Editors have been warned about posting links to reports of sex crimes on their newspapers’ social media channels after an alleged child victim was identified.
Information gained from the Facebook page of the Dunfermline Press was used to identify the child in question, resulting in a complaint to press watchdog IPSO.
The regulator ruled the newspaper was not to blame for this information being made public and the complaint was not upheld – but IPSO has urged papers to avoid “creating a forum for speculation” among readers over victims of sexual offences.
It said consideration should be given in future as to whether such material could safely be published on social media, particularly where stories would be open to readers’ comments.
The child’s identification happened after an individual posted a story from another news organisation, which contained similar information to the Press’s article, on his personal Facebook page.
A user commenting on the link had then identified the alleged victim.
In its adjudication, IPSO ruled: “The newspaper was not responsible for the comments made identifying the child on social media, which had been posted on an individual’s unmoderated page in relation to a different article (albeit one that included substantially similar material).
“Nonetheless, the Committee took this opportunity to draw to editors’ attention the need for care in such cases to avoid creating a forum for speculation as to the victim’s identity.
“While editors are not in a position to constrain the circulation of links to stories and commentary on them hosted on third-party websites, consideration should be given to whether stories involving victims of sexual assault can safely be published on publications’ social media sites – particularly where they will be open to comments.”
The initial complaint had been brought about by a woman, whose identity was withheld, who said the Press had breached Clause 7 (Children in sex cases) and Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in the article.
The story reported an individual had been charged with sexual offences against a child, and a link was posted to the Press’s Facebook page.
The complainant said this was irresponsible, and in doing so the newspaper had exposed the child to the danger of identification.
The Press denied a breach of code, saying it took legal advice prior to publication and did not consider that any of the information included in either the story’s print or online versions could have led to the child’s identification.
The paper’s news editor had reviewed comments left on its Facebook page about the story after being contacted by the complainant, but nothing was found which could identify the child.
In its defence, the Press further added it could not be held responsible for the comments posted by an individual on his personal Facebook page about an article published by another news organisation, but had deleted its own story from the social media site as a gesture of goodwill.
The IPSO Committee did not uphold the complaint, which can be read in full here.