Facebook vs Daily Mail - because you shouldn't make up news

11 March 2010

What happens when your news isn't quite interesting enough? You embellish the news you have, that's what!

Step forward The Daily Mail - eager to make hay following the murder of teenager Ashleigh Hall and conviction of her killer Peter Chapman, the Mail yesterday ran a story entitled:

I posed as a 14-year-old girl on Facebook. What followed will sicken you.

The article was written by Mark Williams-Thomas, a former police detective and specialist in child protection. According to blog Global Dashboard, the article opened with:

Even after 15 years in child protection, I was shocked by what I encountered when I spent just five minutes on Facebook posing as a 14-year-old girl. Within 90 seconds, a middle-aged man wanted to perform a sex act in front of me.

I was deluged by strangers asking stomach-churning questions about my sexual experience. I was pressured to meet men with whom I’d never before communicated.

So I wasn’t surprised that a vulnerable teenager, Ashleigh Hall, was groomed on Facebook before being brutally raped and killed.

Shocking. Except anybody who has ever used Facebook knows this isn't how Facebook works. To have stumbled upon a sex pervert within seconds of signing up would require the user to actively seek out a very specific person; in fact, it's pretty much impossible to be suddenly "deluged by strangers asking stomach-churning questions". And there's no video chat in Facebook - there's no way to perform in front of your audience.

It does sound more like Chat Roulette, however, the site that randomly connects you in-vision to strangers all over the world, and is more-or-less a non-stop onslaught of exhibitionists displaying their genitalia (see Jon Stewart's take on media reporting of Chat Roulette in the US for more).

Global Dashboard points out that while the story went out in print yesterday, the online version was then edited to read:

I posed as a girl of 14 online. What followed will sicken you.

Even after 15 years in child protection, I was shocked by what I encountered when I spent just five minutes on a social networking site posing as a 14-year-old girl.

All references to Facebook had been removed. Almost. As slick as they thought they might have been, the Mail still hasn't changed the URL of the story:

Bitterwallet - Daily Mail fails to change Facebook URL

And Williams-Thomas is getting quite the arse on Twitter, claiming he never once mentioned Facebook in his original article. Global Dashboard now claims to have been contacted by Facebook, who state that legal action against the Mail is pending.

Taking into account the Mail's own actions and the retractions of the author, it would appear the somebody at the newspaper decided made a conscious decision to attribute the experience to Facebook. Even after the change was made, the Daily Mail failed to publish a retraction or apology.

With around a third of the country's adult population having a Facebook account, you're far more likely to wildly exaggerate the threat (and sell more papers) if you associate grooming and pedophilia with a well-known website, rather than an anonymous one. Hats off to the Daily Mail once more for their middle-England scaremongering horseshit.

UPDATE - avid Bitterwallet reader Simon has been in touch to say he contacted Williams-Thomas before the story broke, concerned about the inaccuracy of the piece. Not only does Williams-Thomas confirm that the Daily Mail seemingly ignored his requests for corrections to the feature, but that he didn't even write the piece; it was ghost-written by an Daily Mail reporter. Thanks Simon!

TOPICS:   Social Media


  • Steve
    Looks like they must read bitterwallet - the URL has now changed! "Last updated at 10:41 AM on 11th March 2010"
  • Steve
    ... however they haven't changed the "More..." link in this article: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1256307/Facebook-warning-Peter-Chapman-admits-Ashleigh-Hall-murder.html , which still reads as "MARK WILLIAMS-THOMAS: I posed as a girl of 14 on Facebook. What followed will sicken you"
  • Gunn
    No surprise that the media target something/someone to blame for the death.
  • F.D. A.
    Journos live and die by pageviews...
  • james d.
    I almost feel like writing a spoof article about a male journalist going undercover as a 14 year old going to a night club.
  • Matt
    Thank you for introducing me to chatroullette though, I imagine there aer thousands of men on there trying to find the one girl
  • PaulH
    ...Little do they know the girl is actually me...a guy mwhahahahah!
  • Chris
    There was an apology today in their (printed) paper
  • Paul S.
    How big was the apology, Chris? I believe when they ran the original story yesterday it was front page news? I'm going to take a wild guess that it was a pissy little apology tucked away somewhere that in no way reflected the significance of the mistake made.
  • andyofyarm
    How stupid, This is the home of the sicko.
  • Degeneratemoo
    About what I would expect from the Mail. About one of the worst daily papers you can buy in Britain.
  • Degeneratemoo
    There's lots of abouts about.
  • Fella-Tio
    @ Degeneratemoo I believe thats cause the owner of BW etc is Canadian and its aboot
  • Aaron
    The mail are currently running (another) story where they're outraged, a story with the byline "The BBC has lavished thousands of pounds teaching staff how to learn to use social networking site Facebook, despite its simplicity." umm maybe they should take a look at that article themselves...

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