Copy and paste. Social media’s easy copy for the press.Posted on

The purchase of Instagram by Facebook is a fascinating development in the growing trend for people to edit the narrative of their own lives. Facebook’s Timeline facility caused controversy when it was introduced, allowing users to draw up a cradle to grave snapshot of their social media lives and, more worryingly, their private lives. The so-called “digital native” generation are living some of their most intimate moments online now and Instagram allows users to capture those moments, edit them, and turn them into the type of photographic copy which would grace any glossy magazine. Users perhaps shouldn’t be surprised therefore if and when magazines, newspapers and websites do in fact select images and use them.

Even the most careful and professional photographer can find his/her photography used without permission or even proper credit. For example, the photographer Michael Gakuran, was unhappy when some of his excellent photographs of desolate buildings in Tokyo were taken by a UK tabloid newspaper and used without permission.

Perhaps more damaging, though, are the examples of young individuals who find themselves in the public limelight through no fault of their own. Take Rebecca Leighton, arrested but later cleared in relation to the events at Stepping Hill hospital. When no offical photographs were made available the media in the UK took to Leighton’s Facebook page to copy and paste photographs of an apparently carefree young girl in night clubs or at parties. Embarrasing for Leighton, good copy for the press. Intimate thoughts, photos and discussions are apparently not sacred in the eyes of the British press. The PCC’s approach would appear to require more caution. In an explanatory note the body has said:

“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”

If only the press proceeded with such caution. Just ask Sian Massey.

Massey, a Premier League assistant referee, found herself the subject of extreme media coverage through no fault of her own in 2011. Despite being the victimof sexist comments by well-known television presenters Massey’s private life was subjected to the kind of intrusion that has been so well ventilated at he Leveson enquiry. One Red Top newspaper decided that Massey’s MySpace page, which she had apparently not used for some time was fair game and placed photographs of a very young Massey at a party on their front page.

The PCC’s words in the explanatory note above are notable “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”. So, what if Massey’s privacy settings were not up to scratch? Is she therefore considered fair game?

There is a huge difference between photos shared on a MySpace page and photos published on the front page of a tabloid newspaper. In any event, there is a clear lesson to social networkers. Be careful now how much information you share. Upgrade your security settings. And if you insist on Instagramming your entire life, make sure you’re happy with the results, because they could end up on the splashed across a tabloid newspaper if you ever hit the headlines!

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