Journalistic integrity is a state law, not an option


I’m not a performer, and yet, a perfect stranger made me one when I was waiting in line at a field trip as a camp counselor. I had decided to dance and laugh with the campers I had been watching. The group of us were having fun; the sun was glaring down and my campers were drinking their weight in water, but we still managed to be silly. In the middle of a twirl, my eyes met a woman and her phone. She quickly shoved her phone in her pocket and looked away, trying to hide the fact that she had been recording me and my campers — a crime in the state of Massachusetts.

This person violated the Massachusetts Wiretapping Law, otherwise known as the Two Party Consent Law. The law applies to any medium with audio, including video recordings with sound. According to the Digital Media Law Project, violating this law is not only a criminal offense, but it’s also grounds for a civil lawsuit for damages by the recorded party. This woman’s goal might have been to capture a sweet moment I was having with my campers, or she might have wanted to record my lovely (read: silly and disappointing) dance routine. Whatever her intentions were, she committed a crime.

The distinction is whether this is understood as an interception. The Boston Police Department published a training video on the subject. The distinction between legal and illegal is whether the video is recording in secret i.e. without the knowledge of the subject. If it is, it is a state offense.

This is an important piece of the puzzle in our world of recording, especially with regards to police officers. It is legal to record an officer as long as it is not a secret video or interception, according to Massachusetts Law.

This law isn’t to protect those doing wrong—in fact, videos are incredibly helpful in protecting individuals facing violence, discrimination or any other wrongful action. They are most helpful and offer the most protection for the recorder when out in the open and clear to all parties. I’m writing this not in an attempt to discredit or discourage the use of video and audio recording, just to encourage to do so wisely and with all parties informed.

This past month, I’ve seen people being recorded without their consent, the videos posted to websites and shared within our Mount Holyoke community and the larger Five College Consortium. Some have been created to gain virality, taking someone’s identity and turning it into a meme.

When someone is recorded without consent and the recording is posted on a website, their identity becomes profitable for the recording party.

In a local case, a woman was recorded because the videographer decided her reaction was funny and should be mocked. This woman’s identity became known throughout our Five College Consortium and is even on Know Your Meme. This person’s well-being has been sacrificed for the sake of “journalism”—a term I use very loosely. A video recorded without someone’s consent or in secrecy is a crime. Full stop. It isn’t journalism —it is evidence that could be used in a court of law.

I’m choosing to be vague in providing the details of this incident. I do not wish to perpetuate the non-permitted and harmful fame this person has gained since a “journalist” decided to use this woman as a stepping stool. I do this to protect a woman behind a meme and a fellow student in our Five College Consortium.

No person’s identity should be used for profit, especially without the knowl-edge of that party. No journalist—no peer for that matter—should mistake mockery and bullying for investigative journalism. The websites that posted this woman’s emotional response have no integrity and no merit. Most of them include comments such as “no surprise she’s Jewish” and rude, demeaning comments on her body.

Journalism isn’t a catch-all phrase that can be applied to any image or video you take. Journalism isn’t an excuse to showcase or exhibit other human being’s thoughts, experiences or actions. Journalism is reaching beyond the face and external value of a situation—it’s excavating the story, stripping away any bias and wiping away slants. Above all, it is about telling the truth—the whole truth.