Sunday, October 14, 2018

Seek permission to post images to social media before assuming it's OK


Arlene, a woman from Boston whose real name is not Arlene, was invited to attend a gathering of community organizations in her area. The gathering was being held in the backyard of a private residence not far from where Arlene lives.

For many years Arlene has wanted to get more involved in her community so she was glad to attend the gathering. When she arrived, a sign directed her to a sizeable backyard where the event was to occur. She was asked to fill out and put on a name tag so others in attendance would know who she was. She gladly complied.

After some small talk and the partaking of some tasty snacks provided by the host, the speakers from the various organizations spoke to the assembled group about their missions and what opportunities there were for people to get involved.

It was an enjoyable event, Arlene writes. She gathered some literature on some of the organizations so she could follow up. One representative even gave her a T-shirt on her way out.

But Arlene was surprised a few days later when a friend of hers told her she had seen her photo posted on someone's social media site, which was accessible for the general public to see. She emailed Arlene a link to the post and sure enough there she was standing in the backyard with a few others in the backyard of a private residence. The note accompanying the post identified the event.

"No one ever asked me for permission to post my photo," Arlene writes. "I didn't even know anyone was taking photos."

Arlene wants to know if the poster was wrong to post the photo of her and a few others without securing their permission.

As I've mentioned often, I'm not a lawyer, so I can't speak definitively about the legality of posting someone's photo without permission. Laws vary from country to country. In the United States, generally taking someone's photo in a public place is fair game, but in a private setting it's not. Given that this was a public meeting in a private setting, I'll let the lawyers sort out the legalities.

But from an ethical standpoint, the photographer should have sought permission of people in the photo prior to posting it online. People have a right to expect to have some control of whether their images are posted on social media.

If the poster was from one of the organizations, then that person should have mentioned that photos were being taken of the event. If it was posted by another attendee, he or she should have taken the time to seek out permission.

Not everyone wants the world to know where they've been at any given moment of the day without their consent. But common courtesy would dictate that if you plan to post someone's visage on your social media site which is accessible to the general public, the right thing is to let that someone know.

It's perfectly reasonable for Arlene to ask the friend who notified her to ask the poster of the photo to take it down. Perhaps receiving this message would remind the poster that while he might not care about his own privacy that doesn't give him the right to decide for others about theirs. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2018 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.


Sunday, October 07, 2018

Did journalist cross the line to gain access?


After finishing teaching a morning class last Thursday, I returned to my office around noon. I had an hour before meetings with students began for the rest of the afternoon, so I took a few minutes to catch up on email. Among them was an alert from Twitter.

"Curious to know @jseglin's ethics take on a journalist pretending to be a student to gain access to a subject in a classroom. #KavanaughHearings"

Because I'd been in class, I hadn't been watching the Senate hearings so I didn't know to what specifically the tweet was in reference, but it struck me as a pretty basic question, so I responded:

"If the journalist told someone he or she was a student to get into the classroom, that's wrong. If the journalist walked into the classroom to approach a subject, that's something else."

I stand by that observation. While good reporters should be tenacious about doing their jobs well in reporting newsworthy stories, they should not misrepresent themselves.

In a follow-up exchange with the tweeter, he clarified that his question arose from a comment Dr. Christine Blasey Ford made during her testimony to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. He wanted to know whether it was ethically wrong for a journalist to pretend to be a student to gain access to Dr. Ford's classroom at Palo Alto University, where she teaches. If that had happened, it would have indeed been wrong.

The transcript of the hearings, however, don't indicate that Dr. Ford told the Senate hearing that a reporter misrepresented herself. What Dr. Ford said in a response to a question from Senator Dianne Feinstein asking why she ultimately decided to come forward was that "a reporter appeared in my graduate classroom and I mistook her for a student, and she came up to ask me a question, and I thought she was a student and it turned out that she was a reporter." After this incident, Dr. Ford "felt like enough was enough" and she decided to go public with her allegations of sexual assault toward U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh.

A fair question might be about why it was so easy for a stranger to make her way into a classroom at a private university without being asked by anyone who she was and why she was there. If the reporter in Dr. Ford's classroom misrepresented herself to gain access to the classroom or if she snuck her way past security guards or well-posted no-trespassing signs to gain access to private property, she was wrong. (Palo Alto University is a private university.)

Dr. Ford, as a private citizen unused to the public spotlight, had every right to feel overwhelmed by those who were attempting to speak with her. When Dr. Ford discovered the person coming up to her after class was a reporter, she obviously could have stopped talking to her or asked her to leave. If she did, the reporter should have honored that request.

But the answer to the question tweeted at me is that the right thing was for the reporter not to break the law nor misrepresent herself to gain access. Dr. Ford's testimony doesn't indicate the reporter did either. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2018 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.


Seek permission to post images to social media before assuming it's OK

Arlene, a woman from Boston whose real name is not Arlene, was invited to attend a gathering of community organizations in her area. The...