BuzzFeed reporter’s use of tweets stirs controversy

BuzzFeed’s Jessica Testa noticed a unique thread on her Twitter timeline Wednesday. Twitter user @steenfox asked her followers who were rape survivors to share what they were wearing when they were attacked. The results were rather spectacular. Some were in college when they were assaulted. Others were children. The precise details of their memories – pink pajamas, or peep-toe flats – provided a window into the insidious nature of rape.

Seeing an opportunity to tell an interesting story, Testa asked some of those same Twitter users for their permission to aggregate the tweets, then organized them by themes, drawing out the trends, adding her observations and sprinkling in some statistics about sexual assault. The result was this BuzzFeed news item that went up Wednesday evening.

It was an effective device to counter many of the myths about rape.

But the BuzzFeed post prompted a backlash. Some people got mad at Testa because she identified the victims. Some of those people missed the note that Testa obtained permission from the survivors to use their tweets and honored their requests to blur out names or faces. @steenfox challenged Testa for failing to get permission from her.

 

But that raises a question: Permission for what?

Many on Twitter rose up and pointed out that Twitter is public, which is true. And while there is a widely accepted guideline in journalism that you don’t identify rape victims without their permission, @steenfox didn’t identify herself as a survivor in two tweets that asked others to share their stories. Neither did Testa. She is only identified as the one who posed the question.

Because you pose a question that provokes an interesting answer, does that give an ethical claim to control the story that emerges?

That’s a bit of a stretch. Testa did the right thing in gaining permission directly from the Twitter users who shared their stories. And she was right to give an intellectual nod to @steenfox, whose idea it was to ask the question.

But just because these tweets involve sexual assault, there’s no reason to suggest the solicitor has ownership of the answers. If I ask my followers what they thought about online dating or the Sixers losing streak or the Common Core Standards, I wouldn’t have any claim to control their answers, either individually or in the aggregate. In an email to Poynter, @steenfox explained her main objection with BuzzFeed was the use of her image with the story without her permission.

This is tricky territory because BuzzFeed doesn’t identify her as a sexual assault survivor, and it’s not apparent if Testa even knew that fact. (BuzzFeed editors declined to answer that specific question.) Except for sexual assault victims, journalists rarely offer carte blanche anonymity.

However, journalists harbor great reservations around identifying rape survivors. When a woman in Tampa’s Ybor City tweeted out the description of the stranger who had just fled her home after raping her, newsrooms had to decide whether that constituted permission.

Just last week ESPN The Magazine reported that former Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary, a key witness in the Jerry Sandusky criminal case, told his players he had been sexually assaulted as a child. Critics immediately took note.

And not everyone agrees with the policies that grant sexual assault survivors anonymity.

These are healthy conversations to have. But it’s unfortunate that some folks are condemning Testa. It doesn’t really look like she did anything wrong.

Confusion over how to identify rape survivors and tell their stories keeps many reporters from tackling the subject. This reaction stokes those concerns.

Correction: @steenfox revealed in her Twitter timeline that she is a survivor of sexual assault. We got that wrong. It is not clear if BuzzFeed reporter Jessica Testa saw those tweets before publishing her story. BuzzFeed editors declined to clarify. We at Poynter did not see @steenfox’s entire timeline before we published our story. And when we said that @steenfox did not state that she was a survivor, we were referring only to one specific tweet asking other survivors to share a description of what they were wearing when they were assaulted. That sentence has been clarified. Another paragraph has been changed to amplify what @steenfox said her main objection was with the BuzzFeed piece.

For more information and training, see our free NewsU course Reporting on Sexual Violence.

“The New Ethics of Journalism: Principles for the 21st Century” is now available. The book is a compilation of essays and case studies edited by Kelly McBride and Tom Rosenstiel, with a foreword by Bob Steele, for use in newsrooms, classrooms and other settings dedicated to a marketplace of ideas that serves democracyYou can find more information about the book here.

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  • GTrain

    Twitter is public. You don’t want it public, don’t say it — and put your photo — on Twitter. Whether it’s a recipe for donuts or details of national security. Just don’t say it. What is so complicated about that?

  • Angela

    Do you not know the difference between millions of people that Buzzfeed traffic brings in seeing someone’s photo regarding a sensitive topic, versus a smaller group of people?

  • Annika

    I see. I think your point contributes to something I said earlier, which is that the nature of the web and the speed with which we report things contributes to people not doing their full due diligence. Fox’s survivor status was on her timeline if you went digging for it through to the start of the conversation. Fox *clearly* would’ve gladly shared those details had either writer actually consulted with her prior to publishing. Instead, everyone failed to do basic reporting 101. Everyone wanted to lazily publish something instead of strengthening their story by talking directly to Fox.

    This entire thing is so weird – it sincerely looks like a bunch of journos, who are excited by how much easier the web can make their jobs, defending their right to FINALLY not have to fully talk to their source.

  • castingstones2

    If you say so….

  • castingstones2

    You can continue to think that.

  • Sarena Brown

    Neither Testa nor McBride lied.

  • Sarena Brown

    Testa got permission by responding to each original tweet (not the one retweeted by steenfox) with this exact quote: “I’m writing a Buzzfeed post about these tweets. Do we have permission to include yours? Can blur name/photo if preferred.” Her own full name is clearly identified for anyone wanting to do their own due diligence. You want to see these for yourself, just use the search terms “@jtes do we have permission”

    Anyone receiving her tweet could have said yes (as many did), no (as many did I am told, though I haven’t seen those tweets myself), or asked follow-up questions (not obvious to me so I can’t say if any did). I saw that one person asked if steenfox had been contacted, and later, when she found out steenfox had not been reached, she retracted her permission. I didn’t see that anyone–other than Testa–had tried to contact steenfox. No deception.

    You want to keep arguing that there was deception and deny that the people who gave consent had the right or agency to do so without providing any proof. I reject your argument as completely baseless.

  • Sarena Brown

    Yes, of course I completely agree. I apologize that I wasn’t clearer in what I meant. It seemed to me that castingstones 2 was saying that steenfox was being victimized (on par with a rape victim) by having her photo used without her consent in one article & by my calling out her hypocrisy in being ok with other media using it/ her publicly posting it all over the internet. I don’t accept that comparison. I did not in any way intend this to seem that I was casting doubt on her survivor status or dismissing it in any way.

  • DefinitelySmarterThanYou

    Intellectual property should be copyrighted…
    http://www.canyoucopyrightatweet.com/

  • DefinitelySmarterThanYou

    I can’t search Twitter for one or two tweets that I have no information about (e.g. search terms) alas you know what they entail but offer no details while continuing to assert publicly that deceptive measures were used. That’s an odd approach to this discussion and does not support your stance.

  • DefinitelySmarterThanYou

    If you don’t want something going beyond the borders of Twitter, don’t tweet it. That is not how that digital space works unfortunately. I knew nothing of Fox prior to the night of this event. Other people who I follow, who followed Fox, RT’d or drew attention to Fox’s timeline in their tweets. If you have 14,000+ people following you, and some of them are national media figures with hundreds of thousands of followers, that’s not a restricted space. Your bar conversation analogy does not apply here, I detailed why in another post. Twitter is a public space, private conversations on Twitter are conducted via DM. It is likely that both Kelly and Jessica have been instructed by their employers to have no further contact. Standard industry practice. There is no more nuanced approach, Twitter is public. If you are doing something newsworthy in public the media can report on it. Although Jessica did not identify Fox as a survivor in her initial piece, Fox’s story as a rape survivor was not highlighted her story as a catalyst for powerful social media exchanges was, once Jessica was informed that Fox was a survivor she should have immediately apologized, printed an apology, and extended the same protection to Fox as she did the other brave women. That is the real error here. And McBride should have made contact with Fox before muddying Poynter’s good name in the fray.
    If a male rapist started tweeting about his many victims and detailing his crimes on his timeline only, no one would argue privacy at his arraignment. Twitter is public and your tweets can justify probable cause, get you arrested, get your house raided, be used as evidence, and get you thrown in jail. You can’t twist the parameters of the medium to fit how you think your needs should be met.

  • castingstones2

    While some were happy with how the consent they gave, others felt she was deceiving.

  • castingstones2

    Different tweets online tell the story.

  • DefinitelySmarterThanYou

    Although I understand the need to write an article that examines the ethics of what happened, I too found it incredibly strange that McBride (obviously) had not spoken to Fox herself before publishing this. That’s just cray.

  • DefinitelySmarterThanYou

    The implication is that Testa, and subsequently McBride, knowingly omitted Fox’s survivor status. That they saw the tweets in which Fox mentioned her own story and chose to trample Fox’s rights alone, while upholding those of the others included in the BuzzFeed piece. I don’t think that’s the case. I was on Twitter that evening and watched the feed. Most people became aware of the feed AFTER it caught traction for several hours. I did not know Fox was also a survivor until everything started to lather the following day.

  • DefinitelySmarterThanYou

    I would not call a thread started by someone with over 14,000 followers obscure. Especially when some of that person’s 14,000 followers have over a million followers.

  • DefinitelySmarterThanYou

    Again, if you’re gonna cast stones, details…

  • DefinitelySmarterThanYou

    Details…

  • castingstones2

    Thanks for the validation, Julian.

  • castingstones2

    You’ve missed the point.

  • castingstones2

    She got permission through deceptive means.

  • Annika

    I can’t speak on the reading of the motives of Kendall and the like, but I think there’s one other thing to what you’re gathering from Fox’s request: I don’t know about you, but I saw her photo plastered all over Facebook as the face of a story on sexual assault – a story that SHE began, in a space where SHE told her story as a survivor – because HER PHOTO was used as the featured photo for the story. She’s an attractive girl, I can see why her photo would be appealing to use for the story, but a lot of conclusions can be drawn about her life – accurate once – and BuzzFeed left her up to all of that scrutiny without her permission.

    The argument you’re making – “Well, she said ‘Yes’ to The Root, why did BF need permission?” – is actually only further indicative of what we’re arguing for, here. Why was BF in such a rush that they couldn’t get an OK from a survivor who actually shared their story?

    The fact that McBride got this particular point so glaringly wrong is what complicates this – a survivor started the conversation, and if we’re making an ethical argument for permission to expose survivors to the scourges of society, then YES the survivor who started the conversation should be consulted FLAT OUT if you’re going to be using her likeness to promote the story.

    I don’t think this is a matter of The Root, a predominately black space, being consistently given passes – the site’s actually quite stale and uninteresting. More than anything, I think this is about the safety that anonymity grants, and having that taken away without consent forces people to publicly grapple with a traumatic event.

    If the spirit of journalistic ethics has always protected alleged victims of sexual violence until it is proven otherwise, and since media is constantly evolving in the digital era, we should be open to understanding the fullness of these situations and using them to assess whether or not our ethics should evolve. Sharing the story without attaching the users names might not center the survivors, but it *does* protect them from further abuse.

  • DefinitelySmarterThanYou

    Also, people compare the BuzzFeed and Root piece. True, the Root piece was better journalism. However, when you are publishing content publicly, in 140 character bits, you cannot then turn around and dictate the quality of the stories drafted around your published, public content. No journalist should intentionally mislead readers (key word intentionally) but the fact that BuzzFeed did not do a more in depth exploration of the subject matter, or social media happening that evening, has no bearing. If Testa got permission from the people SHE identified as assault survivors in her piece, and did not mislead them in regard to intents and purposes, she did what was required.

  • DefinitelySmarterThanYou

    She (Fox) is a victim on par with the other victims of sexual abuse because she is a sexual abuse survivor.

  • DefinitelySmarterThanYou

    It’s a shame that what took place has turned into such a disaster. Every woman, every survivor, should be applauded for her bravery and fortitude, that includes Christine. Alas confusion persists. I think what some fail to realize is that not only is Twitter public, it is a form of publishing. When you draft and post a Tweet you are publishing something in a public space. This is not on par with having a loud, A to B conversation outside on a public street corner and having your conversation quoted by a blogger or reporter who overhears its contents. However, if you were standing on a public street corner, yelling loudly for all to hear, and your behavior was considered “newsworthy” you could be filmed, recorded, photographed, and broadcast by the media (subsequently covered by others news outlets) and that would be a violation of no laws or rights. It happens to protesters daily. Both journalists and users of social media have the responsibility to educate themselves on social media platforms, proper use, and rights.

  • julian francisco

    no one is shaming those women, you liar.

  • julian francisco

    it’s really exactly what mmoska and Sarena Brown have been doing. “Oh, you don’t like ppl misrepresenting what you’ve said in publications, obviously you’re just doing it to get attention.” Nasty pair of people. And then they go off pretending they’re concerned about ‘the real victims in all this.’ It’s such classic abuser mo

  • julian francisco

    it’s mean you’re uninteresting and should leave the person alone.

    “I care about the women thrown under the bus.”

    liar.

  • julian francisco

    I’m sorry, why you berating someone for correcting a lie told about them in an article?

  • julian francisco

    yes, you dishonest inhuman monster

  • julian francisco

    again, this is why no one trusts the media. Zero compassion or respect for other human beings. People like mmoskwa and McBride feel they own your life. Look at what they’re doing right here. Flat out saying if you say anything, anywhere where “a vast number of people” might learn about it, you forfeit all right to privacy.

    Amoral, every inch of it.

  • everythingl

    No “ethicist” should be using a survivor’s story in a way that she didn’t give permission for. She can tweet to her 17,000 followers. Doesn’t mean she wanted her story in this context to the millions of people who saw it in other places.

    Yes, she she absolutely CAN complain about getting wider exposure if it is not on her terms. You’re arguing what’s technically legal and everyone else is talking about ethics and plain old humanity. And ethics and humanity ARE THE WHOLE POINT when dealing with a person who is supposed to be an expert on ethics. And this whole “wider exposure” argument is more of that, “you pay the emotional toll to educate others” callous, insensitive, dehumanizing BS. The twitter convo was important and personal. These articles were sensationalist unethical tripe.

  • castingstones2

    So you have connection with Poynter?

  • castingstones2

    Your use of abuser logic will not work here.

  • castingstones2

    Don’t talk to me like that. As if I am the one blind and the reporter not one who is deceptive. Play with someone else’s reality.

  • castingstones2

    You are so right. I am invested in this. Just like every person who cares for truth in journalism and not saving face of journalists b/c they lack the courage to admit that they weren’t truthful.

  • castingstones2

    You only care about –some of the women– thrown under the bus.

  • castingstones2

    You have no connection? I don’t believe you. Testa has disrespected survivors of sexual abuse and needs to apologize.

  • castingstones2

    Testa has no ethics,that’s the problem.

  • Sarena Brown

    “Unsubscribe”? What does that even mean. You and castingstones2 share the same sense of (non)-humor.

    Do you not care that in the Root article – which you participated in and approved of – the followers who responded to your question (with their response or their appreciation for the thread) were outed without their permission? Do you not care that the women who did give permission to Buzzfeed are being subjected to you and your other followers trying to shame them for having done so & re-victimizing them as incapable of giving consent?

    Or do you only care about yourself.

    I care about the women thrown under the bus.

  • Christine Fox

    Unsubscribe.

  • Sarena Brown

    Oh, you would have been okay being outed as a survivor in this essay? But you’re still not okay with your public twitter photo being used in Buzzfeed? Hypocrisy 101.

  • mmoskwa

    Do you even use twitter? If you RT, everyone who follows you sees the tweet, including the profile photo. Cut it out with the “personal photo” crap. When you make your twitter profile public and add a photo to it, everyone on the internet can see it. Not liking this fact doesn’t make it untrue.

  • Sarena Brown

    Oh, now you’re going for humor. I don’t think the women thrown under the bus would find it very funny.

  • Sarena Brown

    Show the proof that I am wrong. A quick twitter search finds all the tweets asking/giving permission. And for those women who changed their minds and rescinded permission, Buzzfeed respected them and either didn’t publish their tweets to begin with or took them down, after.

    Instead of accusing me of being someone I am not, why don’t you address the points I have made. Or just drop out of this, since you have nothing to add except baseless attacks and outright lies. You are not exhibiting any signs of actually being able to present proof or an intelligent rebuttal. I wish someone else on your side would take up this cause and actually deal with the issues the Buzzfeed article and responses have brought up, because your comments are useless.

  • castingstones2

    I’ve addressed your tweets. But since you disagree, you’ve it.

  • castingstones2

    You are wrong. And you wonder why I think you are Jessica? Blame the victim, keep on blaming the victim.

  • Sarena Brown

    SO many layers of contradiction. I find this so disturbing. We all need to open our eyes to how we use twitter and understand and respect that journalists abide by a set of ethical and legal constraints, none of which were cast aside in this case.

  • Sarena Brown

    I guess you see no hypocrisy in how many of these comments have outed her as being a victim of rape. Did you all get her permission to do so? Outing her in that capacity would have been okay with you all, but using her photo without outing her was horrible? Okay

  • Sarena Brown

    Oh, please. You are ignoring the women who gave permission who are being told they didn’t have the ability to give their own permission. Fox can take some responsibility for that. Being a survivor doesn’t mean you are immune from ever doing anything wrong. She herself has disseminated her own photo everywhere on the web, so this idea that she is a victim because Buzzfeed used her photo — and that she is a victim on par with victims of sexual abuse – is absurd. I am a woman who is calling bs when i see it, and I see it here. She is an adult who should take responsibility for what she has wrought, unintentional though it may be.

    Why aren’t you defending the women who gave permission and are being criticized for having done so? Why aren’t you calling their treatment abusive? Because that’s what it is.

  • Sarena Brown

    Why is it so hard for you to believe that anyone other than Testa could have a problem with how this has played out? Again, I am not Jessica Testa, I am not the author of this piece, I do not work for or have anything to do with Buzzfeed or Poynter or any online publication. I am simply concerned with the implications of the out-of-control and (mostly) inappropriate response,

    You seem to have something invested in this but I’m not accusing you of being Christine Fox.

    I believe I have made many valid points, which you could address, even if you just wanted to go through them and dismiss them one by one. Or just ignore them, that’s fine by me. But apparently you – and Fox, and many of her supporters — are too blind to see that they’ve joined in a fight that didn’t need to be fought, at least not in this “burn everyone including the survivors who gave consent” kind of way.

  • castingstones2

    How dare you blame steenfox? There you go victim blaming. It’s sad that when we defend perpetrators we become abusers, too. You are an abuser on this article, attacking her and advising her what to do when she never asked you. That takes some hubris of a special kind.

  • castingstones2

    Hi Jessica!!

  • Sarena Brown

    I know you don’t mean to, but you are encouraging your followers to shame the women who gave permission to Testa to use their tweets by not actively standing up for them. I’ve seen a few of them state that they don’t understand what is going on and that they won’t allow themselves to be shamed; and in response they get people saying how horrible Testa is and how they weren’t really capable of giving consent. I may be misremembering, but it seems that you yourself may have suggested that Testa didn’t really have permission because she somehow misrepresented her request (which is not true – I’ve read all her tweets and your followers responses; just because one person wanted your permission before agreeing to have her tweet used, doesn’t mean Testa needed to follow that for everyone else, who gave their permission without regard for your involvement). By your focusing on yourself and your photo and working your followers up in your defense, you have (inadvertently) thrown these other women under the bus.

    I would say you owe an apology to your followers for asking them to give you personal information that you couldn’t possibly hope to protect, but presumably all those who did respond to you are adults who could have foreseen this blowing up, as so many other twitter convos have.

    Maybe next time any of us try to start a personal convo like that on a public site, we need to have our followers DM us then retweet anonymously, unless someone really wants their name attached to their story, potentially aggregated in a publication that reaches a larger audience than twitter. That then truly protects everyone.

    I really do appreciate the conversation you started. I just wish there weren’t this ugly fallout focusing on you.

  • Angela

    RTing a question and reposting someone’s personal photo are two highly different things.

  • Christine Fox

    Still waiting for my apology…

  • Christine Fox

    Thank you, Joh. Bok. <3

  • mmoskwa

    I’ve been banging my head against my desk about this story for two days. It’s filled with so many layers of contradictions, I don’t even know where to begin. If this keeps happening, no one is going to engage with feminists. It’s just not worth it.

  • mmoskwa

    Now that the author has done that, I bet you feel dumb. Actually, no, you probably don’t, because that would require a modicum of self-awareness.

  • mmoskwa

    What a strange reading of that sentence. That is clearly not what the OP meant. I think you are being disingenuous and arguing in bad faith.

  • mmoskwa

    Don’t be an idiot. Jtes asked permission from everyone who replied and didn’t quote their tweets if they said no. The Root didn’t do that. There are many people in these comments complaining that neither this article nor the Buzzfeed article mentioned steenfox’s survivor story. Gee, you think that’s maybe because jtes didn’t get a response from steenfox about it? You complain about “getting permission” and “actually is a survivor” in the same sentence without thinking for 2 seconds about how those statements cancel each other out.

    You are gleefully destroying people who are *on your side*. Think about that.

  • mmoskwa

    Huh? Does this mean anyone who RT’ed the original question needed to ask permission too? Twitter would be useless if this was the expected protocol. Steenfox certainly doesn’t feel like she needs to behave this away. She even threatened to tweet the reporter’s phone number. Is this really the kind of person you want to support?

  • mmoskwa

    You seem to think that it’s ok to use the photo as long as they didn’t “out” her as a survivor but linking back to her twitter account enabled anyone who followed the story to connect her survivor status to her photo. It’s always possible to anger a rapist in a way that could lead to more violence. That’s why permission is so important.

    This is a bizarre argument. If she was scared about this reaction, why tweet anything about it out to her 17k followers to begin with? This really seems to boil down to you and others defending the illogical complaints not understanding twitter as a platform. And furthermore, if this is is such an important topic (and it truly is), how in the world can you complain about it getting wider exposure? Twitter is not a private forum, especially in steenfox’s case, where she should absolutely expect that anything she tweets will be seen by a vast number of people. Suggesting otherwise is breathtakingly stupid.

  • mmoskwa

    Nope. Everything you said is wrong. The case you linked is a standard copyright infringement case, the only interesting question being, when you post something to Twitter, are you giving up the copyright to Twitter? Embedding a tweet has literally nothing to do with this, no matter how much you “blow up” the photo.

  • Sarena Brown

    You seem to be missing the point. The Root did not in fact seek consent from anyone but Christine Fox, yet exposed all the women who were quoted in the piece and who tweeted responses to anyone who wanted to find them on twitter. Not to mention the women whose names were exposed without consent. Nothing is wrong with Black twitter. I find it an empowering community much of the time. But not this time. The blame white women for everything trope doesn’t fit here. Christine Fox wants to center herself as the story and apparently a lot of her twitter friends are willing to throw under the bus the other women who tweeted their stories

  • Sarena Brown

    Oh, please. I have no connection to Buzzfeed, Testa, or anyone who tweeted about this. I’m just a woman who is tired of the bs. And all you’re throwing is bs. You don’t address any of my points. Whatever.

  • castingstones2

    Hi Jessica!

  • castingstones2

    Before you wrote the story?

  • Sarena Brown

    That is not true. I read the tweets asking permission and the tweets giving permission. They were very clear. The women may not have thought through the implications of being broadcast via Buzzfeed but they were adults making their own decisions. Backtracking is on them, not Buzzfeed.

  • castingstones2

    The Root did something that Jessica didn’t have enough concern to do: they asked.

  • castingstones2

    And you actually teach a course to other news outlets on sexual abuse? Lord, have mercy. That’s gotta end. The utter lack of empathy towards survivors make me wonder if there is something more involved with your lack of concern with steenkop

  • castingstones2

    No they did not. Three were taken down because the writer seemed intentionally vague.

  • castingstones2

    What’s wrong with black twitter?

  • T.C.

    So a journalist takes a public-but obscure Twitter thread by a rape survivor, makes it famous and posts the woman’s image in a way that makes it prominent, identifiable and widely syndicated. The woman involved feels her privacy has been violated but the journalist refuses to even take down the huge image.

    Then a person who makes a living giving ethical advice not only finds nothing wrong with that but badly characterises the encounter and further criticises the woman. When the woman complains and asks for a correction, the ethicist self-justifies and does nothing.

    Maybe you can claim nothing illegal has happened and ignore the empathy failure. Maybe your understanding of the difference between obscure-public and famous-public truly is as defective as it seems to be. But if either of these people had been a man, you would have been leading the lynch mob and defending the woman.

  • Sarena Brown

    One more thing – the Root article didn’t name or show the photos of the women who tweeted their response to Fox’s question, but it did name and show twitter handle and photos of women tweeting their support of the thread, all of whom made it clear that they, too, are rape and sexual assault survivors. Where is the outrage that those women were outted apparently without permission? Or can the Root do no wrong in Black twitter’s eyes.

  • Sarena Brown

    The women whose tweets were used in Buzzfeed gave permission. Why do you discount them and their wish to have their stories amplified? The article wasn’t actually about Fox, unlike the Root article, which was all about her, to the detriment of the women sharing their experiences.

  • Sarena Brown

    Why did you make it available for the Root article? I believe you are disingenuous and angry the Buzzfeed article and this one didn’t center on you. Why would you send this article’s author details of your own sexual assault? The article wasn’t about your experience.

  • Sarena Brown

    As Mikki Kendall (@karnythia) tweeted yesterday, “Note that no one is upset with the Root’s
    coverage. Then again, it was actual journalism.” Okay, let’s unpack that.
    What are the differences between the two articles?

    The Root article by Jenee Desmond-Harris doesn’t name any of the authors of the tweets,
    other than Christine Fox’s, the person who first asked the question, and
    doesn’t seem to have even reached out to any of them at all, though the tweets
    are quoted in full. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to Desmond-Harris, Fox, or
    anyone complaining on Twitter about Buzzfeed that it takes a half-second to
    search twitter to find these tweets in full, with usernames and photos/images
    attached. There is no anonymity. And as far as I can tell, most if not all of
    the women quoted have kept their original tweets up (and many more have added
    their own stories to the thread).

    On the other hand, Buzzfeed’s Jessica Testa requested permission of the authors to
    publish their tweets and offered them the option of having their name, photo,
    and username blurred out (though again, if the original post wasn’t deleted,
    anyone can find them). (You can easily see all the requests and responses on
    twitter, so it’s amazing and sad to me how many people still insist that Testa
    hadn’t received permission.) She only used the tweets of the women who gave her
    permission (and even deleted a couple after the article was published, when
    those authors had second thoughts, which is not something normally done). It’s
    true that she didn’t get the permission of the person who posted the original
    question that prompted the responses. Putting aside the fact that legally Testa
    didn’t have to ask Fox for permission to use her tweets, she made the ethical
    decision of giving Fox credit for starting the conversation. After
    publication, Fox cried foul, and has complained that her image and username are
    now all over twitter and the internet due to the Buzzfeed article – though the
    same image (her public twitter avi) and username were used in the Root article,
    too, which suggests her complaint is disingenuous and without merit. She just seems angry that while she was acknowledged as the person originating the thread she was (rightly) not centered as the subject of the piece.

    So is it better that the Root article made the decision to only speak to the person who got the ball rolling with her question, rather than any of the women who responded with
    their personal stories? In the Root article, we learn about why Fox asked the question and hear her defend “Black twitter” as a place that starts “powerful discussions, and this is an example of that.” In fact, the Root piece ends with that quote, as if the article was
    merely an example of the good that is Black twitter, and not an examination of
    what these pain-filled tweets represent and say about our world. The personal
    stories of sexual assault and rape become merely background for Christine Fox
    and her shout out to Black twitter. The women who told their stories are thus
    erased – disembodied – from ownership of their own stories. How are we okay
    with that?

    As the Buzzfeed article made clear, these women want their stories to be told – they not only gave Testa permission to share their tweets, many of them also thanked her for
    asking them — implying both a thanks to be asked to use tweets that are public
    and could have been used without permission, and a thanks for being heard and
    having their stories amplified. And she amplified them in a respectful,
    meaningful way, and honored them by centering the article on them and their
    stories. Not on Christine and her thoughts about Black twitter.

    Does no one else find it disturbing that so many on Twitter are discounting the fact that the women who’d tweeted their stories GAVE PERMISSION to Testa to publish them in the
    Buzzfeed article? Does no one else find it disturbing that so many others are
    suggesting these women were incapable of giving consent? That their connection
    to the stories should of course been disguised, because who in their right mind
    would reveal such ugly truths? That some changed their minds after publication
    doesn’t change anything. Maybe they received offensive comments due to their
    disclosure (which of course could have happened via the tweets on Twitter alone). Or maybe they felt ashamed because they had so many of their Twitter “friends” ranting
    and raving about how horrible it was that their stories had been told,
    suggesting that there was a reason to hide and be ashamed. In the end, I don’t know. But Buzzfeed honored the women and their stories and gave them a wider readership; and amy of those readers, survivors themselves, shared their own stories in the comments section and remarked on how cathartic the article was.

    I think Kendall and the others are blowing smoke, angry at a white publication and white writer daring to “co-op” stories told on Black twitter, which even Christine Fox
    herself remarked are “global.” And deserve to be amplified wherever they can
    be. No one is complaining about the Root article because those who have read it, both WOC and WW, understand that hell hath no fury like a Kendall and her minions told they are wrong.

  • BlackCanseco

    This is absurd, not only from a perspective of journalistic integrity but also thru the lense of human decency in the digital space.

    #1 That Kelly McBride bothered to get permission from SOME participants in SteenFox’s thread tells you that she knew this was not just a “you said it in public so it’s fair game” mistake. She knew she needed permission from those involved to proceed disseminating this content further into a story for her own gain.

    #2 That Kelly did not contact Steen and several others involved before sharing their stories and identity is simply lazy journalism and selective vetting. It’s also poor form as everyone following Steen’s feed know that this whole convo was based on Steen herself sharing her status as a rape victim and that many of those who shared info with her, didn’t want the info going beyond the borders of twitter.

    #3 Kelly lied. She did not get Steen’s permission to use her story of being a rape victim nor her identity, yet proceeded to spread the convo as if she had permission of all involved

    If this were a convo overheard in a bar, Kelly would’ve gotten permission from all parties involved before writing a story about what they said citing direct quotes from them.

    #4 She and Buzzfeed then proceeded to paint Steen as a liar and a whiner who doesn’t understand social media protocol.

    #5 Then Kelly goes silent online only to recently ask Steen to contact her directly personally and privately via phone—a courtesy she never extended to Steen before writing about Steen and then misrepresenting the chain of event in order to cover her own ass.

    Kelly and Buzzfeed owe Steen and all involved a PUBLIC apology on par with the effort they made to paint Steen as a complainer.

    Poynter owes all involved mroe than “a follow up” article.

    Going forward, let this and other cases like it be a reminder to us all that everyone in the digital realm need a more nuanced approach to online content creating/curating/reporting than simply “hey you clicked ‘send’ so it’s fair game and community property.”

  • Tapati McDaniels

    THIS article didn’t mention that she was a survivor and that THAT is why she was upset with her photo being used w/o her permission. So it makes it look like she has no real reason to be upset with Testa because she’s “just” the person who started the conversation with no other stake in it, as it’s presented here. Testa didn’t seem to realize she was also a survivor who had shared her own story in the very thread she posted links to and thus when Testa stated she got permission from all survivors and that is repeated here, it’s incorrect. Both needed to simply read the beginning of the thread they wrote about.

    You seem to think that it’s ok to use the photo as long as they didn’t “out” her as a survivor but linking back to her twitter account enabled anyone who followed the story to connect her survivor status to her photo. It’s always possible to anger a rapist in a way that could lead to more violence. That’s why permission is so important.

  • Angela

    Are you serious? Just because someone’s photograph is “available” doesn’t mean you can use it without their permission. You should always ask first. This is basic etiquette.

  • Tapati McDaniels

    Yes it is when you don’t merely embed the tweet but you blow up the person’s own photo and use it at the top of your article (which you make money on) and it also gets shared to FB a zillion times. They’ve since taken it down but the damage was done. The photo wasn’t as widely circulated as the case above but it was used without the owner’s permission and that’s not Fair Use.

  • mmoskwa

    If that’s the case, then the complaints are contradictory. You’re saying it’s wrong that her photo was “plastered everywhere” because of her survivor story, but also complaining that jtes didn’t mention her survivor story. Those can’t both be true.

  • mmoskwa

    Then why would you make that photograph your publicly visible twitter profile image? I don’t understand your complaint.

  • mmoskwa

    Not relevant in the slightest.

  • Tapati McDaniels

    Exactly. Penalties for using images from Twitter without permission are pretty steep: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/11/22/us-media-copyright-twitter-idUSBRE9AL16F20131122 “A federal jury on
    Friday ordered two media companies to pay $1.2 million to a freelance
    photojournalist for their unauthorized use of photographs he posted to
    Twitter.”

  • Tapati McDaniels

    If you had even bothered to read her timeline you’d have seen that she told her own survivor story so she had every reason not to want Testa to plaster an enlarged photo of her in the original Buzzfeed post which was rushed into publication. Suddenly it was all over Facebook (I saw it myself). Then other survivors were telling her they hadn’t given their permission either. Presenting @steenfox as angry without being clear why is perpetuating the common trope of the angry black woman. Either this should be taken down or updated with the truth. I cannot fathom why no one could wait to speak to @steenfox but had to jump the gun with these stories, errors and all.

  • Tapati McDaniels

    Isn’t it a standard journalism practice online to update also with a note of errors in the piece if you are leaving it up for people in the future to read? They would need to know that there are errors in what they’re reading. Not everyone will click through to a follow up article.

  • Christine Fox

    Thank you.

  • Christine Fox

    I did too. Can’t put into words how sad & disappointed I was this morning when I woke up & saw that an update had been made but it wasn’t to change any of the things that are wrong in this post. I actually cried.

  • Christine Fox

    When are you going to respond to my email that I sent you at 9:05 am today?

  • Christine Fox

    Thank you , Megan. I’d also like to remind everyone reading this that the permission I was upset Testa didn’t get from me was to use my photograph, which is now plastered all over FB & showed up in my little brother’s news feed yesterday.

  • Megan

    I know that what you are saying is factually accurate. I saw that you sent a tweet saying that you’d like to talk to her (prior to the one she replied to with some anger). But you sent her a single tweet at a time when she was receiving hundreds of tweets. Regardless of contact efforts, she very clearly identified herself as a survivor and shared her own story of what she was wearing.

    While it’s pretty cool that twitter is allowing these massive public conversations to take place, perhaps there is a lesson to be (reminded? learned? pounded in?) here that twitter can still be a very hit or miss method of direct person-to-person contact.

  • kawai cheung

    The survivors are not from Buzzfeed..

    The survivors are all from Twitter, some of whose tweets, happened to end up on Buzzfeed.

  • Kelly McBride

    I did reach out to @Steenfox via Twitter before I published the story.

  • Friday Foster-ABWW

    I was one of those women on that time line. Whites have a long history of taking the intellectual property of black women on twitter and passing it off as their or attack black women as being divisive and angry. You have repeated the same cycle. The Buzz Feed article was not completely vetted, stop lying.

  • abeaujon

    Hi everybody, I’m a reporter here at Poynter. Thanks for the comments. Just a note on the “update” — when we move stories around the site (to different positions on the homepage, for instance), our CMS marks the piece as updated. Our policy is to clearly mark when we make any changes to our text. As far as I can tell from the publishing history, the text hasn’t been touched since this piece was published last night. Kelly tells me she’s planning a new follow-up story. My email is abeaujon@poynter.org and my phone number is 703-594-1103 if I can help with any other questions. –Andrew

  • cilgen

    I’m a bit confused. Are you saying that there will be a 2nd update that speaks to the blatant and arrogant errors in your article that almost everyone who has posted has clearly noted? I’ll do my best to keep my blinding rage contained until that time.

  • Hammtime

    But hey, you got clicks on to your website so who cares about ethics….

  • Hammtime

    Ethics? How about empathy or compassion? Kelly, do you know what empathy and compassion are? You’re understanding of ethics is obviously questionable.
    I’ve completely lost faith in our “news” media. You’re supposed to be reporting news not making yourselves THE story. When did journalism as a whole turn into the National Enquirer?

  • ADBlog

    Well, this “article” is a fail. And the fact is, those of you defending the original BuzzFeed article because the writer “got permission” from the victims are PURPOSELY overlooking the fact that she did NOT get permission from @steenfox, even though her picture, twitter name and tweets were used in the article. It was shoddy non-journalism and there’s absolutely no defense.

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    Thanks all for the feedback. We hear you and plan a follow up to Kelly’s article on the BuzzFeed rape survivors story.

  • Guest

    The 1 thing glaring in this article is the complete and total dehumanization of steenfox. It reeks of “these irrational you-know-whats” are never satisfied. She is a survivor, identified as such and wanted some sensitivity. How DARE you use racist, stereotypical tropes about black women to turn a survivor into a bully? You are vile.

  • everythingl

    The one thing glaring in this article is the complete and total dehumanization of steenfox. It reeks of “these irrational you-know-whats” are never satisfied. She is a survivor, identified as such and wanted some sensitivity. How DARE you use racist, stereotypical tropes about black women to turn a survivor into a bully? You are vile.

  • Megan

    I see that this has been “updated” but still with no retraction/correction to the fact that @steenfox is and identified herself as a survivor of sexual assault. Ethics, no?

  • Annika

    I’m shocked that this organization has a representative that posts about pressing issues regarding ethics and credibility – because one inherently informs the other – without doing their due diligence with regards to the subject matter. “People still got mad?” “Permission for what?”

    Would it have killed you to do your job and get both sides of the matter prior to hitting “publish?” Would it have been so hard to ask, specifically and exclusively, @steenfox herself before you wrote 500 words erroneously erasing her survivor identity and callously characterizing her as unnecessarily “mad?”

    I’m convinced that the nature of web writing has resulted in countless entities and journalists thinking that they don’t have to do the actual work of journalism – actively pursuing the stance of both sides, irrespective of what conclusion the writer draws in the end. That’s lazy. If “writing for the web” is going to compromise the quality of your work THAT greatly, maybe writing for the web isn’t for you.

    It’s clear that you care about these matters greatly, and I think there’s great value to discussing quoting matters with regard to social media. But from your article here, I can’t do that because you didn’t do your job, here. And that’s supremely unfortunate.

    Remember what I said about ethics and credibility informing one another?

    Yeah. Tsk, tsk.

  • kawai cheung

    You can’t be serious with this article, ma’am.

    Steen is a sexual assault survivor herself, and even after several people have told you this, you have still failed to mention that in this article, or better yet, take this raggedy article down because you have too much pride. And you are right. Confusion over how to identify rape survivors and tell their stories do keep reporters from tackling the subject, as it is clearly indicated in this article. This article isn’t even about the amazing catharsis that Steen allowed Twitter to have – no. You don’t even address the survivors, and their bravery. Nope. This article is about Buzzfeed vs Steen. You don’t even address what happened during that almost 24 hr (and still ongoing) catharsis, where men and women alike unleashed demons that had been haunting them for years.

    Your concern is in all the wrong places. You’re trying to paint someone, who is a survivor, as a villain. You are so wrong. If you were truly someone educated about ethics, you would remove this article, or write a new article and link back to this one saying, “I was so wrong, but I’d like to rectify the issue.” But then again, educated doesn’t always mean intelligent.

    Imagine being a sexual assault survivor, and then seeing your face attached to a post all over Facebook linking to an article about sexual assault. While Steen did an amazing thing for people on twitter, she has every right to not want her image attached to it and she has every right to want Buzzfeed to at least ask before plastering her face all over the article. Because guess what? She doesn’t want ownership. This isn’t about her. She didn’t start the question hoping to claim every story as her own when she has a story herself.

    I hope your pride in keeping this up is giving you nice checks, or at least a ton of clicks. Because if you’re an ethics expert, I’m a neurosurgeon.

  • nodoubtfan

    Kelly McBride “the ethicist”? Let’s call a spade a spade — you’re a hack who can’t even fact check.

  • Alovelydai

    @steenfox is a survivor. Update this story or delete it.

  • C Harlington

    Why does it say @steenfox didn’t identify as a survivor when clearly she did, (I read it on her TL in real time) and why use her picture as well?? The author of this article clearly has entitlement issues that obscure prudent journalistic reasoning. Sheds light though on the many “experts” in these fields who get by being white & female and are assumed to have a valid voice when they don’t even do the actual work/research to know what the hell they are talking about. Did the author not have enough time to scan her TL before asserting she didn’t identify as a survivor before writing support opinion piece? -Nah. That would be too much like right.

  • castingstones2

    This made me so mad I couldn’t sleep. And to think you are an ethics expert. How ironic?

  • G. Rowan McIntyre

    I went to sleep hoping that you would retract this, since it’s patently untrue, and you’ve been informed that it’s untrue. I woke up to utter silence from you on Twitter and this piece still sitting here, unaddressed and unretracted. You owe @steenfox a huge, sincere, and public apology, both for misrepresenting the nature of her grievance and lying about her stake in this and status as a survivor. You owe yourself and your students some serious reflection about your behavior here.

  • http://thejournalista.com Monique Judge

    Your allegations as to why @steenfox is upset are false. Do you care to retract/correct?

  • http://diashoni.tumblr.com DiaShoni

    So…You messed up. Are you going to apologize to her for that?

  • afronica

    @steenfox is actually a survivor and said so in her tweets. The Buzz Feed blogger did not get @steenfox’s permission to use @steenfox’s picture which was all over the story on BF. Did you actually look at @steenfox’s timeline before you wrote this? Once @steenfox tweeted you to tell you the mistakes you made, then you wanted to talk with her. But did you talk to her BEFORE you posted this?

  • JulesAboutTown

    Well said. Well said. They don’t own her words or her image or who she is.

  • julian francisco

    “Permission for what?”

    Permission to use her picture and her tweets. You know, like she’s been complaining about for a while.

    “This reaction stokes those concerns.”

    -_-

    this is why most people avoid the media. Not only do you resent all criticism, you think you own ppl’s stories, words and lives if it gives you something to write about.,