Reporters Are Not Your “Friends”

If you have “friended” a reporter on Facebook you could potentially see one of your “private” photos published in a mass media publication. It happened to my client.

A recent media relations campaign for one of my law firm clients revealed a new risk with “friending” reporters. One of the media releases was accompanied with a photo of a partner standing with a high profile public person. It seems the reporter didn’t want to only run the sanitized, pre-vetted photo provided by a publicist and decided to hunt for more interesting photos.

By good fortune, or bad, this reporter happened to be among the (distant) friends of the law firm partner’s Facebook page. She thumbed through the partners Facebook photos and pulled a different one off his page for publication. It wasn’t salacious or detrimental to my client, fortunately. The photo subjects were the same, just in a different setting, but taken with an iPhone. It was a casual shot, one we’ve all been subject to when someone hollers, “Hey guys, turn around and smile.” You don’t have time to check your appearance, you just dutifully play along… because it’s a friend taking the shot and it’s for personal use. That is, until a reporter happens upon it.

It was shocking to think that any of his Facebook photos were at risk of being published. When we look out from the pages of a publication – virtually standing before thousands of people — we ought to have some measure of control of our image. Perusing, and ultimately selecting, a Facebook photo for publication just felt offside. Is it any different than going to someone’s home as an invited guest and slipping a photo from a frame on their wall for your personal use and gain?

I’ve worked in PR for almost 20 years and have never seen anything like this. So, I had to ask another colleague and turned to a seasoned PR pro, Kevin Aschenbrenner, Vice President, Public Reputation Services, at Jaffe PR.

This is a really interesting situation. It says a lot about how we treat social media. We seem to feel that just because we’ve “friended” someone on Facebook that they’re safe and can be trusted with our most personal information, such as photos. That, unfortunately, is not always the case.

I think because social media has quietly crept into every facet of our lives that we no longer see it as a threat to our privacy, but it is. With all the furor over Facebook’s upcoming changes (both the cosmetic ones and the more serious behind-the-scenes changes that greatly impact privacy) I think we all need a reminder that what you don’t post can’t come back and hurt you. If you post it, it’s out there, and you run the risk that it will be used against you, even by a “friend.””

Do engage in PR and media relations, but don’t let this happen to you.

Take control of your image with these five essential Facebook tips:

  1. Know your friends. Redirect reporters to Twitter or other social media environments.
  2. Don’t post anything that can come back to hurt you (thanks, Kevin).
  3. Check your Facebook security settings (again).
  4. Scan social media sights for where your name is tagged to a photo. Request it be removed if it isn’t flattering in any context.
  5. If necessary, activate a separate Facebook page just for family and personal photos.

This reporter has been “unfriended”.


  1. Aside from the issue of not being able to un-publish that photo, I’m wondering about copyright.

    Sounds like this was wrong on so many levels.

  2. Not to make light of your concerns, but if you publish a picture on facebook, it would seem to be fair game for anyone searching through facebook looking for photos. The area of the law regarding facebook publications is not settled, but certainly the privacy issues of public figures are.

    As an attorney who has facebook “evidence” in almost every case I handle, my advice is that don’t publish anything you don’t want on the front page of a newspaper, because it is essentially the same.

    The real problem comes from other people’s posts of photos. It would seem that the regarding images would apply. I am not sure that we will ever be able to control what is out on the internet – especially if you are public figure.

  3. So someone publishes a photo on Facebook, and then is shocked when it runs somewhere off Facebook?


    Privacy: Want to make sure your photos are private? DON’T POST THEM ON FACEBOOK.

    This isn’t rocket science.

  4. The republication rights of pictures on FB may be undetermined (though not entirely, and not identically in all places), but the original post was not so much about rights as it was about appropriateness and trustworthiness – at least as I read it. The question was not so much whether the action was legal as whether it was ‘unfriendly’. In the latter sense, the title of the post was clearly accurate.

  5. Christopher Mackay

    It is essentially impossible to avoid the impact of social media without becoming a hermit.

    The trouble is that something innocuous at the time the photograph was taken or published can also take on new connotations later as context changes (e.g. someone in a shot becomes embroiled in a scandal after the fact: think Tiger Woods or a child-abusing priest). Even the most innocent of photos can be made to seem sinister with the right caption.

    Suggesting that people review Facebook’s privacy settings simply doesn’t help. As a university graduate and professional web developer, I find myself exasperated at the thought of navigating Facebook’s ever-evolving, labyrinthine privacy settings. Precisely as they intend, no doubt. The (in my opinion) intentional obfuscation and unnecessary complexity of their privacy settings, combined with their statements to the effect that you’ve opted-in to share everything merely by having a Facebook account, should give everyone pause. Not to be on Facebook runs the risk of being seen as a Luddite, or worse, part of the tinfoil-hat-brigade.

    The copyright issue seems the best angle to pursue, to me. That and making it absolutely clear to one’s “Friends” that you’re not okay with them posting photos of you on the Internet and extending them the same courtesy.