Newspaper Stealing Facebook Updates About Oakland Fire and Publishing Them
I don’t think that there is anyone who has been part of a music, art or theater scene – anywhere – who has not been shaken to the bones by the senseless tragedy that occurred at the Oakland Ghost Ship late Friday and in the early hours of Saturday morning.
As the death toll rises and the dead are publicly identified, it would make sense that those of us connected to the victims and the community would take to social media to comfort each other.
We post tributes and pictures and memories of times past across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, blogs… we cry out virtually and hug virtually and try to console virtually.
But as we do this, we need to beware.
We need to know that there are vultures already circling this tragedy. The media, specifically online media and tabloid media, are patrolling the Internet for any mention of those confirmed dead or those still unaccounted for on social media… and, they are stealing our words.
How do I know this? It happened to me. One of the largest media outlets in the world, the second largest in the U.K. – The Daily Mail – a behemoth of an organization with 1.5 million physical subscribers and 199.4 million yearly online readers ganked a comment about one of the Ghost Ship victims from my Facebook page and published it without my permission. For a profit.
Denalda Nicole Renae, aged 29, has now been confirmed by the Oakland Coroner’s office as one of the 36 people who died in this horrible fire. When I knew her, she went by Nicole Siegrest and her performance name was Sea Crust. In 2012, I was her manager at a company where she taught sushi making. On the side, she performed as “Sea Crust, “ a feisty feminist raps who made sick beats on her synthesizer. I was very fond of Nicole. She was bright and talented and funny and never failed to make me smile, even when I was having a no-good, very bad day. She worked for us for about six months and then decided she wanted to go to the West Coast and get serious about her music career. She bounced around for a while, having some adventures, but eventually settled in The Bay Area – where her music career really took off.
When I learned that Nicole was among the missing, I – of course, posted on social media to alert our other friends in Chicago that something had happened to her. As we had mutual friends in the Bay Area (where I lived for nearly 10 years,) I reached out to friends posting about the tragedy to see if they had any news about her. As we all came to the conclusion that Nicole and her bandmate, Ben Runnels (aka, Charlie Prowler) were most likely amongst the dead – we mourned together on the only platform where we all – so spread out across the country now – could: Facebook. I even wrote a blog post memorializing Nicole and musing on the fleetingness of life and the impact of death on my personal blog.
It was raw. Personal. Sad.
So imagine my surprise when I discovered that the second biggest news outlet in the U.K., one of the biggest online media outlets in the world, had copied and pasted my comment about Nicole into their article about the Oakland fire.
Yesterday, I did a Google search for Nicole’s name to see if her body had been positively identified yet and if there were memorial plans (as I wanted to know where to send a card to her mother.) What I found was this:
The Daily Mail U.K. – “Talented musicians, a young student and a trans activist are among 27 reported dead as family of missing revelers endure agonizing wait after authorities recover 36 bodies from warehouse blaze” Read more here.
As I scrolled through the article, trying to find information on Nicole, I was shocked to learn that I had been quoted by The Daily Mail without my permission:
“Denalda, of Oakland, described herself on Facebook as the synth player for Introflirt and ‘lyric wrangler’ for Vanfanthon band. She was also a sushi instructor at IWish Lessons between 2010 and 2012 according to friends.
Kate Rice described her as ‘an incredibly free spirit and just wanted to make music and art.’
‘She bounced around for a while, but found her Tribe in the Bay Area. Such a vibrant light has been senselessly snuffed out. Poor poor Nicole. I am in shock and so sad.’“
The way this is phrased makes it seem like The Daily Mail contacted me and asked me for a comment. It also makes it seem like I willingly commented to media about the death of someone who, while I was very fond of, was a friend I hadn’t seen in real life in over four years. Which, in turn, could be viewed as my trying to capitalize on this tragedy. Which is gross.
This quote was lifted from my “friends only” Facebook post, in which several of us commenting tagged Nicole (so the posts would appear on her page amongst the other tributes by friends and family) – not at all thinking a news source would gank quotes out of it without asking permission first:
Now, The Daily Mail is hardly known for their “journalistic ethics.” And, if you examine this article closely, you’ll note that they also lifted content from several other Facebook accounts with out permission and articles (including ones in the East Bay Times and SFGate) without attribution.
In my opinion, however, the theft of social media posts from friends and family mourning loved ones is particularly repugnant and ghoulish.
One might argue that anything publicly posted on social media is open for pilfering. But, I counter that in a sensitive situation like this one is, that the rush to publish needs to be postponed and permission to quote the source needs to be obtained.
Really it should be obtained in all circumstances… if you’re going to call yourself a journalist.
What the Daily Mail did is neither ethical or morally right.
Please let my example serve as a warning to us all: Vultures are circling this tragedy and they are stealing our words to profit upon our mourning. Be wary and if you see your words used without your permission in the press, say something and publicly shame the outlet in question.
For those quoted without permission in The Daily Mail article: I encourage you to make a formal complaint to the editorial board of the publication, like I am going to do.
You can do so here.
We must have each other’s backs in this situation, especially those close to the victims of the fire. We must not let the vultures of tabloid or “fast” online media capitalize and profit on their genuine grief and distress. If there is a time to circle the wagons and show our strength as a community, this is surely one of them.