Undercover journalism is a dying art, requiring reporters to attempt the infiltration of a particular community by posing as someone they’re not. It’s previously been used to expose criminals, to catch drug smugglers, and stop child abuse. You know, important stuff.
Hunter S. Thompson used it while reporting on motorcycle gang Hells Angels and Elizabeth Jane Cochran used it to report cruelty and neglect in an insane asylum.
— Amini Fonua (@AminiFonua) August 11, 2016
In his article, originally titled I Got Three Grindr Dates In One Hour At Rio, Hines pretended to be a gay man on the hook-up app Grindr – and reported his findings. Which were, somewhat unsurprisingly, that gay men do in fact occasionally hook-up. Riveting. Here’s the problem, though. Some of the guys he described in his article were identifiable and from countries where LGBTI people still face daily abuse, discrimination and imprisonment. A gross invasion of privacy, the article offered readers clear hints at athletes’ heights, weights, and other physical features – and even shared their respective placements in competition. The majority of this generation’s teenagers are now rejecting typical gender and sexual norms. Post continues below…
“Do you realize how many people’s lives you just ruined without any good reason but click-bait journalism?” he then asked. “Some of these people you just outed are my FRIENDS. With family and lives that are forever going to be affected by this.”
Imagine the one space you can feel safe, the one space you’re able to be yourself, ruined by a straight person who thinks it’s all a joke? — Amini Fonua (@AminiFonua) August 11, 2016
No straight person will ever know the pain of revealing your truth, to take that away is just… I can’t. It literally brings me to tears ???????? — Amini Fonua (@AminiFonua) August 11, 2016
It is still illegal to be gay in Tonga, and while I’m strong enough to be me in front of the world, not everybody else is. Respect that. — Amini Fonua (@AminiFonua) August 11, 2016
For some members of the community, incidents like this one serve as a painful reminder for the mistreatment LGBTI people have received from the media in the past. It wasn’t so long ago that Fairfax newspapers published the names, occupations and household addresses of over fifty gay Australians involved in a local protest – leading to loss of jobs and abandonment by family.
And for those athletes who now face the risk of being identified and outed as a result of Hines’ blatant expulsion of ethical journalism, the results could be far greater. Despite the publication’s inadequate initial non-apology, which saw the Daily Beast’s editor tweak and re-name the same article, the story has now finally been taken offline.
The note concluded that the article was not intended “to do harm or degrade members of the LGBT community, but intent doesn’t matter, impact does.”