BuzzFeed Fail? Why did BuzzFeed Publish a Story that Harms, Invades Privacy of Random Girl? - iMediaEthics

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BuzzFeed went online, found something nasty happening to a random person, and then told everyone about it. This is news?

The story is harmful, sensational and an invasion of privacy, if indeed it is not a hoax.

BuzzFeed should not have published the story titled “This Girl Was Hacked After Being Tracked Down Using Photographs Of Her Room,” in iMediaEthics’ view.

The story by Ryan Broderick, BuzzFeed’s Deputy Global News Director, was about an anonymous male who reportedly posted on anonymous site 4chan that he was in his sister’s room while she was at work and then posted photos of him wearing her underwear as well as photos of her bra.

From there, other 4chan users were reportedly able to figure out who the sister is, found her social media accounts and hacked them online, BuzzFeed said. “One user joked that they hoped the original poster would kill himself over the whole thing,” BuzzFeed wrote, saying that it tried contacting the girl via her Twitter but claimed it only received a message from a hacker. (iMediaEthics tried contacting but nobody responded.) iMediaEthics wrote to Twitter to ask for confirmation that the girl’s Twitter was hacked but never heard back. We also wrote to ask if the girl had control of her account again, if it was hacked, given that tweets BuzzFeed said the hacker posted are now deleted.

The Jan. 5 story not only wasn’t newsworthy, it invaded the privacy of a girl, who, if the story is true, is a victim. Even though BuzzFeed didn’t name the girl, she was clearly identifiable because screenshots didn’t block out identifying information, such as her Twitter bio. Even worse, BuzzFeed included the girl’s Twitter handle in the tags for the story, making her easily identifiable. After iMediaEthics wrote to BuzzFeed asking about this, the tag disappeared.

Based on photos of the girl posted on Twitter and the fact the brother said he was in his sister’s room while she was at work, it’s fair to guess she could be a teenager, and maybe even a minor. The author of the story tweeted that the victim is a teen.

iMediaEthics is not linking to the story although we acknowlege the story is easily searchable.

“I find it pretty disturbing that a ‘Deputy Global News Director’ at one of the leading news organizations in the country could publish a story like this without considering the potential harm done to a private citizen,” journalist Luis Gomez, who pointed the story out to iMediaEthics, told us. “I find it difficult to understand the news value of this story or how it makes positive contributions to the broader conversation about online bullying.”

Several commenters on the BuzzFeed story agreed. iMediaEthics has a handful of comments posted below:

  • “The author doesn’t seem nearly upset enough that some poor young girl’s entire online presence is f**ed just because her brother is kind of a stupid asshole and found some less stupid bigger assholes to play on the internet with.”
  • “Why are you giving this piece of s**t attention?”
  • “Ryan, you’re an idiot. It’s already ridiculously easy to identify the poor girl from a simple image search or twitter handles of other people who’ve tweeted her. What’s infinitely worse it that *you’ve tagged the article with her name/handle*. This is definitely some special kind of stupid.”
  • “and now it will be even more popular than it already is. some things should be left alone by buzzfeed”
  • “Buzzfeed: “Wow this is some serious s**t that could actually f**k up her life, let’s make an article about it and tag her name…” Buzzfeed, I love you but I really, really really hate you”
  • “By the way, Ryan, you may want to consider blacking out the twitter handles of the users who have tweeted at her if you want to preserve her anonymity. You can look up any of the people who tweeted at her and find her immediately.”
  • “Umm you can still see her Twitter username, under the blacked-out bit. Why block out only half, was it too much effort to block out everything?”

The BuzzFeed post contains a warning that “This post contains graphic content.”

iMediaEthics has written to BuzzFeed’s reporter and PR department asking why it covered the story given its lack of newsworthiness, invasion of privacy and harmfulness to the girl. We also pointed out that the girl was still identifiable from the story.

UPDATE 1/7/ 2016 5:02 PM EST 

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BuzzFeed Fail? Why did BuzzFeed Publish a Story that Harms, Invades Privacy of Random Girl?

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