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How journalists will use your social media to their advantage

Jonathan Harris

Most of us believe what we share on social media is of no interest to anyone.

However, in recent years, social media has become a significant source of news for journalists.

People share their thoughts and emotions on social media. It could range from a personal tribute to a deceased friend or relative, a small gripe about the local train service, or a political row over Brexit.

In this new media landscape, it is vital to be aware of your own social media presence and how journalists could use your posts in any stories they are producing. Across every platform, the key consideration will be whether it is deemed that the information provided is in the public domain.

1. Public Profiles

It is important to remember is that when you publically post on social media, everyone is able to view it, including journalists.

This means that as a general rule, newspapers can, and will, publish information posted on a public profile. Making public disclosures on a publically viewable social media profile is considered to render that information in the public domain. This can apply for any content, including posts and photographs.

It is also worth noting that even with the strictest privacy settings, some content (such as a profile picture) will always be publically viewable and therefore in the public domain.

To avoid this, make sure you have the highest privacy setting on your social media pages. For more information, see this article.

2. Comments of public posts

Whilst your privacy settings may be strict, be aware that if you comment on a post (particularly on Facebook and Instagram) from an account with no privacy settings, your comment will be viewable to anyone and therefore in the public domain.

3. Photographs/videos from others social media profiles

In some cases, individuals have found that their image has been published after a friend or family member had posted it on their own public social media account, with Snapchat often being the key culprit. For the reasons stated above, publications are generally allowed to publish pictures deemed to be in the public domain.

However, in circumstances where the photograph/s depicts something private, and that you have a reasonable expectation of privacy over that information, you may well have grounds for a privacy claim. 

As a general rule, when your friends/family have their cameras out, ask to see the photograph. If it is inappropriate, ask them not to post it or, even better, delete it. 

4. Groups and forums

Community groups and forums are more popular than ever before and many of us will happily post a question or leave a comment without any forethought. But, depending on the size of these groups, any posts may well be considered to be in the public domain.

For instance, if you posted in a closed Facebook group with 3000 members, you are effectively disclosing this information to 3000 strangers. In these circumstances, it is hard to argue that you had an expectation of privacy over that information.

However, arguments can be made for posts made on smaller Facebook groups: these groups usually have high privacy settings, a much smaller membership and members will generally need to pass some criteria. In these circumstances, it can be argued you have a greater expectation of privacy.

5. Tweets

Twitter is a world-wide platform where private individuals, public figures and organisations of all sizes give their views and opinions.

With many accounts on Twitter not yet employing the platforms new privacy settings, and the fact Twitter is viewable to those without a Twitter account, any content published on a public account can be considered to be in the public domain.

Social media, by its very nature, is not private. It is where you share all sorts of information. Think about what you and others around you are posting, be aware of your privacy settings, and remember, newspapers may be actively looking.

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