Facebook ruling gives media inquiry purpose

Summary:The ruling by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) that Channel Seven was well within its right to take photos from a public Facebook page should be a reminder to us all.

The ruling by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) that Channel Seven was well within its right to take photos from a public Facebook page should be a reminder to us all.

A couple of years ago, when I was still a starry-eyed journalism student, I was often horrified by journalists who would take photos from people's Facebook page. It was still a relatively new phenomenon at that point, but, nevertheless, I decided to explore the ethics of what was the new-age "death-knock" for journalists seeking photos of the deceased for their story.

At the time, I found that there was still a general reluctance to use Facebook photos in a lot of cases, and there was no clear policy from government, journalist groups or media organisations on whether it was okay to take these photos without asking.

In the almost three years since, it is much more commonplace for journalists to use Facebook photos, and it's not that surprising to see Facebook photos appear in stories all the time. The use yesterday got the nod from the ACMA, which said that Channel Seven was within its rights to use information and photos from the Facebook tribute page of a person who had died, because the page and the photos were available to the public.

The ACMA found that due to the open nature of the tribute page, the absence of privacy settings and the non-sensitive nature of the photographs, Seven did not breach the privacy provisions of the code.

Essentially, the ACMA is saying that if a person doesn't know about Facebook's privacy settings, then they have no one to blame but themselves.

In the years since I first looked at the ethics involved, people are generally much more aware of the privacy settings for Facebook. These days, it's less about keeping away unsavoury media types, and more about ensuring that your boss can't see your drunk Saturday night party photos.

But does this mean that it's entirely up to the user to bear responsibility for their own Facebook page?

To a degree, yes. Facebook makes managing your own security settings fairly obvious, so it's almost impossible to ignore them.

But, at the same time, as the government is undertaking its inquiry into the media, wouldn't it be much more worthwhile to investigate the impact of social media on the practice of journalism, rather than continuing on its witch hunt against publications that don't agree with its policies?

Topics: Privacy, Government : AU, Security, Social Enterprise, Tech Industry

About

Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.

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