Excellence in Journalism 2019 • Sept. 5-7, 2019 • San Antonio



Social media boom spurs ethics dilemmas

By Billy O'Keefe

By Gregan Wingert
If Monday’s social media seminar were a fan page on Facebook, about 100 SPJ attendees would have liked it.

New technology is all the hype, and in the seminar “Mining Facebook, Twitter, Etc.: The Ethical Side of It,” about 100 SPJ attendees packed the room and overflowed into the hall. (NIKKI VILLORIA / The Working Press)

New technology is all the hype, and in the seminar “Mining Facebook, Twitter, Etc.: The Ethical Side of It,” about 100 SPJ attendees packed the room and overflowed into the hall. (NIKKI VILLORIA / The Working Press)

The interest in social media and journalism was apparent as participants in “Mining Facebook, Twitter, Etc.: The Ethical Side of It,” crammed inside and lined up outside the room.
Is Twitter an ethical and credible source? Should journalists have two Facebook accounts? Do newsrooms need an ethics code for social media? Is it ethical for journalists to “like” political campaigns? These questions and more were asked during the session.
The seminar featured panelists Elizabeth Donald, reporter for the Belleville (Ill.) News-Democrat, Jerry Ceppos, dean of the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and Stacey Woelfel of the Radio Television Digital News Association.
Program moderator Jane Kirtley, media ethics and law professor at the University of Minnesota, facilitated the discussion among panelists and audience. (NIKKI VILLORIA / The Working Press)

Program moderator Jane Kirtley, media ethics and law professor at the University of Minnesota, facilitated the discussion among panelists and audience. (NIKKI VILLORIA / The Working Press)

Moderator Jane Kirtley, media ethics and law professor at the University of Minnesota questioned whether it is ethical for journalists to rely on Twitter updates as official sources on breaking news stories.
“We’ve lost our sense, as journalists, about what’s real and fake,” Woelfel said.
Tweets need to be verified, Woelfel said.
Updates about fake earthquakes and doctored photos both have been posted on Twitter.
“Twitter is always going to be faster than we are,” Donald said. “It should be treated with the same level of skepticism as any other source.”
Discussion switched from whether newsrooms should create their own ethics codes for social media or adapt the principles outlined in the SPJ Code of Ethics.
“I encourage all the students to develop a personal ethics code,” said Donald. “It’s really easy to screw up your ethical choices if you haven’t thought about it until deadline.”
Other helpful tips came from the audience.
“If you don’t want people to know it, don’t put it there,” one participant said about posting personal information online.
Another journalist said she friends politicians because their status updates give different information than what’s provided in press releases.
Woelfel suggested if journalists opt to do that, they might want to add politicians from different political parties to avoid the appearance of bias.
Kirtley said after the meeting that she hopes the discussion will spark more dialogue on the topic.
“We have to rethink what our role is in delivering news,” she said.
Fanna Haile-Selassie of KTTC-TV said, “This is the new reality. Whether you like it or not, you need to know how to do it ethically. ”