Failure to moderate Facebook comments about car wreck sees paper censured by Press Council

Moorabol News

A local newspaper breached Press Council standards by refusing to delete derogatory Facebook comments about a fatal car smash, but not in publishing pictures of the scene on social media within 30 minutes of the crash.

The APC found Victorian local paper The Moorabool News failed to delete comments on its Facebook page under a post about the October 9 smash, following which the driver of the car died, which included: “20 year old kid…deserves what he got not the poor old tree”; “thankfully the idiot travelling at 150km per hour is not on our roads tonight”; and “he did it deliberately”.

In its ruling the APC noted that the paper had deleted some but not all the negative comments “but not those that the driver’s family understandably found to be very offensive”.

“Indeed, it did not delete them even when asked to do so by the family,” the ruling said. “The fact that by then the report and comments may already have been read widely does not justify failing to delete them. Accordingly, this aspect of the complaint is upheld.”

The family member involved, Kylie Keel, also complained about use of the images of the accident scene, which were posted on Facebook within about 30 minutes of the collision when most of the family had not been informed of the accident, saying they caused great offence to the family and breached its privacy.

Moorabool news facebook pageThe APC acknowledged the images and the speed with which they were online would have been distressing to family members, but found they were not so graphic that they overrode the public interest justification.

It ruled: “Due to the images’ relative lack of identifying features and the police having said the driver’s father already knew of the collision. Accordingly, those aspects were not upheld.”

In its adjudication the APC also reminded members the Codes of Practice apply to Facebook pages in the same way that they do to its print and other online platforms. “This means the publication must take reasonable steps to monitor readers’ comments and delete them if they breach the Council’s Standards,” it noted.

The APC rejected arguments by the The Moorabool News that as a small newspaper it was difficult to continually monitor its Facebook page. It also rejected arguments that users of social media choose what to contribute or see, and in some ways the medium was “self-adjudicating”.

Nic Christensen 


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