On safe spaces and the ethics of ‘clickbait’ journalism

Elsa Maishman 21 January 2016

The importance and relevance of safe spaces in Cambridge has been much debated, but fundamentally, whilst these safe spaces exist, they exist as spaces of confidentiality. Exposure and public sharing of the information and details published in a safe space cannot, therefore, be considered ethical. This compromises the safety of the individuals who share in the space, and it also undermines the ethos of the ‘safe space’.

The rules, obviously, become more difficult to define when illegal activity is involved. However, if information and activities never actually trangresses the law, who are we to judge what can be shared? Sensationalism is so often unwelcome in journalism, but it is utterly unwarranted in relation to the violation of spaces of confidentiality.

To brand the (former) ‘'cusu womcam self care tips’' group as an endorsed ‘‘drugs ring’’, as The Tab has done, is clearly an act of sensationalism.

Let us be clear that the exchange of prescription drugs, though not illegal, can have extremely serious consequences and should be discouraged as foolish, and in some cases downright dangerous. However, as no illegal activity was ever partaken in, the rules of the safe space should have remained respected. Ultimately the participants were adults, capable of making adult decisions. It is now these adults who suffer the consequences of the unwarranted exposure of this valued safe space. Safe spaces exist for a reason. They exist to support members of oppressed groups and they are important. If you don’t want to engage with a safe space, it’s very easy to leave it. Unfortunately it’s also very easy to abuse that space in the name of scandal-mongering.

No space is ever truly ‘safe’, as there will always be those who wish to exploit vulnurability in the name of scandalous headlines and increased website traffic. Journalism is in many ways a toxic industry, as the marketing of information inevitably leads to boundaries being crossed in the name of 'scoops'. Student journalists, though not to be taken overly seriously, nonetheless carry the same weight of responsibility as our professional counterparts. To this end we should seriously examine the lengths to which we, as journalists, are prepared to go to invade privacy and hyperbolise headlines in the name of the 'public interest'.