Celebrities and media promote offensive online behaviour
Like many others, I enjoy scrolling through social media sites like Twitter and Instagram to see the latest breaking news stories, and to look at pictures of glamorous celebrities. However, it is not uncommon these days to see some of those celebrities engaging in arguments, rants, or even fights with other people via Twitter.
Famous people have especially large followings, and therefore influence a massive audience, so it concerns me when that influence is used for bullying. When they condone hurtful content on their own social media pages, what does that say to those who look up to them as role models?
There should be no question as to why we see so much cyber bullying going on these days, especially among youth who are quite impressionable by the actions of their role models and peers.
For example, a Los Angeles-based rapper by the name of Ray J recently posted a photo on Instagram that exhibited cyber bullying. Ray J apparently took a screenshot of a woman, Tina Chastang, who had allegedly been posting hurtful comments to him on his own Instagram page. In response, Ray J reposted an image Chastang had published to her own private account with the caption, “I usually don’t go this hard but … This chick look (sic) exactly like a character on Planet of the Apes…I’m not even joking.” Ray J deleted the image off his Instagram, but not before someone else grabbed a screen shot of the image for all to see. Several celebrity gossip sites featured the story, showing the original image of Chastang and Ray J’s caption.
Chastang has requested an apology, which she deserves because of her global-scale embarrassment, but apparently has yet to receive any response. International Business Times quoted sources close to Ray J as saying “she doesn’t deserve one.”
But it’s not just the rapper, it’s also the news media that mishandled matters in this case.
It would have been more ethical in a situation like this to blur out the face of Chastang when reporting on the rapper’s misdeeds — especially considering the embarrassment and potential harm of the reports. If a more famous individual had done this, I believe many more people would have been outraged at this particular posting. But this case somewhat fell under the radar, which it shouldn’t have. I don’t think it is right that Ray J should be left scot-free when the media would have ridiculed any other more popular celebrity.
The gossip sites like TMZ, The Source and The Hollywood Gossip should have taken a page from Calgary news sources that featured recent stories about a cyber bullying Facebook group named “‘Creature Sightings.’”
The Facebook group featured photos and video footage of Calgarians making fun of homeless citizens. The footage and photos CTV and Metro News Calgary published had the victims’ faces blurred and covered over to minimize any further harm to them.
Metro reporter Robson Fletcher, who wrote Metro’s “‘creature hunting’” article, explains the process behind the decision as this: “At the heart of that story was the concern that these people were being photographed to be made fun of, to be mocked online.
“There is a fine line to walk when you’re trying to tell a story about something that is happening that involves someone being mocked or degraded: you have to tell the story but you don’t want to further the harm.”
If an offensive photo can easily identify someone who’s already being victimized, it would be in the best interest for a news organization to minimize further harm done to him or her.
And that should have been done in Chastang’s case.
Even if Chastang bullied Ray J first on Instagram, as the gossip sites have reported, it did not give the rapper an excuse to publicly embarrass her to a massive audience. As someone in the public eye, he should have been mindful to the influence his actions could have on the public.
Taking the high road shows a lot more integrity when dealing with a bully, and the entertainment news sources that covered the Ray J/Chastang incident could have taken the high road too by not reposting the original photo that Ray J did.
It is obvious, however, that these entertainment news sources are interested in gaining shock value by perpetuating cyber-bullying to an even larger audience.
These types of acts are what make some people in our society think that websites like Peopleofwalmart.com are socially acceptable and humorous. Publicly embarrassing innocent victims should be not be promoted, especially by celebrities and the media.
As for question of legal recourse Chastang could take against the rapper because of the reposting of the private image, Matt Lonsdale, lawyer and copyright advisor at Mount Royal University, says that every social media site has its own specific rules that govern the usage of photos that users publish.
“On the face of it, it is a copyright infringement,” Lonsdale says.
He adds that if Chastang were to take legal action against the re-posting of her photos, there are numerous exceptions or defenses that Ray J could raise.
However, Lonsdale mentions that a “fair use” defense (in the U.S.) or “fair dealing” (in Canada) legal exception for reposting photos for news reporting might protect the entertainment websites of copyright infringement in their reports.
However, Lonsdale says that although he is no expert on media ethics, he’s “sure the girl in the photo is not very happy about it.”
The media — as well as people in the public eye or with large social media followings — should carefully consider what they publish, and make sure it is done in a way to minimize the potential for harm.
It’s refreshing to see celebrities and others ousted by the media when they are engaging in cyber-bullying. However, by examining the potential harm versus potential gain, news sources could take the high road and choose not to further that bullying by exposing vulnerable individuals and their identities to greater public ridicule.
It’s good to know that Calgary media sources set the right example in practicing ethical journalism.
Calgary Journal reporter Caroline Fyvie is exploring media ethics as part of the Bachelor of Communication-Journalism degree at Mount Royal University.