Pictures from Social Media Sites
Summary and Guidance in Full
In this article
Last updated: October 2010
Editorial Guidelines Issues
Summary of Main Points
- Don't assume that pictures from the internet show what or who they purport to show - verify them to ensure due accuracy.
- The ease of availability of pictures on social media and personal websites does not remove our responsibility to consider the sensitivities in using them, balancing these with any public interest the pictures may serve.
- What was the original intention in publication? The publication of a picture on a personal website or social networking site does not necessarily mean the owner of that picture intended it to be available for all purposes and circumstances - or understood that it could be.
- Is it likely that the individuals in the picture will have consented, either explicitly or tacitly, to its publication and public accessibility on the internet?
- We have a responsibility to consider the impact our re-use of a picture to a much wider audience may have on those in the picture, their family or firends - particularly when they are grieving or distressed.
- We should take care that photos taken from social media and personal websites do not assume another, possibly incorrect, meaning or imply unfounded suggestions when lifted from those websites and shown in the context of a particular news story.
- When pictures or video show illegal/anti-social activity, we should avoid becoming simply a stage on which lawbreakers can perform.
- The re-use of material from the internet can raise legal issues of privacy and copyright. Advice is available from BBC Lawyers.
New technology has presented new opportunities for journalists and programme makers, offering an unprecedented ease of access to potential content. But it also presents a range of new challenges: we seek to meet the demands and expectations of audiences who now have the ability to seek out a similar range of content directly on the internet as and when it becomes of interest - whilst simultaneously paying due regard to any privacy or other ethical considerations if we choose to re-publish that content to large audiences.
Most notably, the internet has provided a source of pictures of private individuals that can be imported into news coverage, as and when those individuals become involved in news events. Where in the past, journalists might have had to visit friends and relatives to request photographs of those who become the subject of news stories, a trawl of social networking sites such as Facebook and Myspace, or other personal websites, can frequently provide a ready source of such pictures.
However, ease of availability of pictures does not remove our responsibility to consider the sensitivities in using them.
The growth of social media has undoubtedly created a generation of people who are willing to make personal information about themselves available online, and much of that information may be considered to have been placed in the public domain - but the fact that material has been placed in the public domain does not necessarily give us the right to exploit its existence, disregarding the consequences.
Whilst some in the media might argue that, once an individual has begun a declarative lifestyle, opening the door to their personal lives by putting private information into the public domain of the internet, they cannot expect to be able to set limits on that, people making content for the BBC should ask themselves whether a door that is only ajar can justifiably be pushed further open by the media.
Despite the fact that a generation of primarily younger people are sharing personal information and pictures on line, there is research that suggests they still place a high value on privacy. And it should be considered that the use of social media content by the BBC often brings that content to a much wider public than a personal website or social media page that would only be found with very specific search criteria.
Consequently, when the opportunity arises to use pictures from social media and personal websites, without first seeking the consent of those concerned, we should pay due regard to the context in which it was originally made available online and media responsibilities in its re-use - balancing our considerations with any public interest the pictures may serve. Inevitably, this will require a decision on re-use to be made on a case-by-case basis, but the checklist in this guidance can help programme makers and content producers to think through the relevant issues.
Like much user content, accuracy is always a concern. Don't assume that pictures show what or who they purport to show - verify them to ensure due accuracy.
User or Publisher Intentions
Consider the original intention in publication. The publication of a picture on a personal website or social networking site does not necessarily mean the owner of that picture intended it to be available for all purposes and circumstances - or understood that it could be.
There are many people who take advantage of the internet and social networking to lead a declarative lifestyle, attempting to make aspects of their life open to the widest possible audience. However, for many others, social media tools are just an effective means of sharing personal content with a relatively small group of friends or family - material that makes no attempt to be discovered in the wealth of social media content online and is, effectively, hidden in the open. The context in which the pictures are displayed, including the surrounding content, can often provide a good clue to the publisher's original intentions.
However, whilst it is advisable to give thought to the publisher's intentions, that must be balanced against the responsibility of the user to ensure appropriate levels of security are applied to material they would not want to be republished elsewhere (for example, by broadcasters or newspapers). As privacy settings become more sophisticated and awareness of how to use them increases, along with understanding of the potential consequences of leaving content in a public space, the more the availability of the content may be considered a matter of the user's responsibility.
Whose site does the picture appear on? If the picture features one or more individual who is not the owner / user of the site (or is published by an unknown uses on a video sharing sites such as YouTube), we should consider whether the individuals in the picture are likely to have consented - either explicitly or tacitly - to its publication and public accessibility on the internet.
Impact of Re-use
A picture available without meaningful restrictions on a website may be considered to be in the public domain and the media may consider that it has the right to exploit it - but that does not always make it the right thing to do. We have a responsibility to consider the impact our re-use to a much wider audience may have on those in the picture, their family or friends - particularly when they are grieving or distressed. For example, it may be inappropriate to use a picture from a social networking site of a particularly happy event (such as a wedding) or a favourite family picture if it is to be associated with reporting of a tragic event. Neutral pictures may be more acceptable to friends and relatives.
Is the Re-use Misleading?
We should take care with the choice of photos taken from social media and personal websites so that they do not assume another, possibly incorrect, meaning when lifted from those websites and shown in the context of a particular news story. Changing the context in which the pictures are seen may sometimes mislead the audience by implying unfounded suggestions and could be unfair to those in the pictures - for example, pictures of an individual laughing when used in connection with a tragic event, or pictures of someone looking particularly vampish at a fancy dress party when used in connection with reports of a sex attack.
Badge of Honour
When pictures or video is being lifted from social networking sites to illustrate either specific or general illegal/anti-social behaviour, we should take care that our broadcasting it to a much wider audience does not become a 'badge of honour' for the perpetrators. We should ensure that the use of the material achieves a public interest purpose and avoid becoming simply a stage on which lawbreakers can perform.
The re-use of material from the internet can raise legal issues of privacy and copyright. A strong public interest reason for using a photograph can help justify re-use without permission, but you should not automatically assume that pictures or video you are seeking to include can be used under 'fair dealing'. Advice is available from BBC Lawyers.