Tag Archives: social media ethics

Privacy online? It’s safest to assume it doesn’t exist

Helpful indeed.
Helpful indeed.

I think NPR says it best in their ethics handbook: “We acknowledge that nothing on the web is truly private.”

In my training sessions with reporters on social media, I’ve always urged them not to put anything on the internet — whether you think it’s private or not — that you wouldn’t feel comfortable being broadcast publicly. This is the safest attitude to have online, because something private can be retweeted, shared or even screen-grabbed and spread further than you may have intended.

However, many individuals have an expectation of privacy online, and I believe journalists should respect that to a reasonable degree. I think it’s absolutely ethical for a journalist or employer (or anyone, for that matter) to Google, follow or Facebook-friend request; it’s the responsibility of a social media user to understand and manage their privacy settings and be aware of their digital reputation.

However, I think a journalist should only use content from someone else’s social media space if it’s (a) newsworthy and (b) either shared publicly or the reporter has permission from the user to include privately shared information in a story.

I routinely check my privacy settings and my Google results, and I am cautious about accepting Facebook friend requests since that is the network on which I occasionally share an update intended for my friends rather than the public. Unfortunately, not all social media users are aware of how they appear to the public.

Facebook especially is known for frequently adjusting how privacy settings work — introducing new options and including a default that some users might not choose for themselves. I think Facebook’s Help Center explains these changes as well as older features well, but the same users who are not aware of their own privacy settings are likely also the ones who don’t realize Facebook maintains such a robust help section.

Although maybe not for every single Facebook settings update, Facebook does use little pop-ups to tell users that the look of their profile is changing or there’s something new to adjust in their settings. While that’s helpful, maybe that’s not enough.

According to Consumer Reports, as of 2013, 13 million Facebook users have never even looked at their privacy settings. Perhaps Facebook should give these users a pop-up every time they log in until they at least click over to the privacy settings page. Then they could deliver a pop-up every time there’s a new adjustment to privacy settings. While this might annoy some users, at least no one could say Facebook wasn’t trying to make its users aware of their privacy options.

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Speedy accuracy in the internet age: Easier said than done

20140624-191452-69292005.jpgIt’s an interesting time to be in the journalism business. Information and rumors spread so quickly that it can be difficult to determine which is which. PhotoShop has allowed those deft in the program to create their own news events if they so please (see Storyful on why seeing is not always believing). So how do news organizations make sure what they’re reporting is accurate?

Well, sometimes they don’t. Remember the media race for information on the Boston Marathon bombing? Even institutions like the Associated Press, Time and the Wall Street Journal fell victim to reporting unverified information in the rush to be the first to provide what readers were looking for. (Mother Jones lists seven false things you heard about the bombing.) At the time, people were gobbling up every little detail and demanding more: Where are the bombers? What did they use? Why did they do it?

As it came out that the media had bungled the reporting of this high interest story, people were unforgiving. Readers don’t cut news organizations any slack for having to navigate this world full of false information disguised as genuine news tips. Readers expect news organizations to check their facts — as they should. But here’s the disconnect: checking takes time, and readers still expect the information just as quickly. It’s a real dilemma for news organizations: Do you get it first, or do you get it right? Obviously, both is ideal, but both is not always possible. I think the only ethical thing to do is to check and check quickly. You’re not always going to be first, but always being right is better.

So what happens when a news organization does get it wrong? I’ve heard arguments on both sides of deleting tweets and posts. Here’s what I think: In almost every situation, incorrect information can be corrected without deleting anything. Rather, news organizations should reply to their own tweet with the correct information in order to connect the two. On Facebook, edit the post to say the previous information was incorrect and include the right information. Correcting rather than deleting is part of being transparent and owning up to mistakes. I, for one, respect the brands that do this much more than those who sweep mistakes under the rug.

How to gain trust on social media, as shown by not-quite-math

Gaining people’s trust on social media isn’t easy. A follow doesn’t mean trust; a like doesn’t mean trust. You have to earn it beyond those first signs of interest from your community.

Here’s one stab at figuring out what that hell that means:

Steve Rayson's Trust Formula
Steve Rayson’s Trust Formula

Steve Rayson wrote about this formula over at Social Media Today, where he improved upon “Trust Agents” authors Chris Brogan and Julien Smith’s original formula of influence + reputation = trust. My professor Justin Kings also suggested that Rayson add some combination of reliability and consistency to his new formula.

Although I can think of a few more wonderful words that are important to gaining trust, in the spirit of social media’s brevity, I wouldn’t add any more precious characters to this trusty formula. What I’d offer is a still short and math-inspired addition to further break down what each of those words from the main formula encompasses. Here’s my stab at that:

  • Authority = Knowledge x Ingenuity
  • Helpfulness = (Attentiveness + Responsiveness) x Consistency
  • Intimacy = Transparency x (Humor + Empathy + Charisma)
  • Self Promotion = Benefit to You – Benefit to Your Community **

With all that said, I don’t think anyone needs to fret about memorizing any formulas. These ideas disguised as math  are important concepts to keep in mind, but there’s no need to measure every tweet with addition, subtraction, multiplication or division.

When in doubt, I rely on my gut — but not my social media manager gut. I distance myself from the situation and put myself in the shoes of a person who has no ties to the brand that I manage. How would the average person take whatever it is I’m considering saying as the brand? What would make the average person walk away from this situation with a warm fuzzy, or at least satisfied, feeling? What would make me, as an average person, smile?

I think all these formulas get at that. But ultimately, the human part of social media can’t be totally decoded with math.

** If the Self Promotion balance is zero, you’re in the clear, and there’s no need to divide by it in Rayson’s formula. So you’re basically awesomely trustworthy. Dividing by zero would give us an undefined answer, which would defeat the whole purpose of the formula. And now I’m having math team flashbacks.

I’m sure everyone has an opinion on what makes people trustworthy on social media. What did I leave out?

Whom do you trust? Can you pinpoint the reasons you trust that person or brand?

Unethical Facebook friend requests? I think not

imagesI loved the ethics class I took in undergrad. Thinking about what’s most “right” when there are so many factors fascinated me.  At that time, social media definitely existed, but it wasn’t yet the marketing juggernaut it is now. And there was certainly no Social Media Ethics class offered.

Well now I’m in it — and Lecture 1 already has my wheels turning.

The question, posed to journalists:

Is it (un) ethical to contact a murder suspect’s or murder victim’s friend on Facebook?

Justin Kings‘ technique for making an ethical decision:

  1. What’s my motivation?
  2. What are the likely effects, and to whom?
  3. Where does my duty lie strongest?

I think this technique is a fair strategy. The only potential weakness I see is that it requires the people using it to be very honest with themselves about their motivations, effects and priorities. For example, in the question of the murder suspect/victim’s friend, journalists could convince themselves of whatever yields the results they desire. But as long as the people using this technique are using it because they truly want to choose the most ethical path, and not convince themselves that what they want to do is ethical, this three-pronged approach is solid.

When the question was asked in lecture, I immediately started thinking about how I would handle the situation. I do work for a news organization, and although I’m not a crime reporter (and so I wouldn’t deal with this exact situation in real life), I have an idea of how I would handle it.

My motivation would be that talking to the friend would have journalistic value. It could reveal the character of the suspect or victim — and yes, generate page views. Scoring the interview could also be good for me as a journalist — getting respect from my managers and coworkers, and solidifying my future in news.

The effects? Depending on the person, the friend request, interview or story could upset them. And depending on the results of the interview, it could either be good or bad for the public’s perception of the suspect/victim’s character. But either way, the public is more informed and our news organization builds credibility, as do I, by making contact and gaining more information.

I’m doing my best to be objective in this hypothetical situation, and maybe my journalism school training is shining through here — but I truly believe my duty to inform the public would be more important than allowing the friend to remain anonymous.

I’ve also tried to consider, what if I were the friend? Would I want to be contacted? Probably not. But I could always ignore the friend requests or messages from reporters. I may find the communication annoying, but I can’t imagine such a request for contact striking me as unethical. A reporter contacting the friend does not mean that the friend must talk to them, but the reporter not even trying to contact a potential source just doesn’t seem like an option for a journalist.

How would you handle the situation as a journalist? What about as the friend?