Tag Archives: PBS MediaShift

Handling Rumors on Social Media

By David Craig

How should journalists deal with rumors on social media?

Answering this question in practice isn’t as simple as it might seem. A good discussion of the topic broke out Friday during the latest #EdShift Twitter chat on PBS MediaShift.

The biweekly chats draw in both journalists and journalism professors to talk about topics important to the future of journalism education. This one focused on ethical issues on social media. Excellent comments, including resources for good ethical practice, emerged on several topics. But the most intense debate centered on rumors.

Steve Fox, a journalism professor at the University of Massachusetts, took this view:

Fox said the approach used by Andy Carvin, formerly of NPR and well-known for his engagement with Twitter sources during Arab Spring, can’t be generalized to other reporting. But Carvin, who joined in the discussion, said that if journalists are just passing along unverified rumors, that’s the wrong way to work. He posted links to several tweets he wrote after the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, to show the approach he takes to verifying information:

With this approach, Carvin challenges assumptions and highlights the likelihood that early reports are wrong – whether they come from individuals or news media.

The research he’s been doing as a fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University also provides a caution for journalists using law enforcement sources.

Where does all of this leave us on the question of how journalists should handle rumors on social media?

I share Fox’s caution on any communication by journalists about rumors. In ethical terms, minimizing harm – a mainstay of ethics including the Society of Professional Journalists code – calls for great care because of the potential of false information to do damage.

But in the social media sphere, where the public is immediately awash in good and bad information, journalists often best meet another duty – seeking truth – by aggressively questioning rumors openly in real time. (For another case study on this, see a 2011 blog post by Daniel Victor, now a social media editor at The New York Times, about two journalists on Twitter in the middle of a shooting scare in Philadelphia.)

In another tweet,  Carvin said that if a rumor spreads on social media, journalists’ duty is  “to acknowledge it, pick it apart, prove/debunk it.”

Well-said. That means being ethical on social media involves not just asking hard questions but asking them in the open.

 

 

 

Ethical Issues in Mobile Reporting

It was great to see ethical issues come up Friday in a Twitter chat about doing journalism with mobile devices.

Katy Culver, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin and visiting faculty member at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, moderates biweekly #EdShift chats for PBS MediaShift on innovation in journalism education. Much of Friday’s chat, involving both journalists and journalism professors, focused on tips and tools for mobile reporting. But Culver, who is also associate director of the Center for Journalism Ethics at Wisconsin, included a question about ethical concerns.

The tweets in response addressed both specific challenges and broader points about navigating the ethics of mobile journalism.

A reporter from Appleton, Wisconsin, raised an issue in covering accidents that comes with the instant capability of mobile devices:

Steve Buttry, who does training for Digital First Media, pointed to challenges related to accuracy. They are connected both with size and features of mobile devices and the sense of urgency that goes with mobile reporting.

He also noted the need to identify oneself clearly as a journalist:

A journalism professor from Germany pointed out an issue related to photographic features that come with mobile phones.

In only a few words, these journalists highlighted a range of ethical challenges in mobile journalism. A radio reporter from Washington, D.C., noted the broader issue of the great power of these small tools and the responsibility that goes with it:

Another D.C. radio reporter did a good job of pointing out that the specifics of mobile journalism ethics are a work in progress:

I don’t think we’ve received any calls on the Ethics AdviceLine about issues in mobile journalism, but we’d love to be a sounding board for journalists thinking through decisions about reporting and editing on their phones.