When we share our lives with our blog readers, or with our Twitter followers, do we automatically give permission for the press to access that information? Is there any privacy in Social Media?
What would you do, if your entire life history was broadcast to the world, at a time when your life was falling apart?
And where is the line to be drawn, when reporting a story of national interest?
These questions have been going around in my head since I read the article on the Daily Mail website about the wife of Jeremy Forrest.
For those who are not in UK, and may not have heard of this, Forrest was a teacher at a school in England who began a ‘relationship’ with one of his young pupils. While there are some who will defend him, by saying that she looked older than her 15 years, the fact remains that he was fully aware of her age. He was also in a position of authority and trust, which he betrayed.
Forrest realised that his secret was about to become public knowledge, that (at last) the school were acting on information from Megan’s family about the relationship, and absconded to France with her. The Daily Mail reports this as a ‘tragic romance’, when it was nothing of the sort. It was the abuse of a young pupil by a teacher who should have known better.
If this was love, he would have walked away.
Girls of this age have crushes, often on their teacher. We have all been there, felt that heady rush of first love, the uncertainty, the doubt, the hope. It is totally normal, and wonderfully sweet. And innocent.
A responsible teacher would have distanced himself from his pupil.
He did not. He tweeted, he blogged, he wrote songs about her. Using his ‘stage name’, he shared his thoughts and dreams, as so many Twitter users and bloggers do. We know all of this, because the Daily Mail has been sniffing about the internet, searching for anything that they can use in a story.
He was not alone in sharing his life on the internet. His wife was a prolific blogger, who wrote about the planning of their wedding, and their honeymoon. She posted photos, which have now been shared with the world via the Daily Mail website. They have even found her Trip Advisor profile and shared, without her knowledge or her permission, her comments on the hotel where she went on honeymoon.
Is this a step too far? There are some who will insist that if a person puts private information onto a public website, then they can’t complain about a loss of privacy. They are totally missing the point that sharing details of one’s life with the couple of hundred (or even thousand) readers of a blog is very different to having one’s wedding photos splashed across the tabloids.
It is also a warning to anyone who uses Social Media, whether blogger, Twitter of Facebook user. Only share as much as you are comfortable having everyone in the country reading. Think carefully about the details you post, and about the people you mention in your writing. I am very cautious when mentioning my family. I blog, they don’t. They have not given me permission to share their lives with you – my children are too young to take that decision and my husband is a Social Media virgin, without even a Facebook page. He would not be comfortable with me talking about him, which is why I rarely mention him and would never post a photo of him on my blog.
The line between private and public is blurring, and we are scrambling to keep up.
There needs to be a frank discussion about the press digging into private lives that have been shared in public. Does the fact that I have shared my thoughts on my blog, give the press permission to reprint my photos? And do I have to look more closely at copyright issues?
I will attend the Mumsnet Blogger Academy later this year, and was pleased to see that the legal expert David Allen Green has been invited to speak. I hope that we bloggers can all learn about how to protect ourselves from an invasion of privacy, and from legal challenges (eg. when sharing photos from other websites). .
Featured image by Andreas Photography, used under Creative Commons