Yes, I know I've said it BEFORE ... (click) Just get it!

Sorry if this reads vaguely like an echo chamber, but it’s a point that bears repeating.

Everyone has something to hide — or to keep private, which is not quite the same thing.

This article Tracking the cyber footprint by the NZ Herald’s David Fisher sets out to reveal something of perils of posting information on Facebook, and, coincidentally, the way ‘friends’ can expose enough information about you that ‘enemies’ can use. Food for thought.

NB: If, for ‘marketing’ reasons, or to ‘raise your profile’, as some do, you deliberately set your personal Facebook wall and pages as open to the public, well, that’s a different story, naturally. You’ve published it. Tough luck.

Parts of David Fisher’s article made me vaguely uncomfortable:

The Herald on Sunday wanted to speak directly with Sperling. We found her through Facebook – and anyone using the website should be aware of how we did it.

Picture editor Chris Marriner obtained access to her Facebook page through one of Sperling’s online “friends”. [Comment: Some ‘friend’!] Facebook’s privacy function allow users to leapfrog through people’s social networks. This gave us access to her online musings, updates on life and photographs of her family.

Based on comments made online, Marriner was able to narrow the geographical location of her home to two suburbs in East Auckland. A closer look at the photographs showed she lived on a cul-de-sac. Marriner pulled up Google maps and noted each cul-de-sac in those two suburbs.

By then, a reporter and photographer were in the car heading for East Auckland. Marriner walked those streets – virtually – before they arrived, using Google Street View to compare the Facebook photographs with the houses on the streets. By cross-referencing information from Facebook and Google applications, he put our people on Sperling’s front doorstep.

Mission accomplished. A professional challenge met. But big picture: Why? She wasn’t a fraudster or a kidnapper or a criminal. Why the manhunt? What was the story?

Concern about social media privacy seems to mark one out as of an older generation. I know from my years as a journalist that it is surprisingly easy at times to find out things about people and their networks — well before the leaky age of Facebook.

Let’s not ignore the competitive reporter’s urge to be first with the story and ‘the thrill of the chase’ that kicks in in these situations. I know that drive. But it’s a bit like the planned  NYC muslim community centre and the question: ‘Well, we can, but should we?’

There are times when a nebulous thing called ‘journalistic ethics’* (even more a marker of an older generation?) informs our activities and the revelations we publish. Many a journo has held back information because it may have been interesting (fascinating even) but not really relevant, not really ‘news’: “That’s not a story” my old chief reporter used to say in my first newsroom — real-world training. By the time I got to the Parliamentary Press Gallery, I had to fine-tune my bullshit/manipulation filter to maximum sensitivity.

The example David Fisher raises about tracking someone (Jackie Sperling) who didn’t have anything she wanted to say to the media — despite his high-sounding “The Herald on Sunday wanted to speak directly with Sperling” (Yeah, so?) — has a corollary in this statement she made to Brian Edwards about the matter:

It has been an eye-opener for me to be shown how relentless the media are in their quest for a story – any story. And who they hurt in order to get that story is of no concern to them. They were not concerned about the effect that this will have had on my daughters, or how this attention could potentially have set me back.

They had no story, so they made me their story, with no regard for my children or my mental or physical well-being. Fortunately, my determination to live a good life and set a good example for my daughters for the rest of my life, is something I will never lose sight of. They were not aware of that though and, in my opinion, this past weekend has been a repulsive display of the gutter level mentality of the media.

OK, a bit harsh, you might say, but walk a mile in her shoes.

Reading between the lines, it seems likely it was one of Michael Laws’s political enemies that manipulated the personal situation with Ms Sperling — misinforming her, messing with her — for political gain, or just to infuriate and unsettle Laws. They were likely the ‘friend’ who gave the Herald’s Chris Marriner “access” (Let’s all send him friend requests shall we?) Shabby.

That it spooked Laws into making a public statement about his relationship with her, fearing exposure (for good reason I guess) makes the news media an accessory to character assassination, and a tool of his political enemies … just grist to the mill.

* Ethics: I really try not to use that word too much. I think it often marks one as a target for people to try and take you down a peg or knock you ‘off your high horse’ (as they perceive it). But sometimes it’s just the right word.