The ethics, or lack thereof, of eavesdropping

20 Mar

We’re all guilty of it at some point or another. We all eavesdrop on other conversations when we’re at the mall or the bus stop, even though we know it’s none of our business. But at what point does this become unethical? Andy Boyle takes eavesdropping to a whole new level. In my opinion, Boyle crossed some lines by publishing this.

As journalists, and as human beings, we have certain ethical standards we have to live by. Some may think making someone’s private business so public, as Boyle did, toes some ethical lines for humans, but everyone’s ethical codes are different. But as journalists, our ethical standards are spelled out for us by the Society of Professional Journalists. And one of those expectations is to minimize harm while doing our job. Not only was the news Boyle was reporting not of any news value, he was also not minimizing harm in reporting it. By invading this couple’s private moment and making it more public, he was adding more pain to an already painful situation for them.

There is no doubt that Boyle’s tweets were entertaining. That was obviously his goal. I don’t think he intended for them to have news value. I’m sure that many people even retweeted the biggest hits of the bunch.

But for a journalist, Boyle’s actions were definitely unethical. And a human, his actions were immature, unprofessional and unsympathetic. It showed a lack of taste and empathy on his part. He didn’t put himself in the shoes of his subject. Would he want such an embarrassing moment in his life broadcast for so many people to laugh at? Is this journalism? Definitely not. Is it interesting? Of course. But should he have done it? I think probably not.

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