Sunday, December 02, 2018

Facebook blocks journalist Hawes Spencer for reporting image of Charlottesville defendant's violent meme, already admitted into court

Andrew Boujon writes for Washingtonian Magazine about Facebook’s suspension of reporter Hawes Spencer for sharing an image of an Instagram meme where Charlottesville defendant James Alex Fields had hinted that he might attack protestors with his car. 

The trial judge in the (Commonwealth of) Virginia state court allowed the meme to be admitted into evidence, as possible pre-meditation supporting a first degree murder charge. Journalist Hawes Spencer wrote a brief story for Community Idea Stations including the image, which he posted to Facebook and showed the embedded image when it expanded aiutomatically.  The wording in the meme is particularly chilling, “But I’m late for work.”

Nevertheless, this meme was included as a factual news attachment, not as enticement. As things stand now, the public has a right to know about evidence regarding possible premeditation. (I do wonder about the jurors – are they sequestered?)

I suppose, however, you could not, claiming “journalism”, include an embeddable image showing an image of child pornography introduced into a court trial.  But a legitimate news outlet would not have included it, so it would not have been possible for it to expand into a visible Facebook posting.  Still, a personally owned blog posting might be able to do this, and raise an issue (although the blog itself then would raise a TOS or AUP issue with the hosting provider).
I’m not sure of the legal status of all images introduced into evidence.  I thought they were normally public domain, unless sealed or hidden by security clearance.  I do wonder what happens if the image itself is unlawful.

Ford Fischer (News2share) has a tweet about this matter here. 

The idea that Facebook can do what it wants with its own free service is somewhat met by Facebook's nearly monopolistic power on who smaller news publishers reach audiences and pay their own ways. 
I can imagine what the Timcast will be like.  

Update: later today.
Andrew Beaujon reports that the post has been restored and that Facebook will allow embedded violent memes for journalistic purposes in some cases. But not all. 

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