The ordeal of Richard Ferrer: (social) media and ethics

Many will already have seen Richard Ferrer’s wry account of how he was bombarded with antisemitic abuse on Twitter last week. This followed a (false) accusation that he had posed as an ISIS fan in order to stir up trouble on a Muslim blog.

Here you can see the thread that started the problems.

First ‘abuaisha 10’ commented:

“salam my sisters and brothers we should get out of this evil country and pledge our allegiance to the muslim sharia law and get out of evil west. who wants to join me so we can wage war and jihad against the corrupt west.”

Then an admin suggested that the tweet seemed to originate from a newspaper. I won’t go into the technical details (though they are touched on here) but it seems that someone on the site was keen to pin the blame for the tweet on Ferrer, and others were equally keen to spread the story.

This raises a series of ethical questions. Now – like this tweeter, I remain unclear about whether the ‘salam my sisters and brothers’ did actually originate from a newspaper’s IP address or not. But if it did indeed come from some journalist fishing for a story – would that be clearly unethical? Probably – the journalist (if journalist it was) doesn’t really meet these criteria, for example.

In a recent article, Nick Cohen argues that the ubiquity of social media has served to blur the definition of journalist; anyone can disseminate news and opinions.  People with a high public profile, such as Baroness Hussein Ece, have many followers and hold a position of authority. So it was unfortunate that she helped spread this misleading story. Another culprit was @DMReporter.

Of course it’s easy to get carried away by what seems a good scoop, and at least one tweeter tried to rectify their mistake by issuing an apology and correction.

Richard Ferrer is the editor of the Jewish News, and I think he is clearly right in assuming a political/antisemitic motivation.

My best guess is the author was keen to kill two birds with one stone by publicly defaming a Jewish journalist and the Daily Mail in one fell swoop.

In fact this week’s prize for sheer journalistic nastiness can probably be awarded, not to one of the right wing tabloids, but to The Socialist Worker which ran a piece mocking the death of an Eton schoolboy, killed by a polar bear on a school trip.