We need a conversation about the ethics of digital doorstepping

I first wrote about digital doorstepping a decade ago. And the problem has only got worse:

Now, the death knock is a long-standing part of journalism. But we’re a very long way from the days of a single local reporter — and maybe a stringer from a national — turning up at someone’s house. Now, the relatives or friends of someone caught in a news event can rapidly be bombarded with requests from journalism.

Why is this a problem? Because it’s overwhelming:

This is a man worried about his missing brother – and he’s besieged by journalists, at one of the most emotionally difficult times in his life. And not only that — what are they asking for? To be friends on Facebook. And what does that give them? The ability to rifle through his past posts — and, more than likely, use anything they find there as material for their story.

Just because digital makes something easier doesn’t make it right. And I’m struggling to see a public interest justification for this sort of behaviour from so many people. Now, maybe someone can explain it to me — but, if not, I think we need a new look at the ethics of the digital doorstepping and the potential intrusion into people’s lives it bring, through no fault of their own.

Update — 24/5/17: Sadly, the missing brother is now confirmed to be dead. Rest in peace, Martyn.

Update — 25/5/17: – I’ve followed up this post with a discussion about the problems with the traditional death knock in the digital age.