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