Wick Communications

Follow up on Facebook

In Online media on April 12, 2012 at 10:00 am

I’m sure you heard about the recent killings in Tulsa, Okla. Three people were killed and two others shot in what appears to have been a racially motivated series of shootings. Police have now arrested two men, saying that the guys may have been motivated to kill when a black ex-con shot the father of one of the men two yeas ago.

Just terrible.

At this writing, we don’t know what evidence the police may have had to make the arrests, but we do know that the police looked into the suspects’ Facebook pages. And you can bet reporters did too.

A Facebook post recently caught the attention of reporters in San Francisco when a bicyclist accused of plowing into a crowd and killing a pedestrian posted an account of the incident on his own Facebook page. The San Francisco Chronicle reported on the post hours after the incident.

So how do we feel about this? Is social media fair game for reporters? I think it depends. …

I think that anything you post on a public forum like Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr or your personal blog is likely to be seen by people beyond your circle of friends, and those people include reporters. I don’t think you should assume these posts are private.

Having said that, I wouldn’t report on just any Facebook post. I think you have to use judgment. Sometimes news events conspire – such as murder in your town – to outweigh most privacy concerns you may have. And public figures (the mayor, the school principal, etc.) should know that their social media posts will be scrutinized. I routinely look at Facebook for information about sources… but I rarely use it. I think it is a great way to contact people you can’t otherwise find and to get background for your reporting. I’m much more careful when it comes to actually quoting from social media.

I would be more careful with photos, for reasons I have a hard time articulating. But I can envision occasions when I might pull photos from Facebook for my reporting.

People post things to social media that they really ought not post. It isn’t our responsibility to save them from themselves. But it takes good judgment to know what to use and when to use it.

Clay

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