- 24 Jan 08, 11:14 AM
When is it acceptable for us to make use of personal pictures and video available on the internet? In the past, personal pictures of members of the public who become the subject of news stories (particularly tragic events) have usually only been available if supplied by family or friends.
With the growth of social networking and personal websites, it has become far easier for the media to get hold of such pictures. If we do use them, can this be justified? This is an issue we're giving some thought to at the moment, and I'd be keen to hear your views.
We don't yet have a definitive policy but my feeling is we need to tread carefully, and where people have posted personal pictures or video in a space which they might reasonably expect to be accessed only by friends and family, I think we need to be mindful of that. There might be an overriding public interest in using the picture and publishing it more widely, say, if we were working on a story about someone involved in criminal activity and sought by the police (though we’d still need to verify it). But where there isn't, it seems right to seek permission first. We also have to be aware of copyright around any use we want to make of pictures and video, and this will need checking case by case.
The boundary between what's public and what's private isn't always easy to define online, and I think it’s also true to say it’s not something people always give a huge amount of thought to when posting. For most people, most of the time, the media and wider public won’t be focusing on them. That gives them a certain anonymity – nicely described by Alf Hermida as "privacy through obscurity".
That quickly changes if the spotlight of media interest turns their way, for whatever reason.
Some will say that - by definition - there isn't really anything private if it's there and accessible by others. But that still leaves the question of what use people other than the intended audience can legitimately make of what they find. And people use different sites for different reasons - they might be on Facebook just talking to friends, on Flickr sharing photos with their family and on MySpace to publicise their music. Would the same considerations apply for each?
These are all things we’re still discussing – I’ll keep you posted on how it develops.
Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website