On 5 September an old friend of mine, Saad Al-Hilli, along with his wife and mother-in-law were shot dead near the village of Chevaline in the French Alps. The incident is complex so it's ripe for armchair detectives to investigate from the comfort of their homes. To feed this demand, the media circus went into overdrive which resulted in lots of inaccurate, irrelevant and plain incorrect* information being published. I don't want this unprofessional journalism to go unchallenged, especially when it threatens the welfare of the two young girls orphaned by the tragedy.
My introduction to Saad was a cheeky text message from an unknown number on my mobile phone. His humour was childish so we got along well. He was also incredibly gregarious, and often teased me for being shy. I met his wife Ikbal very briefly once, and his daughters Zena and Zainab on a few occasions ("Zena" is Saad's preferred spelling of his daughter's name, by the way).
One day Saad, Zena and Zainab visited me and spent an afternoon chasing my pet chickens around the garden. Hidden in one of the bushes was a warm, recently laid egg. Zena found it, picked it up and asked her dad "Is it ready to eat yet?"
On Monday the Daily Mail published a photograph of these girls. Although their faces have been pixellated so there's little risk of being identified, I still feel that this could be the start of something potentially damaging for them.
Children are inherently vulnerable. Plus they're important for our collective future, which is why we place young people's welfare high up in our priorities. Instinctively and intellectually, it just feels right. How we behave towards vulnerable children in difficult situations speaks volumes.
These photos add nothing to the discussion of this horrific crime. Publishing images without any thought to their consequences isn't necessarily dangerous and unethical, it's lazy. Zena and Zainab have been through unimaginable suffering in the last two weeks. One photo certainly isn't the end of the world, but it could start a snowball of media attention aimed at already distressed children. I don't want that to happen.
These girls deserve to be left alone. If the press attention continues to focus on the children with no respect to their well-being, even though each individual publication feels harmless, the sum effect is likely to be negative. When I visited the Al-Hilli home in Claygate to pay my respects, I experienced this first-hand.
As soon as I saw the police officers and TV news vans sprawled across that suburban street, I panicked. My disbelief finally gave way - this was definitely for real. I noticed a gang of photographers hidden in the bushes directly opposite the house. Handing my flowers over was the green light for people to approach me. Journalists kept asking if I'd like to speak to them, and photographers didn't even have the manners to ask before they zoomed into my tear-stained face.
No, I wasn't exactly attacked by a mob of paparazzi. No, I wasn't traumatised by this incident. In fact I left with a smile on my face after my friend asked "What would Saad do in this situation? Play the photographers at their own game!" and gestured for me to take a photo with my mobile phone.
However if you also look at how much I was being contacted by other means the distress starts to add up. I was offered bribes for photos, money for revelations. Someone even offered to smuggle me across to France in the back of his van (my passport had expired, and I wanted to be nearer to the girls) in exchange for content.
I imagined these people salivating over the thought of me accidentally letting slip some incriminating piece of information about the family. But the people who left messages on my phone, visited my workplace, rang my boss, knocked on my mum's door and sent me numerous social networking messages were all very polite. Not a single journalist was rude to me. Yet the sum effect of all the pressure to talk was still quite unsettling, especially when you're in shock.
Most people don't appreciate their privacy until they lose it. But most people have probably never been put under those sorts of pressures, as demonstrated by the laughable argument that if you don't ever want to be photographed topless you should never go topless in the first place (poor Kate!).
Does that mean certain people have no right to privacy at all? There's something worryingly fascinating about knocking the famous and wealthy off their pedestals, but it can be tantamount to bullying depending on the severity of the criticisms and the background of the victim.
I brought attention on myself by visiting the family home in person, full well knowing there would be people there hungry for new content to fill their newspapers and websites. I chose to reveal I knew the family on Twitter because I wanted someone close to the case to confide in me. I made those choices as an adult, not a child. Therein lies the difference.
Zena and Zainab are young girls. I don't want them put under media-related distress. Saad and Ikbal wanted the best start in life for their daughters and I want to honour that by saying this: these children need privacy and care, not a bunch of gossip-obsessed tabloids using this awful tragedy to boost paper sales and webpage hits. I will do everything I can to help in that respect, and I hope the spotlight soon starts to fade.
*To respect the investigation, I have deliberately avoided going into detail of which pieces of information I think are misleading or incorrect. I understand there is an argument for getting the public involved in the investigation, but it is not something I'm comfortable with. The one thing I must mention however, before I pull my hair out, is that Saad's employer SSTL is NOT a defence company - basic online fact checking should have eliminated this spurious piece of info a long time ago.
Follow Shreen Ayob on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@shreen_ayob