02 February 2009

Guide To Social Media Ethics

How journalists conduct themselves in the virtual world is a hotly debated issue which has come under the spotlight recently.

And it’s good to know that help is at hand as several news providers have made public some aspects of their ethical guidelines in relation to social networking and social media sites.

Poynter Online currently features an article showing the social networking policy guidelines from the New York Times’s assistant managing editor.


Craig Whitney lists a few areas where journalists need to be careful when managing their own social media output – such as a profile on Facebook or account on Twitter.

He states that reporters must bear in mind that outsiders can access these and suggests that “personal blogs and tweets represent you to the outside world just as much as an 800-word article does”.

Whitney also suggests journalists do not give any information on their political beliefs and be wary of joining political or controversial online social groups even when it is for the purpose of a story.


Interestingly, he adds that these rules apply to selecting content for recommendation services such as Digg or TimesPeople.

And on the crucial ‘to Friend’ or ‘not to Friend’ issue – Whitney says reporters need to consider whether public disclosure of this Friend would be embarrassing or raise questions about impartiality.


But how about the view from the local presses? Well, Virginia’s Roanoke Times recently teamed up with the Poynter Institute to create a new template for an ethical code of conduct with updates on social media.

Editor Carole Tarrant told Journalism.co.uk that some online activities during the recent election prompted her to consider online ethics and social networking.

“I had grown somewhat concerned during the 2008 presidential campaign because I was seeing journalists join pro-Obama groups on Facebook.

“A friend had posted a ‘Yeah, Obama!’ kind of comment on my wall on election night, and I knew I had an awkward personal/professional situation on my hands.”

Visit Journalism.co.uk for more details on this story.

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