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COLUMN: As dumb as a social media post

Garden-variety Facebook users aren’t bound by journalistic standards

One of the more unfortunate aspects of social media, Facebook in particular, is the opportunity it gives people with cell phones – so, almost everyone – to circulate photos and opinions, often through large audiences, that are arguably unfair, potentially hurtful and even possibly dangerous.

In our community, there are frequently stories and photos shared to local groups describing what might be considered suspicious behaviour.

A guy riding a BMX-style bike and slowing down to take pictures of houses.

An image caught on a security camera of a stranger standing in a driveway.

Recently there were photos and a video posted of a young woman apparently in great mental stress outside a business area.

None of these individuals were shown committing crimes, yet the town was warned to BOLO.

This is one of the things that distinguishes professional journalists from garden-variety Facebook users.

(Another thing is that journalists now can’t post to social media while members of the general public can, but that’s a different gripe.)

Imagine picking up your local newspaper and seeing a photo of an unidentified individual, wearing a hoodie and peering into a yard. The caption says something like: “This guy looks ready to steal something.”

That’s unthinkable and any reader would immediately know it’s wrong to publish such speculation.

It would leave the newspaper open to liability and the perpetrator would be drummed out of the industry.

Yet it happens on Facebook all the time.

In extreme cases, defamatory posters are taken to court.

A $35,000 lawsuit was recently filed in small claims court in London, Ont., against three administrators of a Facebook group named “Are We Dating the Same Guy?”

With more than 10,000 users, the group allows members to post the pictures and first names of men they are seeing, to find out if they are dating others, or if they are misrepresenting themselves.

Surprised no one has turned that into a game show yet.

The litigant in the case alleges he was accused of sending lewd photographs and being a bad parent after his likeness appeared in a post.

In Whitehorse, Yukon, last August, a lawsuit was settled after a woman used Facebook to accuse a Grade 9 student of sexually assaulting and harassing girls at school.

She was sued by the boy’s parents.

As part of the settlement, she had to admit to posting false information about someone she did not know.

In the same vein, some Facebook posters use the platform to defame businesses, agencies and professionals, and these comments can also result in serious consequences.

Circling back to the guy on the bicycle taking pictures of people’s houses, well of course that’s going to raise eyebrows.

However, there could be an innocent explanation.

A while back I sat on the balcony and watched a car in the dark, driving up and down our short, dead-end avenue, slowly, over and over.

He’s up to something, I was sure.

Meh – turned out he was a kid delivering pizzas and he couldn’t find the address.

Either way a photo on a rant page is going to do nothing to help others protect their property. It should go without saying, if you do believe a crime is going to be committed the ones who need to see your photos are the police, not 10,000 of your closest ‘friends.’

Property theft, as RCMP reminds us again and again, is usually a crime of opportunity.

Always lock your car, keep your valuables like tools and recreational equipment in the garage or suitably nailed down, and consider home security cameras or at least motion lights.

If you need more ideas, maybe you could ask about them in one of your community’s many Facebook groups.

Andrea DeMeer

About the Author: Andrea DeMeer

Andrea is the publisher of the Similkameen Spotlight.
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