s
Oesophagus Campaign – which raises awareness of the condition
Barrett’s Oesophagus and advices anyone suffering with heartburn to
visit the doctor. Tom hopes his shows will educate more people about
Barrett’s Oesophagus and oesophageal cancer.
Barrett's Oesophagus is an abnormal lining of the gullet, which can
occur in patients with a long history of heartburn and acid reflux.
This can progress to cancer and by then has a low survival rate. If
detected early, a cure is possible. Tom’s mother, Karen Ashton was
just 52 when she died in July 2009 and it is believed that she
suffered from Barrett’s Oesophagus which then developed into cancer.
The free shows are open to the public and will be held in the
Sennheiser Studio at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts.
This is a ticket-free event.
Tom says:- “After my Mum died, lots of people asked me what
oesophageal cancer is. The condition is not well known like breast
cancer or skin cancer. Before my mum was diagnosed with cancer, she
was in a lot of pain. When I was researching the illness, I came
across Barrett’s Oesophagus Campaign and wanted to help the raise
awareness of the illness, which is why I am holding the dance show.”