How to Decide What Can be Published, What’s Private on Twitter and Facebook

Quotes from social media posts have been used in millions of press stories since it has arisen. Tweets, Facebook updates, Snapchat stories, and Instagram posts alike have served as reliable and beneficial sources of information in all kinds of stories. The question is, does a journalist have the right to publish an individual’s social media posts to everybody in the world? How does a journalist draw the line between providing detail and insight on a subject, and invading one’s privacy?

In this article by Nisha Chittal, I learned that just because somebody posts something on social media, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is public. This was counterintuitive to me at first; If somebody didn’t intend for the information in the post to be public, why would they publish it on a public social media platform? The article distinguished between private and public social media accounts- some allow only a select group of close friends to view their posts. If this is in fact the case, a journalist should use common sense and infer that the user most likely would not approve of that information being published in the press; that person may want it public to a community of approved followers, but not to strangers. Journalists should put themselves in the user’s shoes before publishing a private post; who would they want to see this? I plan to apply this information in the future by using the following rule when using social media as a source: Use judgement on what you should publish; if one source is risky, you can most likely find similar information from an alternate source.

I also learned the importance of having respect for a source by requesting their permission before using their words in a piece of writing. However, I did have one question: If you get general background information on a subject, do you have to cite Facebook when using it? For example, if I include the fact that a person went to a certain college or holds a certain job, and I have never spoken to that person face-to-face before, should I tell where I got that information in order to respect privacy and maintain credibility? As stated in the article, there is not yet a standardized policy set in stone requiring journalists to request permission before using information from a personal network as a source. This shocked me, as I viewed it as an invasion of privacy. Without a set policy, it makes it even more essential that a journalist ask permission to use a source in a story, or at least make the author aware that their information is being published. While reading this, I saw it as a great opportunity to also ask the author about context and intended meaning; if you are able to speak with the individual who composed the source you are analyzing, you may as well attempt to gain an understanding of the contents from the one who wrote them. Especially when it comes to Twitter, it is almost too simple to take information out of context; 140 characters is easy to interpret falsely without context. I definitely plan on keeping these lessons in mind when handling sources as I write stories on my ISM journey.

Annotated Articles: annotated-articles-research-assessment-5


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