How to handle ethical issues in the case of professional social media accounts

Veronika Zagyi (Researcher)

Topics: Ethics , Social media , Web/Online

The professional integrity of the journalist are put in a new context in the digital age, indeedwhen it comes to the professional uses of social media and its consequences for the identity and practices of the individual journalist.

Professional charters may need updating in order to cope with these new deontological stakes.

The tipsheet refers to issue no. 2 in the IJIE State of the Art analysis:

"More attention should be paid to new journalistic principles in the light of technological change: for instance, what can be the consequences of producing news or images with a smart phone?"

and no. 3:

"Teaching staff and media professionals encourage students to use new tools, which often question the fundamental ethical issues in profession of journalism."

Short description:

One of the main issues of professional ethics in the digital age is the professional uses of social media and its consequences on the professional identity and integrity of the journalist.

The journalist’s posts, being the posts of each person on every social media, are moderated according to the rules of the given social media (sometimes not very clear and not corresponding to local laws).

But the journalist, because he/she has to respond to the expectation of the profession and maybe to an employer, has some other principles to follow. Here are some recommendations for the teaching of journalism, based on charters and guides on the ethical uses of social media. These recommendations could indicate some mistakes to avoid, but may also protect journalists and journalism students from conflicts of interest and/or pressure.

Open Questions

Recommended sources

Some quotes from recommended resources:

“Some of those following you will want to know what your personal position is. “What’s your thinking on this?”, “What do you really think?”. After all, social media are very much about expressing one’s opinions. They’re typically described as being opinion-driven, and that can sometimes make things tricky for a public service journalist”.  Swedish Radio’s Social Media Handbook for Journalists, p. 55.

“Our wish is for people to benefit safely from social networks, not to muzzle anyone. Journalists are people too, with all the rights of citizens. If we want to tweet or post about a school play, a film or a favorite recipe, we are free to do so. When dealing with matters of public importance and actual or potential subjects of coverage, however, Reuters journalists should be mindful of the impact their publicly expressed opinions can have on their work and on Reuters. In our Twitter and Facebook profiles, for example, we should identify ourselves as Reuters journalists and declare that we speak for ourselves, not for Thomson Reuters.” Reuter’s Handbook of Journalism, http://handbook.reuters.com/index.php?title=Reporting_From_the_Internet_And_Using_Social_Media

“Professional journalists share cyberspace with citizen bloggers, most of whom produce plenty of opinions but little or no original reporting. When professional journalists are assigned to write blogs, they are typically urged to adopt a “voice” that is more relaxed than what you’ll find in traditional news reporting. From there, it’s just a short leap to trying to match the opining of their amateur brethren.” Gene Foreman, Journalism Ethics in the Digital Age, http://journalism.uark.edu/wp/?p=2723

Download | Ethical issues.pdf (69kb)

Ethical issues