The only surprising aspect to the PCC’s announcementthat it’s looking into how newspapers get information from person profiles on Facebook was the length of time it’s taken for such an announcement.
If it makes users of Facebook, MySpace, Bebo et al more aware of the potential consequences of putting personal information up online, then that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you’re still happy to share that information, then fine.
However, it’s difficult to see exactly how the PCC would police this if they did write it into a code of conduct. The suggestion seems to be the levels of privacy applied to the individual profile but that would still turn the grey area and even deeper shade of grey. Exactly what point is the privacy setting considered too private for journalists?
If the information is available online, then the journalist has as much right as anybody else to access it. There’s good stories, angles, and information to be had if you’re a reporter who can master searching on social nets and sites like Technorati.
The bigger question is probably not so much accessing it but how the information’s presented. The largest problem I have with lifting information from a social net is the accuracy of it. As I’ve said before, it’s a useful tool and can give excellent background, but I’d be dubious about using it as the only source, or even the main source, for a story.
It’ll be interesting to see where things go from here. As Roy Greenslade writes:
“I can understand why the PCC is carrying out the research, but I wonder whether any editor will sign up to any restriction on his/her paper’s right to seek out information that people have themselves uploaded.”