· Decision of the Complaints Committee 05019-15 Beer v Mirror.co.uk
Summary of complaint
1. Alex Beer complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Mirror.co.uk breached Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors' Code of Practice in an article headlined “False widow spider bite leaves man with horrifying blisters and organ failure”, published on 11 August 2015.
2. The article reported that the complainant had been bitten by what was thought to be a false widow spider, and that as a consequence, he had been hospitalised, and blisters had appeared on his arm. It was accompanied by two photographs: one photograph showed one of the blisters on the complainant’s arm before it had been burst, and the other showed the complainant’s arms after the blister had burst. The article did not appear in the print edition of the newspaper.
3. The complainant said that he had written a Facebook post about the spider bite for local friends and family. He said that this was only visible to his 30 friends, but that his friends could then share the post more widely. He said that he had been told by several newspapers that the post had received more than 5000 shares, but he was not aware of the actual figure as the post had been deleted. The post included the photograph of his arm after the blister had burst, which he said was the only photograph he uploaded onto his Facebook page. He said that the photograph of the unburst blister was uploaded onto his wife’s Facebook page, and that this photograph did not tag or reference him in any way. He said that the two Facebook pages were not linked, that his wife’s privacy settings were “quite high”, and that the photograph was not visible to his Facebook friends.
4. The newspaper said that the complainant’s Facebook post had been openly available to the public. It noted that the opening sentence to the post was “I don’t ask much from people but I ask you to please read this. I am not posting this to scare people simply to bring awareness”. It said that the information contained in the article had been put into the public domain by the complainant, and that it was therefore not private. The newspaper said that the image of the unburst blister was taken from the complainant’s Facebook page, which was open for anyone to view at the time.
5. The Facebook post described the medical treatment the complainant received for the spider bite in some detail, including the growth of blisters. It stated that “I am 32 years old” and gave the name of the village in which he lived. It went on to state that “I know there has been a lot of things in the media about the venomous spiders and in a way you shrug it off because you think it would or could never happen to you. I am not a gardener. I do not work outside and I have not been abroad”. The post also stated that “you will see from the photos how my arms has been left after the blisters”.
Relevant Code Provisions
6. Clause 3 (Privacy)
i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.
ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. Account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information.
iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals in private places without their consent. Note - Private places are public or private property where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Findings of the Committee
7. The images of the complainant’s arm were graphic photographs of a medical condition that he was entitled to consider private. However, the complainant had disclosed a number of details about the spider bite and the subsequent medical treatment on Facebook in a manner which resulted in the post being widely shared. Furthermore, the words accompanying the picture did not suggest that the complainant considered this information to be private, or that he was only sharing the information amongst friends and family. On the contrary, the Facebook post gave the clear impression that it was intended for a broader audience than his Facebook friends. The complainant began his post by saying “I don’t ask much from people but ask you to please read this”. He went on to explain that he was making the post to “bring awareness” about spider bites, and introduced himself, giving his age, and where he lived. Given the manner of the complainant’s public disclosure of the image of the burst blister, the publication of this photograph did not constitute a breach of Clause 3.
8. The Committee was unable to resolve the complainant’s and the newspaper’s account of where on Facebook the image of the unburst blister had been uploaded. Nevertheless, the content of this photograph did not differ significantly from the photograph of the burst blister; it depicted one of the large blisters which the complainant had described forming on his arm in his Facebook post. For this reason, the publication of this image did not disclose any further private information, beyond that which he had included in his Facebook post, and there was no breach of Clause 3 on this point.
9. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 17/08/2015
Date decision Issued: 08/12/2015