Reflection on the Nine Ethical Questions of Online Journalism and Social Media

Last Updated March April 2, 2016 11:56 p.m. EST

Source: Teodoraturovic

Ethics, while being a completely subjective concept, are something everyone must follow if they want to function correctly in society. The collective agreement of right and wrong is applied to all actions of everyday life. As a public relations student it’s import to familiarize oneself of proper online journalism and social media ethics. Below are the nine ethical questions one must ask themselves before utilizing these tools.

1. Can journalists use social networks to express opinions or advocate for causes?

Journalists can use social networking as a platform to post their opinions/advocate causes as long as the employer is always considered. It does seem like a grey area because restricting what a journalist says is always going to be looked at as censorship.

However, today people are constantly losing their jobs for saying things that conflict with their employers. As a journalist, I feel part of the job is to be a representative and thus should conduct themselves to a specific set of guidelines. Having separate professional and personal accounts is a good way to sort of widen the gap between the two.

2. What about retweeting, reposting or reblogging the opinions of others? Is that an acceptable practice for a journalist, and if so, how should it be handled?

Reposting, reblogging or retweeting is again sort of a grey area. The benefit of it is that it uses an outside source that takes responsibility for the content being sent out. Some people may subconsciously absolve themselves from the actual message, claiming that it isn’t them that is saying these things but someone else.

The negative side of things is that it still attaches a message to the person reposting, reblogging or retweeting. In a way it’s endorsement, which as illustrated above, may conflict with a person’s current employment.

3. Is it wise for a journalist to get in angry exchanges with the public on social networks?

Journalists should avoid getting involved in arguments with others over social networks at all costs. Any problems should be handled privately through email or other 1-1 communication channels. The internet has become a breeding ground for mindless negative communication. Trolls can’t be reasoned. It’s usually in the journalist’s best interest to avoid negative online confrontation.

4. To what degree is a journalist required to identify himself when using a social network?

A journalist should always identify themselves over social networks, especially on their professional accounts. I don’t agree with the exception of investigative reporting, which says identifying yourself is not always required. This exception isn’t clearly defined enough and can easily be abused.

5. What level of verification is needed for a journalist to share news over social?

Verification of news is flexible if the proper attribution is given. What makes this ethical is whether the reader can reasonably be aware of where the source came from/credibility from the shared news. It may be negatively impacting if rumors/information is shared from an unconfirmed/unreliable source. Try to share information from organizational confirmed accounts and reliable people.

6. Are there safety or security issues to consider when posting on social networks?

There are several safety aspects to take into account when using social networks. Make sure posted material doesn’t release information on where to find people. It’s a crazy world and there are a lot of people that want to do who know s what to informants. Also going back to negative online confrontations, antagonizing someone could raise safety problems.

7. Is it OK for a journalist to friend or follow a source?

It is usually acceptable for journalists to friend/follow sources. Keeping tabs on sources is part of the job.Sometimes an impartial employer will require someone to follow both the opposing side of the source. Whichever way, this is an important way to keep up to date on currently occurring issues.

8. Should any social network postings be considered private, necessitating permission before quoting them?

The general rule is nothing on social media is private. Using privacy settings is not full-proof and such safeguards should not be completely relied on. Some conservatives feel contacting the source and informing them of the quote is ethical. This ensures the quote accurately reflect’s the person’s tone/intentions.

9. What’s an ethical way to correct errors made on social networks?

Avoiding errors at all costs is the ideal approach for journalists. Telling themselves that they can edit the post if errors arise is lazy and harms their credibility. The best course of action is to create a new post with the right information and also noting the inaccuracies of the previous one while also leaving it up. When editing posts (like on Facebook), include what changed and why.

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