JENNIFER PARKER AGAINST THE SPINOFF

Case Number: 3166

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2021

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Spinoff

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Comment and Fact
Discrimination
Apology and Correction Sought
Headlines and Captions
Photographs
Privacy
Unfair Coverage

Overview

  1. Jennifer Parker complains an article on The Spinoff about neurodiversity and mental health - and the rise of people self-diagnosing online - misquoted her, used her social media posts without permission, was damaging to her brand and business, and wasn't corrected.
  2. The complaint is not upheld.

Background

3. The article was published on The Spinoff website on 17 September, 2021, and carried the headline Normal feelings, or ADHD, ASD or PTSD? Social media is here to diagnose you.

4. It was the first in a new series titled IRL, looking at the real-world consequences of online life. This article focuses on social media communities around the world that are supporting people to self-diagnose as neurodivergent or mentally ill. It talks to New Zealanders who have self-diagnosed online, and psychologists about why we're seeing more of it, and how it can be beneficial, or risky.

5. The article mentions Auckland-based Instagram user jennhasadhd (Jennifer Parker) as an example of a New Zealand influencer operating in this space. It mentions she has 36,000+ followers, and says she posts about the alleged link between ADHD and eating carbs or being tired. It also includes a screenshot of a post from her Instagram account, displaying an 'ADHD Bingo' card, with behaviours and symptoms a neurodiverse person might experience.

The Complaint

6.  Jennifer Parker complained to The Spinoff the day the article was published. Her complaint makes it clear she does not support the narrative of the article, finds it ableist, harmful and dangerous, and does not appreciate being linked to it by having her Instagram account included. She says The Spinoff should have contacted her before running the article.

7. Ms Parker says the article defamed her brand and business, misquoted her, didn’t remove her post when she asked, and that The Spinoff’s Facebook moderation team didn’t do anything to address those upset by the article.

8. Ms Parker claims the article breached seven Media Council principles; Accuracy, Fairness and Balance, Privacy, Comment and Fact, Headlines and Captions, Discrimination and Diversity, Photographs and Graphics, and Corrections.

The Response

9. The Spinoff co-editor Alex Casey responded to Ms Parker the same day she complained, saying they would remove the embedded Instagram artwork from the article (The 'ADHD Bingo' card). However, Ms Casey made it clear the written copy wouldn’t be changed.

10. In further correspondence Ms Casey stands by referencing Ms Parker in the written text, saying it was appropriate given Ms Parker’s prominence in the local online community. However all references to Ms Parker were removed the following week, after a discussion with a third party known to Ms Parker.

11. Ms Casey acknowledges the article caused a ‘fair bit of discussion online’, and says they received a wide range of feedback from many different perspectives, both critical and favourable.

12. Ms Casey invited Ms Parker to send on any other feedback that she wanted passed on to the IRL team, or to let them know if she’d like to be contacted for future stories about social media and mental health.

13. Ms Casey says they stand by both the original and amended version of the story.

The Decision

14. Ms Parker argues seven Media Council principles have been breached by this article, but only three really apply to her complaint – Accuracy, Fairness and Balance, Photographs and Captions, and Corrections.

15. In terms of the other principles referenced – this is clearly not a comment or opinion piece, the complaint does not relate to a headline, sub-heading or caption, and there has been no breach of Ms Parker’s privacy. In terms of principle 7, Discrimination and Diversity, this is an important and legitimate examination of the barriers that exist for those seeking mental health support, or seeking a neurodiverse diagnosis. It explores how social media communities are breaking down those barriers – and looks at both the benefits and risks of that.

16. Ms Parker also alleges the article has defamed her brand and her business, however the Media Council does not determine legal issues.

17. On the issue of Photographs and Captions, Ms Parker says The Spinoff didn’t get permission to use a post featuring her art from her Instagram account, and then didn’t remove it even though they said they would. But The Spinoff didn’t need permission to take a post from Ms Parker’s publicly available Instagram page, and the post was removed on the day of publication.

18. Further to Corrections, the text mentioning Ms Parker was removed the week following publication. The article when viewed online now has no mention of Ms Parker, but at the bottom states ‘The original version of this article contained reference to an online influencer that has since been removed’. Ms Casey doesn’t explain why they changed their mind and voluntarily removed the text, but says the decision was made after discussions with someone known to Ms Parker.

19. In terms of Accuracy, Fairness and Balance, it is clear Ms Parker does not like the article, and does not feel it aligns with the awareness campaign she is trying to run through her Instagram. She is not alone in this reaction to the article, as Ms Casey herself acknowledges. Ms Parker also feels she should have been contacted before publication, seeing as The Spinoff was using her as an example of a New Zealand influencer in this space. It most definitely would have strengthened The Spinoff’s story having Ms Parker’s input, as she could have provided another interesting viewpoint on this issue, and perhaps even provided material for a follow-up article. However, there was no requirement on the journalist to contact Ms Parker to seek her approval before mentioning her in the article. She is a prominent social media commentator on neurodiversity in New Zealand, who has actively developed a public profile through her pages on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Linkedin and her own blog. An independent journalist does not need permission to report on what anyone can see in a public place and referencing her in the article was relevant to the tenor of the story. It is also worth noting that this article focused on the difficulties seeking a diagnosis from the point of view of those who have turned to social media for support. It wasn't exploring the situation from the point of view of those who run social media accounts to offer that support.

Decision

20. The complaint is not upheld.

Media Council members considering the complaint were Hon Raynor Asher (Chair), Rosemary Barraclough, Katrina Bennett, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Jo Cribb, Ben France-Hudson, Sandy Gill, Jonathan MacKenzie, Marie Shroff and Tim Watkin.

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