Research commissioned by the Broadcasting Standards Authority shows New Zealanders hold broadcasters to higher standards than what they apply to themselves when it comes to publishing social media content.

The study found that participants "saw the media as having greater power, relative credibility, reach and access to other sources of information than individuals do." They considered that broadcasters could do more damage than individual online publications could, and expected them to be more restricte d in what they published.

The BSA said it has seen an increasing number of complaints that raise issues about the use of social media content in broadcasting and "we became concerned that there may be a double standard at play - are broadcasters held to a higher standard by the public when it comes to republishing social media content?"

The study found that despite a strong information-sharing culture, members of the public do not consider that broadcasters can just take any social media content and use it in the broadcasting context. Rather, they expect that social media content will generally remain in the context in which it was published because "taking it out of context can significantly affect its impact and message and the likely audience."


Based on these findings "we see an opportunity to work with broadcasters to develop guidance about how and when to republish social media content that might affect personal rights," said BSA chief executive Belinda Moffat.

The study noted, however, there is an increasing level of potential legal liability for individual publishers who breach the privacy of others, for instance in the area of harmful digital communications. Prosumers (producers and consumers of content) are still relatively unaware of this, it said.

"While it is true that broadcasters can cause serious or different harm by republishing social media content and that this justifies regulation, individuals can also cause very significant harm to others by what they choose to capture and publish on social media," the BSA said. The law, according to the BSA, operates on the same fundamental privacy principles whether the situation involves an individual, organisation, or media publisher.

The study was based on a series of focus groups that looked at four content-specific case studies as well as a questionnaire sent to broadcasters.

According to the study, broadcasters also expressed a belief that there is a double standard at play. Having a lower standard for individuals creates resource implications for broadcasters to carefully check and manage the social media content that they collect, since they cannot rely on individuals to have taken the same care, the study found.

When selecting social media content the starting point for many broadcasters is whether the content is newsworthy, but they are also alert to issues around individual rights, privacy and consent. The study found that broadcasters rely on the general principle that it will usually be okay to republish information already in the public domain although they use processes including verifying the content, seeking consent and using publishing tools to protect individual rights such as pixelation and audience advisories.

According to the BSA, broadcasters ought to take into account the context of the original social media publication and publicly available social media content should not necessarily be seen as a "free for all." Rather, issues of consent, individual rights and public interest must be considered.