Jesse Noyes reports in the Boston Herald today that the folks at Facebook are upset with the media for using the social-network service to track down interview subjects in the Virginia Tech story. A Facebook spokeswoman is quoted as saying, “We see this as a violation of user privacy.” Really? Good thing Ma Bell didn’t try to take our phone books away back in the 1970s and ’80s because we were violating people’s privacy by, you know, calling them up.
I’m with Boston University journalism professor Fred Bayles, who tells Noyes that journalists are going to use any method they can to contact people. Indeed, I tell my students that it’s perfectly ethical to use Facebook, listservs and Usenet (most easily accessed through Google Groups) for exactly that purpose as long as they make it clear that they’re reporters working on a story.
I am more sympathetic to Facebook’s objection that the media shouldn’t reproduce text and images from people’s online profiles without permission — although, again, Facebook, MySpace and the like aren’t exactly private forums.