Montana ready for zombies, fiscally

Zombie GovA fun post found its way to Gov. Steve Bullock’s page on Facebook today. In the post, the governor said that Montana is prepared for “flood, fires, zombies and the current federal government shutdown.”

Cue the flashbacks to a certain emergency broadcast message that went out in Great Falls a few months back.

Aside from tapping in to one of society’s favorite narrative tropes and one of the Internet’s favorite memes, Bullock’s office said the humor is a good way to help get the governor’s message across on social media.

“Because of our responsible fiscal management, Montana is ready for emergencies,” said Mike Wessler, deputy communications director for Bullock. “That’s really the message we’re trying to get across.”

Wessler said Bullock’s office employs a social media manager who put together the post but noted that the governor himself is “engaged” in his social media presence. That presence has only become more important as more and more Montanans get their news from social sources, Wessler said.

“The governor want to be able to reach people no matter where they get their news,” he said.

Was the Tribune right to use Facebook photos in a news story?

Great Falls Tribune logoA lot of electrons have been spilled over John S. Adams’ story in the Great Falls Tribune on Sunday detailing a web of connections between former Gov. Brian Schweitzer, dark money groups and their staffers.

If you believe postings by some state social media staples, people are riled up over Adams’ use of Facebook as a source of photographs used as evidence in his story.

The ire against Adams is illustrated perfectly by a Facebook comment by retired state senator Mike Jopek on a public posting by political activist Jamee Greer. The whole thread is worth reading, but here’s Jopek’s comment:

The point is that if I can go into a non elected citizens Facebook account to lift a picture – which was not needed to make their point, then I can go into any citizens account in the name of news. What’s “fair use” and what’s not, re all those picture in the newsfeed.

Adams himself chimed in on the thread, denying any wrongdoing:

First of all, the Tribune simply re-posted a photo with an article that was already publicly available to anyone who uses Facebook. I didn’t “lift” any photos. Those photos were public on Frankin Hall’s FB page. I did nothing unethical by using them to illustrate the personal connections between a sitting governor, a paid political consultant/adviser, and an attorney tied to Louisiana fundraiser and treasurer of a dark money group. We credited the photo as coming from Franklin Hall’s FB page.

Adams goes on to call the fuss over the photo use a “red herring designed to distract from the story.”

There are some questions here that I’ll attempt to address and some I will not. I will not consider whether fuss over the photos is an attempt by democrats to distract from a scandal hitting Schweitzer. I will consider what the Tribune did and whether it was fair use.

What the Tribune did

Brian Schweitzer
Former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer. (source Wikicommons)
The social network-ly contentious portion of the Adams story begins like this:

Photographs uncovered on Facebook show Milstein and Schweitzer also know each other personally.

Facebook is mentioned in four paragraphs in the story in two subsections. In the first instance, Adams refers photos posted to the Facebook profile for chef Susanne Dillingham of Charlotte, N.C. In the following paragraph, however, Adams seems to instead be referring to the fan page for the Tiny Chef, Dillingham’s business.

It is from that page — this gallery specifically — that Adams took a photo showing Schweitzer, his wife, Dillingham, Democratic fundraiser Connie Milstein and other unidentified people.

The second mention of Facebook comes closer to the end of Adams’ story in the section describing Schweitzer’s relationship with Franklin and Melanie Hall.

Adams refers to the Facebook profile for Franklin Hall, who was an aide to Schweitzer. It is from this personal profile that Adams pulled a photo of the Halls being married in the governor’s mansion in Helena by then-Gov. Schweitzer himself.

It is worth noting that all the photos used by the Tribune were publicly accessible on Facebook and were not limited in their audience to friends or acquaintances.

It is also worth noting that the Tribune did not link to any of these sources in its story. Whether that is by Gannett or Tribune policy or by omission I cannot say.

What Facebook says about this

Facebook makes it clear in its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities:

You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings.

Uploading intellectual property to Facebook also grants Facebook a license (“non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide”) to reuse that content. That license ends if you delete the IP from Facebook — unless people you have shared it with haven’t deleted it.


When you publish content or information using the Public setting, it means that you are allowing everyone, including people off of Facebook, to access and use that information, and to associate it with you (i.e., your name and profile picture).

In regards to your relationship with other Facebook users, the terms state that you cannot do anything that infringes upon or violates another user’s rights or the law.

It also says that if you collect data from someone, you must do it with their consent, but that does not seem aimed at borrowing photos from a person’s profile.

The website’s Data Use Policy specifies that if you make a posting public, it can be associated with you, it can show up in search results, it will be accessible to apps and games, and it will be available via the Facebook API to developers.

The Data Use Policy also specifies that fan pages are public, and “information you share with a Page is public information.” This has to do with how you interact with existing pages, such as liking them or items on them.

Facebook’s statement of principles makes it clear that Facebook has no control over how information you post to the social network gets used outside the network (emphasis added):

People should own their information. They should have the freedom to share it with anyone they want and take it with them anywhere they want, including removing it from the Facebook Service. People should have the freedom to decide with whom they will share their information, and to set privacy controls to protect those choices. Those controls, however, are not capable of limiting how those who have received information may use it, particularly outside the Facebook Service.

It does not appear that Facebook’s terms of service prevent a third-party from making use of a user’s IP outside of Facebook, so long as that content was posted publicly at the time it was sampled.

That said, the terms of service note that the creator regains their IP rights to that content, opening up third-parties who use that content to copyright claims.

Fair Use

So, since Facebook doesn’t prohibit what the Tribune did in its terms, we must address this as a matter of copyright, specifically, the fair use doctrine.

Section 107 of the copyright law provides a four factors to be considered in determining if a usage qualifies as fair use.

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work

Notably, the explainer page (last revised in June 2012) points out: “Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.”


Google “can newspapers use photos from Facebook” or similar searches and one of the first links that will almost always come up is to an article by Chip Stewart, professor at Texas Christian University’s Schieffer School of Journalism.

In response to the very issue we’re addressing in this post, Stewart writes that using a Facebook photo from someone’s profile for news would almost certainly not meet most of the tests to qualify it as fair use:

[U]nder the four-part balancing test applied by courts in looking at fair use, I don’t see how any one favors the republisher: The use is for-profit, the entire photo is used, it most likely is a significant element of the news story, and it harms the market for the original copyright owner by giving away for free what the owner could legally sell.

Stewart goes on into the realm of ethics, saying that while Facebook users may not have any legally guaranteed privacy rights, “they do have reasonable belief that the service is to share their information with friends.”

Stewart’s interpretation here doesn’t precisely square with the terms of service mentioned above, which clearly tell users who read them that they cannot expect privacy on things marked “public.” However, that doesn’t mean the argument couldn’t be made in a court of law.

Breaking News Situations

Across the Atlantic, the BBC has addressed this issue too — of course, that’s British copyright law, but the ethics principles are sound. The BBC editors say that they try hard in every case to contact copyright holders before using photos from social media. However:

in exceptional situations, where there is a strong public interest and often time constraints, such as a major news story like the recent Norway attacks or rioting in England, we may use a photo before we’ve cleared it.

On this side of the pond, NBC News also addressed this topic. Their analysis stemmed from the widespread borrowing of Stefanie Gordon’s photo of the Space Shuttle Endeavour’s final launch, which she took from her airplane seat above the clouds in 2011.

Gordon’s photo has been viewed nearly 1 million times, and shown by media TV, Web and print news outlets around the world. She was paid by precisely five news organizations.

NBC spoke with digital copyright expert Mary Luria, who said amateur photographers help open the floodgates when they post newsworthy photos onto social networks, where the sharing and resharing is often hard to track and impossible to stop.

News organizations often rely on fair use in breaking news situations and when there is no other source for a photograph of immediate public importance, Luria told NBC.

Fair Use is the subject of widespread debate, however, and its application is wildly subjective. Luria, for example, said that in situations where news publications have no alternative access to an important image in a breaking news situation, they would be protected by fair use.

Of course, that doesn’t provide blanket protection for news agencies. During the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the Washington Post and Agence France-Presse took Facebook photos from Daniel Morel from inside the quake zone and republished them.

Morel sued and won, though the specific damages haven’t yet been determined. A jury will make the final decision on damages in September.

Of course, the Schweitzer story was not breaking news; nor were the photos of immediate importance to the public. They had sat quietly on Facebook for some time without drawing any attention whatsoever. Breaking news doctrine doesn’t make it fair use in Adams’ case.


The most authoritative guide I was able to come by came from American University’s School of Communication’s Center for Social Media, which has published a guide to fair use in journalism.

The principles laid out there have been endorsed by a laundry list of journalism groups, including MediaShift, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation and Poynter.

The guide includes a great summary of the importance of fair use to almost every aspect of journalism. It also points out that judges in contemporary cases often refer to the same two questions, which I quote here from the guide:

  1. Did the unlicensed use “transform” the copyrighted material by using it for a different purpose than that of the original, or did it just repeat the work for the same intent and value as the original?
  2. Was the material taken reasonably appropriate in kind and amount, considering the nature of the copyrighted work and of the use?

Most things journalists do, like quoting and paraphrasing, are transformative, the guide says, and courts have generally relied upon the industry and newsrooms to apply fair use judgement based upon the unique circumstances of each case.

The guide also outlines seven common cases where fair use might be called into play in journalism. Scenarios 2 and 4 seem most pertinent here.

Scenario 2 deals with the use of copyrighted material as proof or substantiation in reporting. Scenario 4 deals with the use of copyrighted material as illustration for news reporting.

When copyrighted material is used for these purposes, courts have tended to rule it fair use. You can read the details at the link to the guide itself. I won’t reprint them all here.


All the writers I read agreed that the best way to avoid fair use and copyright conflicts is to obtain the permission of the IP owner.

However, when that is not possible, it seems a strong case can be made that newsrooms are the best judges of what is fair use according to their experience. In this instance, Adams said on Facebook that the decision to use the photos was discussed among many people in the Tribune newsroom. Ultimately, they felt using the photos qualified as fair use.

Specifically, they would be used as proof or substantiation in reporting on a public figure, even though the photos were not taken from Schweitzer’s own pages.

However, if we believe Professor Stewart in Texas, that certainly would not stop the IP owners from suing the Tribune and claiming damages.

Ultimately, it would be up to a judge or jury to decide whether it was really fair use.

I suppose the mantra we could take from this is: It’s fair use if a newsroom says it is, until a court says it wasn’t.

The larger question of privacy remains. How secure should people feel in putting up photos on social networks? Should people start guarding themselves all the time, just in case something they post could incriminate them or someone else they know?

Of course.

Internet privacy advocates have for years been telling us to be careful posting stuff online. It could get stolen, reused, repurposed or used against us in any number of ways. That is the way of the Web.

It doesn’t make it legal, but few people put up legal fights in those situations, even though they probably have a claim in a lot of cases.

Adams’ himself made it clear on the Facebook thread that the Tribune considers these things deeply before borrowing photos but that it would continue to borrow photos if need be:

I’m not trying to be glib when I say this, but if you are someone in the public or private sector who working to set public policy or elect those who will set public policy, then the rules of fair use are different for you than they are for an ordinary citizen. The threshold is not merely whether you are elected. If you are an agent of the state, if you are someone who is working to influence public policy, then we’re going to take a closer look at you than Joe Blow Citizen.

I think most newsrooms would agree.

Public relations

editorial commentOur local police department doesn’t seem too happy with they way they’re portrayed in the Chronicle police reports. This is nothing new. Ever since social media sites like Facebook got popular, the department has taken a few potshots at the police reports.

It happened again last night on the BPD’s Facebook page. The department’s annual report seems to be a common source of these “the newspaper doesn’t take our work seriously” messages. It is in the annual report, you see, that the department outlines all the community’s crime statistics and the initiatives the department is undertaking.

Police potshotsWe write stories about the annual report too, by the way, such as:

But when the news coming out of the department’s reports keeps coming out saying the Bozeman is one of the safest cities or the safest city in the state, I start to wonder how much of the BPD’s report is public relations and spin.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that anything is falsified or wrong about the reports. There is no evidence of that. I am saying, however, that it’s wise to distrust too much good news — especially when that news comes from the agency that the news is about.

And we should remember that the BPD has an interest in presenting itself to the public as worthy of respect and as an agency that uses taxpayers’ money efficiently. They want to be trusted, as would any organization, business or agency. It’s understandable.

However, since the BPD is an arm of the government, they get to be the subject of criticism and ridicule more often than private enterprises. We have a free and independent press to hold the government in check. When the news starts coming directly from the government (or police, in this case) via social networks or the open Web, we should read it with a grain of salt — preferably large grains of salt.

JanusMay I also point out the irony of this Facebook post coming just an hour before the police sent out a press release and social network post looking for the public’s help finding a missing woman. (Do remember, of course, that the news media are an extension of the public eye.)

So it’s like this: You don’t represent us accurately so we’re going to snipe at you on Facebook and post our own “news.” Oh, by the way, here’s a press release so you can help us.


A chat with the star of Bozeman’s thunderstorm-tubing video

June 29 Thunderstorm
A photo of the June 29 thunderstorm that brought torrential rain to Bozeman. (Photo by Jay Huber on Facebook).
Saturday evening’s thunderstorm brought sheets of lashing rain to most of Bozeman, downing small branches, partially flooding city streets and making fools of those of us who left car windows open even a tiny crack.

It also brought out the chroniclers among us. Many, many people took to the social networks during and after the storm to share photos and videos of the downpour. A lot of you graciously shared your photos with us at the Chronicle on Facebook.

One such sharer was Kari Andersen, who sent us a video she took from her home along 11th Avenue near the high school during the height of the storm.

This is what she shared.

Judging by the number of times it’s been liked, commented upon and re-shared, the odds are quite a few of you have seen it already.

Kari said it started when she received a call from her husband, who was driving down the street. He had seen the man on the tube and wanted to let Andersen know the tubist was coming.

“I have no idea who he was,” Andersen said via Facebook. “He was just hooting and hollering and having a great time.”

The mystery must have been too much, because Andersen did a little Facebook detective work and shared the results with this reporter, who immediately dashed off a message to one Todd Hoberecht of Bozeman.

I spoke by phone with Hoberecht on Sunday, who seemed tickled to be about most viral thing to hit the Bozeman social networks in some time.

“I was having a terrible day,” said Hoberecht, a house painter and formerly a production coordinator fo the Ellen Theater. “The storm actually reflected the mood I was in.”

Hoberecht, also a former pastor, said he was out for a walk in the rain to reflect on things. Feeling the water slapping at his legs, he had a sudden inspiration.

“I always remembered: When things are bad, the best thing to do is just ‘wahoo’ and paddle hard,” he said. “I ran home and just got my inner tube and went for it.”

Hoberecht said he made about four runs down the flooded street, gaining cheers, honks, waves and dousings from passing cars.

Andersen’s video, originally posted to Facebook, has received almost 750 re-shares from her personal page as of this writing and 374 likes. Our re-shared version on the BDC page has been re-shared 99 times and has been seen by more than 11,000 people.

Hoberecht said he’s gotten quite a few social pats on the back for his antics, which also had the added benefit of brightening his day and mood totally.

“If life gives you rain, you might as well go tubing.”

UPDATED: Social media manager seems to quit job very publicly on Montana state tourism Facebook page

Sometime early this morning, a post appearing to be from a disgruntled social media marketer went public on [the state of Montana’s tourism page on Facebook](

Around 2:30 or 3:30 this morning, the following message went out to the page’s roughly 150,000 followers:

>F this job. I just want to live in Whitefish with my future husband. Leaving Bozeman for good tomorrow […] Thanks for the good times MercuryCSC!

MercuryCSC is an advertising agency based in Bozeman and San Francisco. Outside magazine this year [named the company one of the 30 best places to work](

The company lists its work with the state’s tourism office as [one of its case studies]( “Mercury’s work for the Montana Office of Tourism has been widely recognized as some of the most effective and innovative tourism marketing in the nation,” the Web page says. There’s [a video touting the success of the campaign]( on Vimeo.

The posting has since been deleted, to the chagrin of entertained followers, if the “posts by others” on the Facebook page are to be believed.

The posting does live on [in screenshots]( and on [Reddit](

Sarah Lawlor, spokeswoman for the tourism office, said the state office works closely with Mercury in its social media strategy, so Mercury employees do have administrative rights to the Facebook page.

“They usually run everything they will post through us first,” Lawlor said.

“It was a personal error by this person, and once they realized this error, we removed the post,” she said. “Obviously, it wasn’t content intended for our Facebook audience.”

The Office of Tourism will post an explantory statement to its page today.

Lawlor said it was too soon to tell whether the incident would affect the office’s relationship with Mercury.

“We’re going to have to have that discussion internally,” she said. “We haven’t had a chance to do that yet, but there will certainly be some review.”

MacLaren Latta at MercuryCSC said she could not discuss the matter since was a personnel issue. She also could not say whether the person in question was still with the company.

**Update:** MercuryCSC has released a statement about the incident, noting that it is no longer doing social media work for the state’s tourism office.

>At approximately 2:15 a.m. on Friday, December 7, 2012, an employee of MercuryCSC made a mistake and posted unprofessional personal comments as ”Montana” to the Montana Facebook page.
>As soon as the post was discovered, it was removed. However, images of the post were distributed throughout social media and news channels causing confusion and speculation about the source and the nature of the post.
>MercuryCSC no longer has administrative rights to the Montana Facebook page, and MercuryCSC is no longer performing social media work for the Montana Office of Tourism.
>MercuryCSC accepts responsibility for and is actively working with the Montana Office of Tourism to address the situation.
>MercuryCSC regrets this chain of events. We apologize to our client and the state of Montana for this issue.
>As it is a personnel matter, we are not able to make additional comments.

Wilcoxson’s moving on from Facebook flap

Wilcoxson's Logo

Wilcoxson's LogoWilcoxson’s, the Livingston-based ice cream company whose president drew the fury of the Internet a few weeks ago over an insensitive comment on its Facebook page, has told its online fans that it’s done talking about the matter.

On the company’s restored Facebook page, it writes that while Wilcoxson’s has allowed discussion of the Sept. 21 commenting incident, the company is ready to move on.

“We are not going to continue to host a public discussion about this incident any longer,” [the company writes on its page](

>In the spirit of civility, we feel the conversation has turned into a rant we can no longer support here. We want to thank the people that emailed us questions and those that made thoughtful comments here, even though they were negative. We deserved to be criticized. We let down our fans and customers, and for this we are truly sorry.

On Sept. 26, [the Chronicle reported]( Wilcoxson’s president Matt Schaeffer, responding to a Wyoming Muslim’s question about whether the ice cream’s gelatin was kosher, had said:

>“We don’t deliver outside of Montana, certainly not Pakistan.”

The comment provoked immediate angry responses from friends of the Wyoming man, and soon screenshots and news of the comment were posted to Reddit and other online news sources.

The response was so negative that Schaeffer decided to take the Facebook page down entirely.

>People posted such nasty things on the Wilcoxson’s page that he deleted it and said, “It’s no longer going to be in existence.”

In [a later interview with the Billings Gazette](, Schaeffer softened his social media stance, saying, “The page will be put back up soon. It will be run by somebody other than myself, who is more adept at it.”

Schaeffer originally had taken over the page from a fan after the fan said the page became too much work.

[The page is back now](, and whoever is running it has made sure to [address the comment controversy](

> UPDATE FROM WILCOXSON’S: For several days, we have been hosting a discussion on Facebook about an incident that happened in September where our president made an insensitive comment to a customer online. Our president has apologized publicly and the company has apologized as well (please see our About section). In the spirit of civility, we feel the conversation has turned into a rant we can no longer support here. We want to thank the people that emailed us questions and those that made thoughtful comments here, even though they were negative. We deserved to be criticized. We let down our fans and customers, and for this we are truly sorry. You can continue to email us at [email protected] or message us here.
> We feel that it is time to give our Facebook page back to our fans and friends. Be assured we read every comment you made and will take it to heart. We are in the midst of having discussions about how to change our customer service protocol so this doesn’t happen again. This incident does not reflect the true heart and culture of our company and we are saddened to think that people might think poorly of our company because of this one incident.
> Unfortunately, for the sake of our community, we will delete comments and ban users who continue to violate the posting guidelines in our About section. We wish it wasn’t this way, but we feel the conversation has run its course. Thanks again to those who have supported us—we will work hard to regain your trust.

The above posting currently has 71 likes and 54 comments. Most of those comments are positive; considering the moderation policy outlined above (and in [this comment]( from the company), that’s not surprising.

The page has 3,279 fans.

**Update** – A commenter notes that Wilcoxson’s mistyped their email address in the message I relayed here. Correct, it is <[email protected]>.

More issues related to quoting from social networking profiles

I wrote Wednesday about a social networking issue: [Should journalists quote from sources’ social media profiles?](

I had a few more thoughts to share that didn’t quite fit into that post, so I thought I’d file a kind of disjointed follow-up.

###The Heinous Crime Provision

First of all, media organizations already quote regularly from personal social media profiles — it just happens to occur most often, at least in my experience, when the person in question has committed some kind of horrible crime, like shooting up a crowded theater.

I’m not sure any of us watching at home really think of this kind of quoting at “not OK,” though we may think it isn’t strictly necessary. Still, in situations like that, the media-viewing public is thirsty for any information about the criminal it can get, and social media profiles provide a glimpse into the perp’s mind.

Does this kind of “mass murderer” provision filter down to the level of the average Facebook user who hasn’t committed an atrocity? These people don’t have the same weight of public scrutiny on them that high-profile criminals do, so do we treat their privacy differently? Are we treating the high profile criminal’s privacy with irresponsible recklessness? (Consider that most of this media scrutiny happens directly after the crime and before any sort of court proceedings have determined that person’s guilt.)

I don’t have answers for these questions, by the way. Sorry to disappoint.

###The Integrity of Quotes

Second, I keep coming back to this thing I wrote:

>Second, why would we necessarily give someone a chance to rephrase their wording for the media? If you see something interesting on a person’s Facebook profile and want to quote it but then you do decide to call the person first, what is he going to do? He’s going to reword himself, polish up the quote — make it media-pretty.
>I suppose it’s up to the reporter to decide whether it’s OK for the source to present a media-savvy front or to be quoted in situ. If the quote is worth quoting and it’s public, I’d say go use it.

We do this all the time already. When I worked in public relations at the local university, before rejoining the newspaper, we did it. We let sources edit and then OK their quotes.

Sometimes in the modern newsroom, we call sources before a story runs and read quotes back to them. This is done to make sure the quotes are accurate. The ethical reporter shouldn’t change a quote at a source’s request — probably — especially not if it is simply to make the source look better.

But what if the change the source requests improves the accuracy of the quote? What if changing one word is the difference between being wrong and right? Do you edit the existing quote to reflect the change or make them say it again? Is it enough for the source to say to you over the phone, “That quote you read me? Add in that one word and then consider that to be what I said.”?

Quotations are always tricky when the interview wasn’t recorded or when it was just you and the source in a one-on-one discussion. If a reporter has nothing but her notes as the record, then who is to say that when you sit down to write out that story that you got that source’s words *exactly* right? Add to this the fact that most people wouldn’t be able to tell you the precise words they spokes hours or days before.

With the social networking thing, you have a record of exactly what was said, and even if you call a source back and ask them about the thing they typed as a status update, all the pretty quotes they can give you over the phone doesn’t change the fact that they wrote it in the first place.

###But then again…

What if the source changes the privacy settings on the post in question after a journalist has seen it? Can they pull something back out of the public sphere after it has been seen?

Is it OK to quote sources from social network posts?

Privacy by Dave Pearson on Flickr

Privacy by Dave Pearson on Flickr Greer, who works with the Montana Human Rights Network, put up an journalistically interesting post on his personal Facebook wall yesterday. In it, Greer says that a Missoulian guest columnist quoted him from a posting on his personal Facebook profile without directly contacting him.

(Beware, we are about to get into the deep meta-criticism world in which I discuss and quote things from Facebook in a post in which I discuss the appropriateness of quoting things from Facebook.)


The [column in question]( was by writer and activist Dave Stalling, who wrote Aug. 14 about Joseph Baken, the young man [who told police he was assaulted at a Missoula bar for being gay]( when [in reality he hurt himself trying some flip stunt]( that [wound up on YouTube]( ([from multiple angles even](

In his column, Stalling writes:

>Jamee Greer of the Montana Human Rights Network is right on when he says bias crimes are about more than just the person who is at the end of an assailant’s fist. “They are about all of us. They are about silencing us, about intimidating us – about sending a message that we are not welcome in our own communities,” he says. “They try to send the message that we are an ‘other’ wholly undeserving of not just basic legal protections like marriage rights or non-discrimination in the workplace – but not even the right to immediate personal safety and physical security for ourselves and those we love. They are about hate and fear and terrorism.”

The thing is, that quote comes from a posting Greer made Aug. 6 to his personal Facebook account.

Greer is one of the hundreds of people I happen to be friends with on Facebook, so I was able to verify this, just as I was able to see the initial exchange about Greer seeing his words quoted in the Missoulian column. Both postings are listed right now as being shared with “Jamee’s friends,” and not as a public post, so I will not provide links. I don’t know if that ever changed or if they were limited visibility posts the whole time.

About five hours after Greer made his initial post about the column quote, Stalling responded to Greer on Facebook to explain himself. Stalling said he had earlier quoted Greer’s Facebook postings in [a blog post]( that Greer had “liked” and commented on, so he assumed it was OK to quote him in the column.

Greer wrote in his original post that the incident has made him paranoid about what he posts on the social network, and he writes in a comment later that he will be limiting some of his Facebook postings as a result.

Enough of the details. Let’s move on to the theoretical question at the heart of all this:

Is it appropriate for a journalist or columnist to quote from someone’s Facebook page?

###What others say

In January, Vince Duffy of the Radio Television Digital News Association [asked a similar question]( He didn’t come to any conclusions, and the three (yes, only three) reporters he spoke to about it had mixed opinions — one of which was that it was “lazy” to quote social network profiles without contacting a source.

[Poynter took up the matter of social network privacy in March]( In her article, Nisha Chittal addresses both Twitter and Facebook, but we’ll leave the tweeting aside for now.

Chittal rightly notes that Facebook’s privacy settings are complicated. While it is possible to limit your postings to friends or subsets of friends, general users might not know that or might not even realize their posts are being sent out into the wider world labeled “public.”

The conclusion of Chittal’s column, however, is that it’s still up in the air. There are many useful things reporters can find out in public on Facebook and many things that can lead them on to good contacts with sources and more background information about someone based on their likes and connections.

But to actually quote from a publicly available Facebook page without contacting the person first… Well, that’s a choice that seems to be made on a case-by-case basis, and Chittal lists a series of questions writers can ask themselves before quoting such material.

###How I see it

Yes, you can quote people directly from their social networking profiles. No, you don’t *need* to make an effort to reach them directly, though that might be better in many cases.

However, the postings you quote must be publicly visible.

(You used to be able to search public Facebook posts via YourOpenBook, but [Wikipedia tells me]( the site was shut down in July for legal reasons. You can still limit search results inside Facebook to only public posts, though.)

Now, Greer’s postings are currently set to be visible only to his Facebook friends. I don’t believe a social network friend should take advantage of that relationship to quote things openly. In this particular case, Stalling should have spoken to Greer first.

Back to why I think it’s OK to quote from social media without contacting a person.

First, and call me cold-hearted, but if you haven’t managed to figure out the privacy settings in Facebook, you need to learn them.

Second, why would we necessarily give someone a chance to rephrase their wording for the media? If you see something interesting on a person’s Facebook profile and want to quote it but then you do decide to call the person first, what is he going to do? He’s going to reword himself, polish up the quote — make it media-pretty.

I suppose it’s up to the reporter to decide whether it’s OK for the source to present a media-savvy front or to be quoted in situ. If the quote is worth quoting and it’s public, I’d say go use it.

That’s not to say I think you should use Facebook posts lightly. In fact, I’d be inclined to use the postings only as a last resort, unless the quote itself is the impetus for the story. And if a newspaper is basing a story on a social media post, then it had better be a public figure flubbing up or a fluffy feature — both cases in which you’d contact the person involved for more information or a response.

Finally: Don’t post things on the Internet unless you want them to be public. No matter what security or privacy settings you have in place, you are transferring information to another computer on a worldwide network. Don’t expect privacy.

###General Guideline

I’m going to pass the buck and say it’s got to be a case-by-case analysis. There’s no way to make a single rule for something this fluid.

Facebook buying Instagram

In what will undoubtedly be the biggest social media story of the day, Facebook announced that it is buying the popular photo-sharing service Instagram for $1 billion.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the news on his Facebook timeline, of course. In the post, Zuckerberg writes that Facebook needs to be “mindful about keeping and building on Instagram’s strengths and features rather than just trying to integrate everything into Facebook.” Accordingly, Instagram will be kept independent of Facebook, he said.

In his own blog post, Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom wrote:

It’s important to be clear that Instagram is not going away. We’ll be working with Facebook to evolve Instagram and build the network. We’ll continue to add new features to the product and find new ways to create a better mobile photos experience.

In its formal press release, Facebook said the deal is expected to close this quarter.

According to a report on AllThingsD, San Francisco-based Instagram had 30 million users on the iPhone before releasing an Android app last week, which quickly drew in a million more users.

Why we allow anonymous comments

A reader recently wrote in asking why the Chronicle allows anonymous or pseudonymous comments on its website while requiring that letter writers verify their names and addresses before their letters are printed.

It was a hard question for me to answer, if only because it seemed obvious that we should be offering anonymous comments — despite the headaches they give me on an almost daily basis. Yet when I sat down to write back to this reader, “obvious” did not translate into “easy to explain.”

I knew we should offer anonymous comments. We always have. Yet, why was that? Did someone make a measured decision at some point in the Chronicle’s online past? I know we didn’t question continuing the practice when we upgraded to a new website in 2010.

So I started reading back through my links and finding new ones. (The bookmark trail is here.) I found what Mathew Ingram had to say at GigaOm particularly useful in putting together my answer. Also useful was “No Comment” by Rem Rieder at the American Journalism Review.

At any rate, this is the response I sent to the reader. Let me know how you think I did in the comments.

Sorry to be long in replying, but your question is a really solid one. There are so many arguments back and forth out there in the world of journalism that it was hard for me to find a way to encapsulate that for you.

Yes, we require verified names for letters to the editor. No, we don’t do any verification for online comments — all you need is a working email address to open an account on our website.

Is that a discrepancy? Not in my view. Online comments are not letters to the editor. They are two different ways for our readers to submit comments, and they are both the product of the mediums they were created for. They come from different worlds; we cannot hold one to the standard of the other.

I agree that the state of discourse in the comment section is awful. The commenters are often vicious, mean, bigoted and spiteful, but requiring real names online would box out some of the commenters who rely on anonymity to express themselves without fear of repercussion or punishment.

Besides, experience has shown that a vile environment in the online comments section is less a product of anonymity or pseudonymity than it is a lack of staff engagement with readers. If our reporters more often took part in the online discussion, answering reader comments and questions, the tenor of the discussion there would improve. Commenters would begin to see that a human being reads and reacts to comments, rather than the website being a forum for shouting into the void.

More staff engagement is something I would like to see in the future.
Unfortunately, our reporters have their hands full just covering their beats and writing their stories. Asking them at this point to moderate the comments beneath their stories would be too burdensome.

Another major reason for not requiring real names online is that it would be nearly impossible to verify them without requiring people to submit Social Security numbers, credit card numbers or some other identification, which the Chronicle would then have to process. This would guarantee real names are used online, but it would be laborious and expensive for the Chronicle. It would exclude readers who lack the proper identification—as well as people who need anonymity or a screen name to comment on controversial topics.

A few newspapers in the country have experimented with verification systems.
Some have switched to Facebook comments for this purpose because that site has a reputation for requiring real names (though it does not verify identities either). The newspapers that have experimented with these systems have seen the number of comments posted to their sites drop dramatically, and they have generally not seen an improvement in commenters’ online behavior.

I am not interested at this time in stifling the comments of those who cannot verify their identities with a credit card number. Neither am I interested in losing a lot of our commenters. These people are regular readers who spend lots of time talking — yes, quite often rudely — about the news and the issues surrounding it. Comments are an outlet for them.

We do moderate comments. Readers have the ability to flag comments as inappropriate, and I and others at the paper look through the comments we receive daily. Those that are clearly against policy are removed. Sometimes commenters are contacted via email to discuss a comment and its deletion.
Sometimes, off-color comments remain because, while impolite, they may add to a discussion. There is no accounting for taste, as they say.

As to the accuracy of commenters’ statements, I can make no warranty. People get things wrong, and they lie. It’s the way people are. I cannot fact check the hundreds of comments we receive each day. It’s up to other commenters to continue the debate, showing the errant commenter why he is wrong and citing evidence to show it.

There are financial reasons for wanting a large number of commenters as well.
I won’t get into that because it’s not really a factor in the philosophy I’ve laid out here.

In summary, the Web is not the newspaper. People interact with the two mediums in different ways, and users of both the print edition and the website have different expectations for what each product will offer. Online, one expectation is the ability to comment on articles pseudonymously.

I think that feature allows readers freer expression than would binding them to their real names, and while individual comments may be awful to read, I think the entire enterprise is worthwhile.