3. A question of policy

For outlets that had clear policies and past practices, the decision to blur or not blur was simple.

Eric Andrew-Gee reported on the story for the Globe and Mail. When asked about the Globe’s decision to leave the faces unobscured, he surmised in an email, “It’s not our practice to blur photos, so we stuck with that in this case.” Sinclair Stewart, the Globe’s deputy editor added that, generally speaking, the paper only blurs faces in “exceptional circumstances.”

The Toronto Star also chose not to blur any facesin this case, because of the ages of the participants. Though the Star’s public editor was not involved in the decision, in an email, Kathy English recalled being told, “There was little discussion about blurring faces because these students1 The authors of this study can’t confirm whether the participants were all over the legal of 18, or if they were all students. are adults, not minors. That call is in line with Star policy.”

On the other hand, CBC blurred the faces. Steve Ladurantaye, then Managing Editor at CBC News, told a complainant that CBC decided to blur the faces in the photos because the individuals were at a private party and they hadn’t broken any laws. He also said there wasn’t sufficient public interest to justify showing the faces, besides shaming the partygoers. The decision is discussed further in a CBC ombudsman review of the complaint from January 2017.

But for BuzzFeed, there was no clear policy or past practice to guide the decision.

The decision is much easier to make when a story is being done on children, Strapagiel says. “Clearly there is something to be said about wanting to keep your child and their image private. And that’s a choice that you can make for young children, but then where’s the line when the child, or the teenager, or the young adult, makes that choice for themselves? That’s where it gets very blurred for me and where I don’t have answers.”

Next: 4. Expectations of privacy in the social media age

References   [ + ]

1. The authors of this study can’t confirm whether the participants were all over the legal of 18, or if they were all students.