Growing complaints about ′Facebook journalism′ | Technology | DW | 20.09.2012
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Growing complaints about 'Facebook journalism'

There is growing concern in Germany - and a rising number of complaints - about journalists sourcing content on social media, including profile photos to identify the dead.

Germany's Press Council says a growing number of complaints from the public cite journalists sourcing content on social network sites - such as Facebook and Twitter - without permission.

"People are feeling increasingly comfortable in their social networks," says the Press Council's Ursula Ernst. "So, it's no wonder that social media is becoming a major source of information for journalists."

The main issue is the unauthorized use of social network profile photos to depict victims of major tragedies.

Ernst is calling on journalists to respect the privacy of individuals in accordance with section 8 of the German Press Code.

Privacy takes a back seat to news

This is an issue that has been growing for a few years.

One of the most high-profile cases came after an accidental stampede at the Duisburg Love Parade in 2010, in which 21 people died. It was one of the first times that survivors accused journalists of using photos from social networks in their reporting.

In a separate incident, a Berlin newspaper named the victim of a major car accident and also accompanied its report with a photo taken from the man's Facebook profile.

Victims and emergency workers at the site of the Love Parade tragedy in Duisburg in 2010

The Love Parade in Duisburg in 2010 was a turning point in "Facebook journalism"

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a journalist working for a German news agency has told DW that his newsroom searched Facebook for information on the suspect in the 2009 Winnenden School shooting in Germany.

"We looked up the Facebook page of Tim Kretschmer but realized pretty quickly that the page was a hoax. It had been created in the 30 minutes or so between the killings and the time that we looked at the page," the journalist said.

However, Thorsten Denkler, the online editor at, which is owned by one of Germany's largest daily newspapers, says only a few journalists source their content on social media - and rejects the idea of it being an endemic problem.

"Most major online editorial teams speak with the person involved, or their family, to get permission to use a photo," says Denkler, "we have to do that anyway for copyright reasons."

General rise in complaints

But the number of complaints over the unauthorized use of social media content is expected to rise again in Germany this year.

Edda Kremer, Ursula Ernst & Lutz Tillmanns all from the German Press Council, at a press conference in Berlin.

The German Press Council says journalists should be cautious using content from Facebook in reports

The German Press Council expects to receive around 1420 complaints by the end of 2012.

The industry watchdog meets four times a year to rule on complaints sent in by the public and by interest groups.

At the next sitting, a controversial image of Pope Benedikt XVI, which was published in the satirical German newspaper "Titanic" is due for review.

The council works on a case-by-case basis, and Ernst is unwilling to say whether the rising number of complaints indicates a drop in standards in German journalism.

"All I can say is we are in constant contact with German media when we deal with complaints," says Ernst. "The tone of our correspondence, however, is something I would prefer not to comment on."

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