Yes, reporters are reading your FB posts (part one)

Is that Facebook post you just made on one of the local “Folks” pages considered private?


That question – or more specifically: can or should reporters “troll” such groups for content for their news stories? – came up last month as a discussion thread on Wakefield Folks. A reader took issue with the fact that The Low Down had quoted his question in an earlier discussion thread regarding the behaviour of kids at the skate park in a story on the same topic. This is a great question — and it generated some really interesting and thoughtful discussion.


Many users understand that social media has become the new gathering place for community discussion, and that it’s become the norm for media to be looking for stories there. But anyone reading Wakefield Folks for some time can see that for others such groups feel like a private chat among friends and neighbours. It’s surprising how much information people share to a group of more than 9,000 people: from seemingly innocuous photos of themselves away on vacation (meaning their house is unattended and may become a target for robbery) to their personal fertility challenges (let it be said that such struggles should not be relegated to the shadows, but it is surprising when it comes up in a discussion about skate park etiquette).

It’s understandable — the Gatineau Hills is a tight-knit community that takes pride in looking out for each other, but social media users everywhere really need to know that legally there is no privacy on social media. Facebook was finally forced to admit this under oath in court in 2019 following the Cambridge Analytica scandal:

“There is no privacy interest because by sharing with a hundred friends on a social media platform, which is an affirmative social act to publish, to disclose, to share ostensibly private information with a hundred people, you have just, under centuries of common law, under the judgment of Congress, under the SCA, negated any reasonable expectation of privacy.” (And we thank Amanda Dexter who pointed this out in the Wakefield Folks discussion.) Even if that group is marked “private” – which many discussion pages are – it is not.


Advice for people on the Folks pages or anywhere on social media: whatever you type out on your keyboard, before you hit “post” ask yourself if you are ok with your comments being disseminated, one way or another, indefinitely.


But going back to the original question: legal or not, should reporters, including The Low Down, be taking content – text or photos – from Facebook or other social media and publishing it? That’s more of an ethical question, with more room for grey than black and white. For that reason, we’ll pick up the thread next week in part two of “Yes, reporters are reading your Facebook posts.”