Up until recently I’ve had an image in a public work album on my facebook page, a photograph that’s been widely published in the national and international press. The image is fully lawful, accurately reports on a news event and is from a public place. The publication would be widely considered to be in ‘the public interest‘, ethically justifying the distribution and use of the photograph even if there were other concerns.
The photograph, from March 26th protests in London, was incidentally widely infringed during recent riots; published under claims that the image was taken in Birmingham, August 2011. This infringement by a major news agency is an ongoing matter.
This photograph, that was removed from the work album on my account, allegedly violates facebook’s ‘rights and responsibilities’ statement.
The only sections of this statement that seems to possibly apply are:
“5.1 You will not post content or take any action on Facebook that infringes someone else’s rights or otherwise violates the law.”
“3.7 You will not post content that: is hateful, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.”
Except, UK law is clear: there is no right to privacy in a public place, especially not whilst involved in a news event. Furthermore consent is not required for editorial & journalistic publication. This image neither violates any individual’s personality or privacy rights nor any known law.
As for the description of this image as ‘graphic or gratuitous violence’, I take issue. In comparison to many photojournalistic images, this could hardy be described as graphic. And if accurately reporting on violence that occurred during a major news story is to be considered gratuitous then I would suggest their priorities are somewhat skewed. Their individual moral judgement regarding what’s taking place in the image has nothing to do with it’s publication. All the photograph is doing is reporting what took place comprehensively and accurately, in full accordance with clause one of the american NPPA‘s code of ethics:
“Be accurate and comprehensive in the representation of subjects.”
After seeing this message, I continued and was made to re-agree to their terms as well as being threatened with account suspension if I repeated my actions.
This bemuses and worries me. A piece of accurate journalistic material that has no legal issues has been deleted without warning, hardly the great firewall and yet a form of internet censorship I find hard to swallow.
I was annoyed and immediately phoned the Facebook UK press officer to express my concerns, following up with emails to the press team in the UK and the abuse reporting team in the US, requesting the image to be restored along with an apology. I still await their response in writing.
I’d consider this to almost be a form of censorship, incompatible with freedom of expression and accurate reporting principles. The photo was in a public place, reporting news and shows what happened. Just as removing a factual paragraph from a news story prevents the piece from reporting events wholly and accurately, the removal of one image from a set presents the same issue.
If visual news is to be sanitized in this way, with the distasteful elements considered inappropriate, surely it is impossible to present an accurate record of what takes place in situations of any disorder? Whilst Facebook is not a major outlet of my work, but rather one of several social networking websites that I use, like most, to share & display small samples of content with friends & colleagues, this still concerns me.
To describe this image as somehow too graphic or violent for public consumption is an insult both to the abilities of the public to understand news and to the photojournalists who document far more unpleasant and serious situations in their day to day work. This picture is nothing more than a factual, visual record of what took place; reporting on a news story using a photographic medium. There would be rightful uproar if web hosts and social networks deleted written accounts of news because they objected, so why is it acceptable to destroy visual journalism? Social media is arguably part of the fabric of communication and society, companies have responsibilites to their users and the public. Are they properly taking them into account when making this sort of decision?