Resolution Statement 18427-17 A woman v Mail Online
Summary of complaint
1. A woman complained on behalf of a minor that Mail Online breached Clause 2 (Privacy) Clause 6 (Children) and Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Exclusive: Labour supporters 'jokingly' encourage a fellow student to gas, poison and burn his Tory housemates in 'Young Lefty Society' Facebook group”, published on 10 September 2017.
2. The article reported that in a Facebook group for young, left-wing people, someone had asked for advice about the fact he was sharing a university house with three Conservatives. It reported that in response, “young Labour supporters joked about gassing and poisoning Tories in a string of disturbing messages”. The article included an image of these comments, as they had appeared on Facebook, and described the comments in the body of the article, identifying those who had made them. It identified one person as having responded “Bath. Sulfuric acid. You know what to do”. It included a photograph of this person.
3. The complaint was made by someone acting on behalf of the person who had made the comment about sulfuric acid. She said he was a 16-year-old, who had made the comment on a private Facebook group, which stipulates to its members that they are prohibited from making copies of what is said within the group. She said that in these circumstances, he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to his comment. She was also concerned that the publication had used his profile picture.
4. The complainant’s representative said that the complainant was embarrassed by the article. She said he had been asked about it by friends and school colleagues, and was concerned about the effect it would have on his future prospects. She said that in order to prevent their adult lives being harmed by naïve comments made in youth, minors are recognised to have certain rights to erase online activity. She was concerned that the publication had failed to have regard for the complainant’s rights as a young person, commenting online, and that it had breached Clause 2 and Clause 6 (i). In addition, she said that the journalist had infiltrated the Facebook group by deceptive means, with the intention of publishing information contained within the group, in violation of its rules. She said that this represented a breach of Clause 10.
5. The publication said that while the Facebook group was a “closed group”, it had over 3000 members when its journalist requested membership. It said that membership was granted to its journalist using his own Facebook page, which made clear he was a journalist, without any questions asked. It said that the group was for under-30s, not for children. Given the size of the group, and lack of any sort of vetting for new members, it said there was little expectation of privacy for those posting comments, including the complainant. It said that the complainant’s profile picture was displayed to the general public and free for anyone to see, and denied that publication of this image represented an intrusion. The publication said that the concerns raised about the effect of its article on the complainant’s welfare were vague, and that in any event, the complainant was not a child. It denied it had breached Clause 2, 6 or 10.
6. The publication said the comments on the Facebook group, including the complainant’s comment, contained threats to third parties and were grave in nature. It said that there was public interest in informing the public that such comments were being generated on social media.
Relevant Code Provisions
7. Clause 2 (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, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Clause 6 (Children)*
i) All pupils should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion.
ii) They must not be approached or photographed at school without permission of the school authorities.
iii) Children under 16 must not be interviewed or photographed on issues involving their own or another child’s welfare unless a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult consents.
iv) Children under 16 must not be paid for material involving their welfare, nor parents or guardians for material about their children or wards, unless it is clearly in the child's interest.
v) Editors must not use the fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child's private life.
Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge)*
i) The press must not seek to obtain or publish material acquired by using hidden cameras or clandestine listening devices; or by intercepting private or mobile telephone calls, messages or emails; or by the unauthorised removal of documents or photographs; or by accessing digitally-held information without consent.
ii) Engaging in misrepresentation or subterfuge, including by agents or intermediaries, can generally be justified only in the public interest and then only when the material cannot be obtained by other means
The Public Interest
There may be exceptions to the clauses marked * where they can be demonstrated to be in the public interest.
1. The public
interest includes, but is not confined to:
· Detecting or exposing crime, or the threat of crime, or serious impropriety.
· Protecting public health or safety.
· Protecting the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.
· Disclosing a person or organisation’s failure or likely failure to comply with any obligation to which they are subject.
· Disclosing a miscarriage of justice.
· Raising or contributing to a matter of public debate, including serious cases of impropriety, unethical conduct or incompetence concerning the public.
· Disclosing concealment, or likely concealment, of any of the above.
2. There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself.
3. The regulator will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain or will become so.
4. Editors invoking the public interest will need to demonstrate that they reasonably believed publication - or journalistic activity taken with a view to publication – would both serve, and be proportionate to, the public interest and explain how they reached that decision at the time.
exceptional public interest would need to be demonstrated to over-ride the
normally paramount interests of children under 16.
8. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.
9. Following IPSO’s intervention, the publication offered to remove the references to and images of the complainant from its article. It also offered to request that other publications who had copied its article also removed this information.
10. The complainant’s representative said that this would resolve the matter to his satisfaction.
11. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.
Date complaint received: 10/09/2017
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 22/11/2017
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