Are You Facebook Friends With Malia Obama?


Josiah Kamau/BuzzFoto/Getty Images

Malia Obama made posts on her private Facebook criticizing Trump. If you're not her Facebook friend, you shouldn't know what she's saying.

Stella W. '19, Editor-in-Chief

If not, you shouldn’t know what she posts.

The Daily Mail and many other news sources released a story about posts on Malia Obama’s private Facebook account in which she criticized Trump.

That is not journalism.

The Society of Professional Journalists, or SPJ, has a Code of Ethics by which every journalist should abide. Let’s have a look.

“Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information unless traditional, open methods will not yield information vital to the public.”

Whoever chose to leak Malia Obama’s private Facebook did so undercover, likely knowing that they would not be portrayed kindly if open about their intentions. This alone should be enough for a news source to know not to report on it.

“Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness.”

The public does not need to know about Malia Obama’s private Facebook. She is not a politician, she is not in a public office, she is a 20-year-old student. And she sought anonymity with her private Facebook account for a reason; sharing screenshots from it is quite clearly intrusive.

“Recognize that legal access to information differs from an ethical justification to publish or broadcast.”

According to the Digital Media Law Project, publishing private information is only justified when there is a verifiable public need for the information. Knowing what Malia Obama shares privately with friends is not necessary information for the public.

“Realize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than public figures and others who seek power, influence or attention. Weigh the consequences of publishing or broadcasting personal information.”

Is Malia Obama a private figure? Her father is Barack Obama, after all. But she is not seeking to make a public commentary at this point in her life and she did not choose to be in a position of influence; thus, she is a private person and has the right to keep her own words private. The Daily Mail website is full of news stories about the Kardashians and Hollywood actors and models. They are public figures, Malia Obama is not.

“Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity, even if others do.”

The main reason that stories have been written about Malia Obama’s Facebook is that people are curious. People want to know what the private life of a president’s daughter is and what she really thinks about the world. But this is curiosity, not newsworthiness.

Instead of sharing private information about a private citizen, news outlets should focus their time on holding individuals in public office accountable for their actions.

That is journalism.