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When is privacy warranted?

by on November 12, 2011

This past week I came across a story  that immediately caught my ethical eye. A Storify appeared last Tuesday documenting a live tweet of what sounds like a marriage breaking up between a young couple at a Boston Burger King. The entire back and forth between this young husband and wife was broadcast via twitter by a man named Andy Boyle, and it was not long before his account of the incident (pictures included) was attracting much attention on the web. Additionally, two articles were written about the incident and its account by Boyle, one by CBS news Tech Talk contributor summarizing the issue, and the other by a Forbes contributor criticizing Boyle’s inclusion of a photo of the couple within his live tweet account.

Personally, this entire situation raises a ton of ethical red flags for me. I would first have to note that I understand this event could be approached from many different angles seeing as it is not a piece of professional journalism, yet as we have been discussing with today’s technology anyone could be considered a journalist. Mainly, my issue with this whole situation is the fact that Boyle chose to include a photo in his stream of tweets. The photo made it to the above mentioned CBS story and was published for a much larger audience to view. My question is where do we draw the line? Since this conversation took place in public, does that mean it was okay for Boyle to live tweet it? Is it considered eaves dropping? is it acceptable that Boyle photographed the couple? was it okay for CBS to publish that photo? I’m curious what my classmates think.


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  1. annabriare permalink

    Personally, I think this is a violation of privacy, not because Boyle tweeted about it, but because of the subject matter itself. If this were an argument happening in a public place between two public
    figures about government, the economy, or some other type of scandal related to the public good, then I would say that the conversation is fair game. It is a known public place. You can be photographed in public and heard in public. You have no expectation of privacy. And if this couple was arguing loud enough so that their entire conversation could be heard, then it could even be argued that they were forcing their conversation onto the people around them who probably didn’t
    want to hear it. It should not be considered eaves dropping because, from the way it sounds, the couple was not talking at a regular level in controlled voices.

    However, because the conversation was not about anything related to the public good, I do not think that it should have made it to CBS. One cannot control what people tweet. I had a friend who posted a picture of a stranger’s shoes on Facebook because she thought they were funny looking. Is this an invasion of privacy? I don’t think so. The tweets itself are not an invasion of privacy. The photo does make me a little more uneasy. Even though Boyle was not breaking the law by taking this picture in public, I still feel that the photo is placing faces with the bickering couple. Pictures make the stories more personal because you are placing a real person in the role of each member of the story. Everyone knows now that this man was the husband and this woman was the wife. Even if the names were not mentioned, there are facial recognition technologies on the internet now that can link people to pictures they are in, similar to the friend tagging tools on Facebook. These people do not have a choice in the matter about being recognized. They’re private life is now in the public eye, even though it has nothing to do with public interest.

  2. One problem I find with this story, is that CBS chose to publish it. I don’t find it newsworthy or a journalistic piece at all. This story is not important, and it does not affect the public in any way. It is one thing for a person (who is not a journalist) to tweet it, but for CBS to publish this story, I think is irrelevant to what this news organization stands for. Despite that, this was still published by a major news organization. I personally do not think that there was anything wrong with the conversation between the young married couple to be published. They were in a public environment, and clearly speaking at a volume high enough for others to hear, that were not sitting directly next to them. They weren’t communicating in a more private form, through text message, e-mails or even whispering. Therefore, I think that it is fair game that their conversation was ‘recorded’. As for the photo, I am not sure if I think it is an invasion of privacy or not. I think it is still irrelevant, along with the text that goes with it. But at the same time, the couple is in a public place, there can be a chance that they are photographed. This is similar to poparazzi pictures. Poparazzi photograph celebrities out in the public, at the grocery store, coffee shop, gas station, just walking down the street, etc, without asking for their permission. Essentially, it is legal for their photograph to get taken in public. I don’t think that this scenario is ethical in terms of legality, whether or not it is okay for someone to publish this. But it should be an ethical debate on whether or not CBS should have published it. It is not newsworthy, and I think that by publishing this, it lowers their standards and value.

  3. Richard Murray permalink

    Ethical problem no doubt, but you have to watch what you say in public. With technology any you do or say in public could be broadcasted over the web. I do not think that this story is newsworthy, but when you have such a sparked debate in a public place like what do you expect?

  4. Richard Murray permalink

    *anything you do or say

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