Week 9 blog- Alex

Because of people’s willingness to share on social media, there is a plethora of good material that might not be obtainable through other means. This often creates dilemmas for reporters. Information on social media is public. In most instances, obtaining that information does not require a reporter to “friend” the person who posts it. However, platforms also allow their users to make their posts less accessible to those are aren’t their friends.

There should be limited expectation of privacy on a social media. As such, for people who do not privatize their accounts, whatever information obtained by a reporter is legally usable. The gray area is when a reporter decides to friend the source of their news. To “friend” someone on these websites suggests that their intentions are benign, though most sites do little to screen people with malicious motivations. Accepting friend requests are sometimes automated which foregoes the procedure of assessing the nature of the relationship. But simply put, whether a friend request was automatically accepted or not, to pose as a “friend” only to obtain information is equivalent to a reporter lying about his/her identity to and recording a conversation without informing other parties involved. Behavior like this should be reserved for serious criminal targets where the benefits of ousting the person outweigh the deceptive practice of an investigative reporter.

Also, worth considering is the idea that reporters should not write about their “friends” because of conflict of interest. If this reporter becomes a sincere friend to the target, then he/she is inevitably biased.

It was tough to find official guidelines for a reporter’s relationship with online sources. According to the Organization of News Ombudsman and Standards Editors, there is little agreement on specific social media behavior. The LA times specifies that if a reporter friends a group or source on one side of a debate, he must do so with the other side as well. On the other hand, the New York times states that being a friend on Facebook is almost meaningless. A such it is not the same kind of relationship that would pose a conflict of interest.


Source https://www.newsombudsmen.org/facebook-friends-create-ethical-issues-for-journalists/

2 thoughts on “Week 9 blog- Alex”

  1. I agree with your point that if the reporter does in fact become actual “friends” with someone after following them for a story, they are crossing the line towards becoming biased. If a reporter did not make their intentions of friending someone clear, and only did so to find out more information about them on their page, then that is not an ethical way to utilize social media as a journalist.


  2. Hi Alex, thanks for pointing out the LA Times’ requirements for friending or joining a group. In my opinion (sorry Jonathan Peters – look to this week’s online readings), a journalist “friending” a group is showing loyalty or membership. I may use this group’s Facebook page as a means of gathering information, but I wouldn’t use it to confirm. I’d also use it to gather names for possible sources and then contact them individually to confirm information and get further comment(s). The New York Times, I don’t believe, sees how the world is changing as far as news and information gathering. What if a reporter “friends” a political candidate and publishes a story with content from their page without their consent and that party turns around and sues the paper for defamation? Is that the same as if I were to take a telephoto lens and take that photo from the street of them sunbathing on their patio?


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