After the irresponsible reporting of Chris Jefferies, the arrested suspect in the Joanna Yeates murder case, the story is still at the top of the news. It is a perfect storm for the media: a middle-class photogenic victim; a mystery over the disappearance; a murder; the opportunity to tap into fear - in this case, fear of women being attacked and, as we'll see, Facebook.
Natalie Dzerins has a good summary of today's Mail front page, in which Facebook is fingered as a possible suspect:
- A woman was murdered
- The woman had a profile on Facebook
- The woman might have been killed by someone she knew
- The woman might have been killed by someone she didn't know
Well. I, for one, am enlightened by this stellar piece of journalism.
And that is indeed about it. What a casual observer might wonder - although this of course might be seen as naive and irresponsible by the thin-skinned Avon & Somerset Police - is why, according to the Mail, Facebook is only being looked at now as a possible source of information, so many days later. However, the answer is probably that it has been looked at from the beginning, but is only being reported now, to find a fresh angle to keep the story going. Which is fine, of course, if it gets the investigation somewhere and is genuinely in the public interest - but perhaps it should be asked what is gained, other than more speculation, at a time when a family is still grieving.
Newspapers like the Daily Mail enjoy linking Facebook and crime, whether they're really linked or not. There's a 'scared of technology' aspect to it, and the idea that people aren't safe; there's a tapping in to fear among their readership of what's new and what the young people are doing. It runs a number of articles about bad experiences on the social networking site, which could lead some readers to suspect there is an anti-Facebook or anti social networking agenda at work. You could say that's because the target Mail newspaper demographic is people who wouldn't go on Facebook and who therefore might be fearful or suspicious of what's there; regardless, the coverage often focuses on the fear aspect, rather than the reality of millions of social networking transactions carried out without murder, assault or any negative consequences.
And then we come to the Daily Star. The Mail is really quite a mild treatment of this murder story compared to the Star's effort today. As Exclarotive says:
I can’t imagine how this must make Joanna Yeates’ family feel. To have a national newspaper exploiting her death by printing pathetic, desperate, unfounded claims from a publicity-seeking fraud under a headline promising some sort of hope.
The Daily Star. Because sometimes losing your daughter just doesn’t hurt enough.
Yes, it is truly appalling. It is that bad.
New evidence emerges? Really?
A PSYCHIC has told police she sketched Jo Yeates’s killers only days before the murder.
Carol Everett says she saw the pair in a premonition she had about the landscape architect’s death.
The psychic investigator insists she “saw” Jo being attacked by two of a group of five men after she rejected their offer of a lift.
I wrote a post yesterday explaining why the overuse of the term 'woo' by sceptics can be undermining, and here's a perfect example of why it's important to keep the powder dry for occasions when there are false claims and a horribly unpleasant exploitation of grief. This is simply disgusting. I don't care whether this 'psychic investigator' is deluded or deliberately misleading; it's disgraceful that a national newspaper should give credibility to totally unproven and unfounded claims in relation to a real-life tragedy. The paper even gives descriptions of the people 'seen' by the psychic, as if they're genuine sightings and not some made-up fantasy.
Don't blame the psychic; blame the newspaper that gave them the front page. And I don't care if it is 'just the Daily Star' and 'no-one will believe it'; that is simply not good enough. This is a human being's life, being belittled and cheapened and demeaned by this artifice, this pretence of insight, this nonsense.
So now we appear to have entered the realm of speculation in this murder case - bereft of leads, copy still needs to be filed and fresh angles found. And it is leading to some miserably bad journalism, exploitative, unpleasant and distasteful.