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Media Council issues social-media guidelines

In the public domain: Don Burgess, executive officer of the Media Council of Bermuda

Social media posts made by members of the public are fair game for journalists, a representative with the island’s media council has confirmed.

Don Burgess, executive officer of the Media Council of Bermuda, said that there was a misconception that posts made on social media platforms — including Facebook and Twitter — were private.

Mr Burgess said that members of the public could have “no reasonable expectation of privacy when you post to a Facebook group or push out a tweet and hashtag a well-known celebrity in it”.

“The news media don’t have to ask for your permission to use what you posted, as it is already in the public domain.”

Mr Burgess said that most people had not read the service terms for the social media sites they used.

He explained: “The terms of service of most social media platforms do allow you to retain rights to the content you create, but it also stipulates that it can be used by the media.”

The comments follow complaints received from members of the public in the last few months about their social media posts finding their way into multiple news stories.

Mr Burgess said one of the complaints investigated dealt with a Twitter post directed at Ellen DeGeneres. The message also incorporated a hashtag.

He said the combination of using a public social media platform combined with the use of the hashtag and addressing it to Ms DeGeneres — who has more than 70 million Twitter followers — meant that the author “can’t really expect to have any rights to privacy”.

Mr Burgess added: “It would be like standing on the street corner in Bermuda with a megaphone broadcasting it to everybody.”

He said that anything posted to a personal Facebook page, which has restricted privacy settings, is generally safe.

But Mr Burgess cautioned that if privacy settings have not been restricted people were

exposed to having their information used.

He added: “Private citizens generally are given more leeway than Bermudian public figures, which include but are not limited to politicians, entertainers, sports figures and business people.

“But even private citizens should be wary of having your ‘friends’ taking a screenshot of what you posted and passing it around.”

Mr Burgess said that people concerned about social media musings finding their way into news articles should follow a simple guideline.

He explained: “If you don’t want it out in the public, you probably shouldn’t have posted it on social media in the first place.”