Today, the fledgling news blog Vancity Buzz posted an article about a man who was arrested by police.
The article said the man was “apprehended under the Mental Health Act.”
I thought it was of questionable ethics that a web site purporting to be a news site would post a video that showed the identity of someone in the midst of a severe mental health crisis. And clearly, without that person’s consent.
So I commented on their web site.
Within minutes, my comment was gone.
A similar comment I posted on their Facebook post was hidden (a clever, but douchy tactic, in which it makes the commenter — me, in this case — believe their comment was still published, but in fact was hidden to everyone else).
A post I placed on their Facebook page was also deleted. Within minutes.
The editor of Vancity Buzz tweeted me, suggesting “filters” did the work. (“Filters” are not capable of deleting posts to Facebook pages.)
— Farhan Mohamed (@farhanmohamed) December 23, 2014
I emailed the Vancity Buzz editor privately:
Thanks for reaching out. I’m happy to take this offline.
I’m unclear why Vancity Buzz would, rather than reply, simply delete my comment (three times — 1—in Disqus, 2—on your FB page, 3—in the FB comments).
I work with FB for brands daily and am extensively familiar with how their spam filtering works. This wasn’t a spam filter. This was someone clicking Delete and, in the case of the in-line comment, Hide. (It was a clever, if douchy, move — “hiding” a post makes the original poster believe their comment is still up when, in fact, it’s invisible to everyone else. It’s also quite easy to determine if this has happened by logging out of Facebook and viewing the inline comments that way.)
The wider issue (besides that Vancity Buzz apparently deletes criticism rather than responding) is that your story identified the individual as having been “successfully apprehended under the Mental Health Act.” Then, you publish (presumably without his consent) a video identifying him.
Why did you do it?
The editor opened the email several times (my company’s email system tracks opens and clicks).
He did not reply. He still has not replied.
But then, this.
I was planning to let it go and write it off to an apparently junior staff unaware of basic journalistic ethics, and an organization that prefers to delete criticism than reply.
But then, this:
In the comments of the Facebook post, a commenter actually identified the individual by name!
Did Vancity Buzz delete this clear violation of this individual’s privacy?
No. They did not.
They only deleted criticism of them.
* Since this post was originally written, the “Andrew Lawrence” in the above comment thread now says he jokingly put an unrelated friend’s name there and was “trolling” the Vancity Buzz commenters. Even so, VCB could not have known this wasn’t the person in the video — and left the name there for hours. (Edit: Dec 25, 8pm)
Retired RCMP Superintendent & Chief Constable Peter Lepine believes Vancity Buzz’s actions warrant looking into by the BC Civil Liberties Association.
— Peter A. Lepine (@PeterLepine) December 24, 2014
Vancity Buzz and Others
And, judging by some comments on the Reddit thread about this, I’m not the only one who has been banned for having the audacity to express an opinion about Vancity Buzz:
And this one, which came in via email:
It’s not just reports of comments disappearing magically. People have also said Vancity Buzz plagiarizes:
And this, friends, is why you should follow real news organizations and leave the cheap linkbaiting to the blogs like Vancity Buzz.
[su_note note_color=”#f9f9db”]UPDATE: On December 23, the editor of Vancity Buzz reached out to me on Twitter, saying he believes my reporting contains “lots of misinformed info” and “too many inaccuracies to write out on Twitter.”
Of course, I have offered to correct any factual errors. So far, he has not provided any examples.[/su_note]