Broadcasters or not, we shouldn’t behave badly on social media

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We think our tweets sound great in our head ...

We think our tweets sound great in our head …

Truth time: I’ve vented on Twitter with tweets that included some swear words a time or two. These were mostly related to the outcome of sporting events. I’ve admitted this in the past, but it’s relevant to talk about for this week’s lecture, “Broadcasters Behaving Badly.”

I work in media, but I’m mostly a behind-the-scenes gal, so I didn’t really think that my venting-about-sports tweets were too harmful until a few years ago. My tweets that contained expletives after one unfavorable sporting event’s outcome took one of my former colleagues aback. That made me think, “well, maybe I did go too far” and I ended up deleting the offending tweets. Of course, I did not mean to offend: I was just using Twitter as I always had, to vent.

So, if I get called out for bad behavior by any of my 1,300+ followers, the same will surely happen for celebrities who have millions more followers, right? Rumors and speculation can even get started as a result of their posts. Because the content they create is so heavily scrutinized, even the most innocuous of celebrity posts suddenly become misconstrued into something else (like Hollywood Life making the jump that Khloe Kardashian is pregnant because she posted an Instagram picture where she’s holding her stomach).

Whether they like it or not, notable individuals’ social media posts now become the subject of news and blog articles. This is because Twitter has cut out the middleman — the celebrity publicist — allowing celebs a platform to talk directly to their fans and everyone else. Twitter has made us all feel like we are able to take a peek into the personal lives of the well-known figures that we follow.

Not only do broadcasters and celebrities have to be careful about misunderstandings in their personal life, they have to take care to watch what they say, as they could jeopardize their professional interests as well. In 2011, comedian Gilbert Gottfried lost his gig as the voice of the Aflac duck for firing off a series of tweets about the Japanese tsunami that Aflac senior vice president and chief marketing officer Michael Zuna said “were lacking in humor.”

Even politicians make Twitter gaffes, like Texas state Sen. Dan Patrick, who tweeted that marriage was between “one man & one man” when he meant to say “one man & one woman.” Whoops.

I think that Justin had it right in lecture this week, as he gave us the rule of thumb “if you wouldn’t broadcast it on air, don’t post it.” As for me, I can’t promise to always be perfect on social media, because I’m not a perfect person. I might be feeling down and vent about it. However, I will definitely think more than twice before I hit the send button on anything


Use of graphic photos must be accompanied by ethical discussion


Before a news organization decides to post or publish graphic images, an ethical discussion must be had by management and staff.

Before a news organization decides to post or publish graphic images, an ethical discussion must be had by management and staff.

For a news organization, the challenge in covering a natural disaster, a horrific attack like the Boston Marathon bombing or a crime scene is the potential for graphic images.

Care must be taken when airing, publishing and especially, sharing such images on social media. I have faced this issue when covering breaking news myself.

At a past job, while off-duty and running errands, I happened upon the scene of a terrible crash before anyone at my news organization got there. A woman who (thankfully) appeared to be conscious was being taken out of a vehicle by emergency personnel. Out of respect for her, her family who may see the photo and people who may be upset by the photo, I took cellphone pictures showing different angles of the crash where she could not be seen.

I felt ethically, this was the right thing to do, because what if the worst had happened and she passed away? I know if that was my family member, I would not want that photo to be how I remembered them. After seeing the wreckage and taking the photos, I was pretty shaken myself, so I knew I made the right decision.

A lot of these decisions have to be made “in the moment,” and a journalist must use their best news judgement, as I didn’t have my news managers there with me approving each photo. When I got to work later that day, most of my co-workers told me I made the right call.

Even though the person at the scene taking the pictures has to make an on-the-spot decision, it is still a team effort in making the decision to use potentially graphic photos. For example, if I had taken photos where the woman was visible, it would be up to producers and managers back in house to decide if the photo could be used on air or online. Just because a news photographer takes several photos, it doesn’t make them all fit to print, publish or air.

Sometimes, like in cases of the Boston bombing or even with the 2010 Haiti earthquake, some news organizations do make the decision to use graphic photos because they believe that it tells another part of the story, like Miami Herald photo editor David Walters told the American Journalism Review in 2010:

“Some people, both readers and journalists, find some of the images from Haiti to be gut-wrenching and undignified. These graphic, hard-hitting photos always spawn debate in our newsroom..careful debate. But the fact remains that the devastation in Haiti is gut-wrenching and in many instances, tragic circumstances have stripped away the dignity of victims who were so mercilessly affected by this disaster. That part of the story must be acknowledged in both words and pictures or the story is incomplete.”

There are always going to be readers, viewers and journalists who may not agree on the final decision of “to use or not to use” graphic photos, but there’s one thing that Walters brings up that is clear: An ethical discussion must be had by staff before deciding to socially share, air or publish such photos.

In the wake of tragedies like Boston bombings, tread lightly on social media


boston strong red sox

The phrase “Boston Strong” became prominent in the wake of the bombings. This is the Red Sox take on the saying.

The 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, an event that became an international tragedy when three people were killed and dozens were injured, brought up a lot of ethical questions for journalists and companies in terms of what constitutes ethical behavior on social media.

It seems that ethics is in the eye of the beholder in both of the cases that Justin discussed this week in lecture: a news organization asking its Facebook fans to “like” a post about a recovering victim and Ford Motor Company posting a photo of two Ford emergency vehicles and thanking Boston first responders. (More information on those posts here.)

I’m sure both organizations only had the best intentions at heart when crafting these posts – I surely hope that is the case. There could be things that they did differently, however.

Perhaps the news organization didn’t need to tell people to “like” the post to wish the boy a speedy recovery. It is a widely stated fact that actually telling people what to do with a post (like, comment, share) gets more engagement on Facebook, so it’s likely the news organization was trying to engage their fans the way they probably always do. In this case though, the content pretty much speaks for itself and asking people to “like” probably wasn’t necessary.

Either way, the news organization and Ford Motor Company are darned if they do, darned if they don’t. Some people will see such posts as a show of solidarity with those experiencing the tragedy while others will see the brand as trying to cash in on tragedy. That’s exactly the kind of mixed response that Ford’s post got.

It’s funny though: Many experts and pundits say that “brands should be human” on social media. Yet when brands try to do this and have a human reaction to a horrific event along with the rest of us, they’re seen as trying to cash in rather than have a reaction. There seemed to be no great backlash from the general public when the Boston Red Sox rolled out their version of “Boston Strong” (logo shown above). Why was this show of solidarity acceptable while Ford’s was not? Both graphics featured the use of a well-known logo of a corporate entity.

I think there is no clear ethical answer here, unless a brand appears to be blatantly trying to use a tragedy to sell something. When brands create social media posts trying to empathize with a situation, even when they feel they are treading sensitively, it will just rub some people the wrong way. That shouldn’t stop them from trying but that is the main thing to remember – act with sensitivity, and run the post by as many people as possible.

The new workplace ethics: Employees now have computers in their pockets!

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social media at work

Working, yet thinking of social media.

Whether employers like it or not, they will have to address social media use in the workplace (thanks smartphones!). In fact, for some jobs, social media use is required because it’s part of an employee’s job function. Yet some employees simply use social media to vent (check out this collection of tweets from the @PaneraProblems_ Twitter account).

Like Justin mentioned in our lecture, a lot of companies are now drafting a social media use policy and this is a good thing for every company to have, even if the majority of employees are not using social media as part of their job.

Companies like Best Buy address this issue in their social media policy:

Remember, your responsibility to Best Buy doesn’t end when you are off the clock. For that reason, this policy applies to both company sponsored social media and personal use as it relates to Best Buy.

This Best Buy policy pretty much solves the quandary of “should you leave your workplace out of your social biographies?” I don’t think it matters if you do or not. Chances are, through the people you talk to and the things you talk about, observant people will probably figure out where you work anyway. You can’t really hide from it, so you might as well be mindful of it when posting content.

I would think it would behoove employees to read their company’s social media policy regardless, but some companies do try to make it fun and worth the time. One of my former workplaces added a gamification element, quizzing us on the company’s intranet about the policy and offering chances to win prizes like an iPad.

Overall, it makes good business sense for a company to have a social media policy in place so employees know where they stand. While some may not agree, it is completely OK for a company to track your computer use while at work. After all, you’re using company resources, most likely on company time. For example, if a supervisor sees that productivity has taken a nose dive while Facebook usage on the computers has increased, the boss may decide to block Facebook. It may seem harsh to those who are not abusing the privilege, but at the end of the day, the decision is based on what’s best for business.

PRIvacy or PriVACY? Either way, we must look out for ourselves

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Funny, yet true, cartoon (From

Funny, yet true, cartoon (From

Privacy: It’s something many of us worry about giving up too much of, especially in the social media age where we share the play-by-play of our vacation as it’s happening, give our location coordinates in our Twitter bio and share photos of our children even before they’re born.

I’ve recently checked my privacy settings on Facebook and Twitter, but I couldn’t tell you when it was (at least in the last six months). If they are set the way you want them, I wouldn’t really think you would need to check them more than quarterly (unless the social network you use had a privacy breach or something of that nature).

How do you check your privacy settings? I’m not here to tell you that. That’s why we have Google searches.

However, I will offer some suggestions that social networks can use to make it easier for their users to maintain their privacy, kind of similar to some suggestions I gave for easier-to-understand terms and conditions.

-Make it simpler. These settings shouldn’t be hidden from people. They should be easy to find. Like it or not, you are making a site that your grandmother will use (i.e.: Facebook) and she should be able to find how to tweak her privacy settings with no problem. In addition to making them easy to find, they should also be easy to read and understand (not a page with thousands of words on it).

-Remind people to check them. If you don’t remind or prompt a person to do something, chances are, they won’t do it (especially if it’s something as non-sexy as checking privacy settings).

-Give people the most private settings to start. People can always make their profiles more open if they want, but give them the most secure settings as a default.

Speaking of privacy, what if you want to reach out to someone you don’t know? What if that person doesn’t want to be found by people they don’t know. These are some issues that journalists can come across in the information-gathering process.

Justin went over this in lecture this week, revisiting a discussion we had several weeks ago about contacting a friend of a crime suspect via social media. I would say that it is OK to contact this person via social media, as long as you identify who you are upfront. If possible, it may be even better to call this person or physically go to their home. Contacting a person on Facebook is akin to knocking on their door, a tough job, but one a journalist still must do.

Now, if that person does grant you access behind the curtain and accepts your Facebook friend request after you’ve identified yourself as a journalist, the question is it ethical to republish material from a private social media space?

I think while you do technically have access to the material, asking permission will probably give an added level of protection as well as continue to build trust with that source. After all, trust is an important aspect when it comes to letting down that privacy wall.

Corporations, agencies know me better than I know myself

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facebook privacy

Not necessarily trying to pick on Facebook here, but I just thought this grammar/privacy pun was too funny not to share.

Like any idea that’s good initially, data mining can turn into a slippery slope.

A business gets your information to stay in touch with you and anticipate your potential needs — and then they sell your information to make a quick buck.

The government is concerned about additional terrorist attacks in a post-9-11 world, so, nearly 13 years later, they’re looking at your cellphone data — who you’re calling and who you’re texting and where you’re doing it from. I realize the National Security Agency (NSA) is trying to protect everyone, but like the photo to the left says, there is a fine line.

A recent article in the Washington Post reports that not only can the NSA collect your communications, but also communications about you:

Still, some lawmakers are concerned that the potential for intrusions on Americans’ privacy has grown under the 2008 law because the government is intercepting not just communications of its targets but communications about its targets as well. The expansiveness of the foreign-powers certification increases that concern.

You’d like to think these scenarios are pretty far-fetched, but if you’ve been paying attention to news coverage on this issue, you know they’re not. I may sound like a paranoid fool (or right on the money) to some of you, but I’m worried this constant collection of data is going to bring us into an era where we’re on 24-7 surveillance. Almost every electronic device we have now has a front-facing camera (smartphones, Xbox Kinect and tablets/laptops), so how far out there is this idea really?

I’ve never been in charge of any large scale data collection at any of my workplaces, but here are a couple basic guidelines that I think entities should follow: Don’t sell someone’s data, don’t use someone’s data for something other than what is supposed to be used for and don’t be a creeper.

How about this: Collect the data, but keep that data disconnected from the individual to whom it belongs. I’m sure programs out there exist and they are probably already in use, but it would be great if companies and agencies could actually do this. The aforementioned article from the Washington Post echoes this idea:

In general, if Americans’ identities are not central to the import of a communication, they must be masked before being shared with another agency.

Really, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. So if we don’t want any data collection done at all, we’ll have to disappear into that rabbit hole that Dr. Selepak was talking about last semester.

In the social media age, being right is more important than being first

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accuracy speed bulls eye

Speed is important, but it is most important to hit the bulls eye on accuracy.

Thanks to social media, information travels faster than ever. I know this, because it’s my job to chase down that information nearly every day. While social media is another great way to garner news tips from the public and reputable sources, like any other piece of information, it needs to be verified.

Why is this? Sometimes the tips turn out to be correct, sometimes they do not. A member of the public may post on our Facebook page that police are responding in their neighborhood, but it may just be a routine traffic stop. Unofficial sources with the fire department may tweet us about a structure fire, but we need to verify that information with dispatch and the public information officer.

Like Justin said in lecture, social media doesn’t take away the need for journalist to fact-check, it heightens it. How often have we seen a celebrity death hoax make the rounds on Twitter only to have the person be alive and well (like Jon Bon Jovi in 2011)? People can make things up, doctor photos and rewrite articles all the time, which is why it is more important to be right than be first.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s GREAT to be the first with a breaking news story. But if the story turns out to be wrong, your news organization has lost the trust of your readers/viewers. Justin asked in lecture if the public is more understanding of news organizations putting incorrect information out due to the fast speed with which it moves. I would have to say no, not really, at least in my experience. People still expect accurate information with proper spelling, grammar and punctuation. Otherwise, they’re going to go somewhere else.

But what happens if you did get verified information from police and that information later turns out to be wrong, like when several media organizations identified the wrong Lanza brother as the Sandy Hook shooting suspect in December 2012? When something like this happens, you have to make it right as soon as possible. Huffington Post reported that BuzzFeed took down their article identifying the wrong person. Every decision must be made on a case-by-case basis, but ethically, I think this is OK because they probably didn’t want other people who came across their initial article to make the same mistake.

At news organizations I’ve worked at, we would try to avoid deleting a story, as this creates a dead link if someone tries to view the story later. If the correction was relatively minor, we would make it and save the story. If the correction was major, we would put a text correction in the story. Only in extreme circumstances would we delete a story, and this decision had to be blessed by a manager.

Bottom line: It is a journalist’s job to do everything we can to make sure we’re right AND first, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of losing our viewers’ trust.

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