Amateur Footage: A Global Study of User-Generated Content


Facebook was mentioned as the platform that causes the most editorial discussions around whether to use content, particularly after death. Some journalists talked about the agencies that have emerged, which scour Facebook for photos after someone has died, that they copy and then sell onto

newsrooms desperate for images. Reuters has a blanket policy of not using pictures from Facebook. As an employee explained, “Our pictures colleagues don’t touch Facebook at all. It’s not about copyright; it’s because it’s something personal.” This explanation from a journalist at another newsroom shows that some organizations will use photos sourced from Facebook, but with caution: When someone has died we don’t have the copyright so we’re taking an educated risk, and we would usually just use one or two images that portray that person in, if not a good light, a light to which you would expect the family to be happy. So no pictures of them from their Facebook page throwing up on a drunken night out, no. Just a picture of them looking nice, yes. We wouldn’t start building galleries based on their Facebook page and things like that at all; so one or two images. There were some examples of guidelines which specifically make mention of the need to consider people’s intent when they published content on a social network. A couple of interviewees made the point that as more journalists use social media themselves, they can understand these ethical challenges with more nuance. A few years ago a journalist might have fought to use content that had been posted to Facebook, arguing that it is public. Now people are more aware of the complexities of privacy settings and might have more sympathy with the uploader. And finally, journalists discussed the ways that uploaders are sometimes not ready for what happens after they agree for their content to be used. As one editor at Storyful explained, “One thing we’re taking seriously is advising people that their content is going to be seen all over the world. So we ask if there is anything about it, like if they’re swearing or the way in which they react to what they’re seeing, that they’re not happy about. We advise them to think about these things before we distribute their content.”

This type of comment wasn’t necessarily common, but again, those journalists who work with uploaders on a regular basis have seen many examples of the impact taking a picture or video can have when it is picked up by the news industry. Journalists who speak to uploaders regularly talked about building a relationship with them and subsequently having a heightened sense of responsibility toward them.