Broadcasters Behaving Badly on Social Media

Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t say it at work; don’t say it on social media. Easy enough, right? Not so much. We’ve seen time and time again, broadcasters behaving badly on social media. So, what’s the big deal? As journalists or representatives of large corporations, often personal opinions are not appropriate nor are they welcome, yet some broadcasters have bucked authority and sent out tweets landing them in hot water. The nature of social media makes this easy, but it doesn’t make it right.

hueymorganIn 2012, Huey Morgan, a radio host for the BBC, went on a not-so-nice Twitter rant against one of his colleagues. Fortunately, Morgan realized rather quickly (the next day) that his actions were not appropriate and soon apologized to his colleague. This probably helped quell the controversy, but it still happened. Management did talk with Morgan, but if I were head of the radio station, I would have suspended him. Mainly, to prove a point. Despite tweeting the inappropriate comments from his personal account, Morgan is a public figure and represents the BBC Radio division. Not only were his comments inappropriate, they were aimed at one of the company’s other talents. Talk about bad public relations. A company must be seen as a united front. In fighting, played out on Twitter, looks bad on many levels.

I don’t think a public figure can have total freedom on social media. They are hired as representatives of companies/organizations and therefore they have to  uphold the standards of that company, even in their free time. One of my friends is a local news anchor in Roanoke, Va., and she often jokes that she is never “off the clock.” Even when she’s not working, she is a representative of the station, and people see her as such. If she’s having a bad day, and someone approaches her at the super market to complain about how her hair looks or a recent story, she has to be nice and respectful. She is a public figure 24/7. I think many broadcasters forget this. It’s the job they signed up for and they need to handle all the things that come along with it – good of bad.

ChrisPackhamSocial media also poses challenges for broadcasters who believe strongly in certain causes. For instance, in 2013 BBC contributor Chris Packham was reprimanded after expressing his personal beliefs against the killing of badgers. The BBC claimed that Packham had violated their editorial guidelines, by expressing his personal views on the matter. They were right. It can be hard to manage an employee’s desire to use social media to speak freely, especially about causes they feel strongly about. That’s why, guidelines need to be set in place and made clear to all employees. Packham issued a statement regarding the controversial comments and stated he would no longer report on the issue. I think this is probably the best thing to do. Separating work assignments from personal beliefs is sometimes the easiest way to avoid impartial reporting. There shouldn’t be a conflict of interest, and the public shouldn’t question the impartiality of a story.

jimmy_kimmel_kanye_west_feudCelebrities are a whole other beast on social media. Clearly different from broadcasters, they don’t have to remain impartial (unless they work for a broadcasting company as a contributor). However, when they air their grievances on social media, it tends to come off as whining rather than being passionate. One example, Kayne West’s rant toward Jimmy Kimmel. Can I just say: no one feels bad for you Kayne! Being a public figure means you get made fun of my comedians. Suck it up. Use your social media presence to help a cause you believe in.

Bottom line: don’t say something on Twitter you wouldn’t say at work, or you wouldn’t say to your mom. That’s my rule of thumb. It can come back to bite you in a professional setting or it could jeopardize your reputation with the public. Think before you tweet people!



A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words, But is that Always a Good Thing?

Our society is too often faced with gruesome situations. Whether intentional or not, many of us may find ourselves looking at graphic images. Why do we do this? I’m sure there are a lot of psychological reasons that I’m probably not qualified to answer, but I know for myself it may be to learn more about a developing situation, it may be to better connect with the victims in some way, or it may be by pure accident.Despite news agencies’ disclaimers about graphic content, it’s easy to walk in during the middle of a television report or click on a link unknowingly.

So, what are the ethical implications of using graphic images? This question came up a lot after the 2013 bombings at the Boston Marathon. Several graphic images were published by news agencies in the immediate moments and following hours/days after the tragedy.

On one hand, I understand news organizations are trying to report the news, no matter how graphic/tragic. They are trying to be authentic. They are trying to allow their audience to understand what is really happening. On the other hand, however, can this be done without using a graphic image? We all know people are drawn to images. Sometimes the most horrifying images are the ones that stay with us the longest, yet I think to some extent this exploits the victims (specifically when thinking about the Boston Bombing victims). A close-up photo of a victim who lost his leg in the bombing really provided me with no more information about the tragedy than a wide shot of the aftermath did. I still knew it was a tragedy. I still understood it was a horrific scene.

Even though situations like the Boston Bombings happen in public spaces, shouldn’t we get consent from these victims before publishing their images? And even if their faces are blurred (which often times does not happen, at least immediately), are we exposing others to images they’d rather not see? My answer to both questions is “yes.” Granted asking someone who has just been the victim of a bombing for consent is beyond inappropriate, news agencies need to consider those victims before considering their audience. You could be exposing their health condition to millions on social media before their loved ones are even informed.

In my opinion, you can depict a tragedy and report the facts without showing a graphic image. It was even done during the 9/11 Attacks. While many images from that day are disturbing, most news agencies stopped showing footage of the planes actually hitting the buildings, people jumping from the buildings, or showing the moment the towers collapsed. We all knew what happened. We didn’t need to see it over and over again. The same goes for the Boston Bombings. We understood what happened there, we knew people were severely hurt, we didn’t need to see close-up images of a victims.

Publishing these images on social media also raising ethical concerns when thinking about children. How can you prevent them from seeing such graphic images? The truth is: we can’t. This is where I think news agencies need to consider some restraint. While an image can say more about a situation than an article can depict, if the image is disturbing and may cause more harm than good, what does that accomplish? More than likely, a controversy, which takes away from the actual situation.

A picture may be worth 1,000 words or in our social media world 1,000 retweets, we all need to some restraint when it comes to publishing content. The goal should be to inform not sensationalize.

Do you agree with me? Or am I being too sensitive to graphic images? All opinions are welcome!


The Boston Bombings: Social Media Ethics

Social media has changed the way we communicate, especially during breaking news situations. Information not only travels fast, but also far and wide. This was definitely the case during the 2013 bombings in Boston. Social media became a place many of us could gather to learn information, communicate with loved ones, or follow the developing situation. Unfortunately, a lot of mis-information was disseminated. Whenever a situation is developing this is bound to happen – even to mainstream, credible journalists (as was the case with CNN) – but social media can amplify it ten fold.

Besides following the situation on social media, many of us turn to it to help those suffering. In this article, Augie Ray, a social media expert, weighs in on the ethical implications of becoming involved in the conversation.

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 5.50.26 PMOne example, an NBC station posted a picture of a bombing victim being visited by First Lady Michelle Obama in the hospital. The post asked people to “like” it in support of the boy. Obviously, it generated a lot of engagement. But was it ethical? Ray says “no” and I agree. How tacky?!

No matter what connection this station had with this victim, if any connection at all, what was their intention? If it was to boost their social media engagement for that day, or month, or in general get more exposure — shame on them! If it really was to show support for this victim, they could have definitely worded the post differently. If there was a personal connection with the boy they should have said it. I’m sure, in general, this post would have received a lot of engagement, considering it’s timeliness to the tragedy and the subject matter, despite their poor call-to-action.

I always think when it comes to honoring victims of a tragedy, less is more. This is especially true when it comes to companies weighing in on social media. At it’s core, social media is still about those personal connections, not marketing.

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 5.56.54 PMA perfect example of another company who did not take the “less is more” theory into consideration: Ford. The American automaker decided to weigh in by thanking first responders. Sounds nice enough, right? WRONG! Check out the screenshot (right) of the image Ford posted on social media. My thoughts are: great messaging, horrible imagery.

Why be promotional during a tragedy? A simple “thank you” would have gone a long way with fans. If Ford wanted to use imagery they could have used something related to Boston or the tragedy itself (nothing graphic of course, I’m thinking more of a ribbon), not showcase their own models. Again, how tacky!?

Social media is a great way to communicate with fans on any topic, but when it comes to weighing in on national tragedies (or even local ones) businesses must show restraint. Think before you post. If you want to thank first responders, do it! But in a way that doesn’t have a marketing message. It’s not necessary. It’s also important to show restraint and not post unrelated content during these types of situations. That content could also be deemed insensitive. Having a social media manager monitoring trending topics and content development can help your brand stay current and provide appropriate content at any given time.



Workplace Ethics: How Much Social Media is Too Much?

Social_Media_@work1Do you “Facebook” at work? Is your Twitter feed constantly open? For me, the answer is “yes.” I justify it because I monitor my organization’s social media platforms. But the truth is I’m not always on those pages. Okay, I’ve admitted it. Now will you?

Many employers are battling with social media. How much is too much at work? In 2012, the National Business Ethics Survey of Social Networks surveyed 2,089 U.S. workers and found 72% use social networks at work. So, how can employers ensure employees are being productive while also being paid. Is it realistic to monitor these online activities? I don’t think so. At least not on a daily basis.

A question posed this week: Would it be ethical for an employer to check employees online history to see how much time they spend on social media? The argument is that these employees are being paid, so why not? Well, I do think this is unethical. I think as long as an employee is getting their work done, and doing it well and on deadline, the amount of time it takes to get it done is irrelevant.

Facebook-at-workAt most companies, if you’re doing your job your boss stays off your case. If you’re not, well then you’re usually monitored more closely. I think in the latter case it would be appropriate for a boss to ask more frequently about what an employee is doing, but again not go as far as to check their online history. This should only happen when illegal or inappropriate activity is suspected. If an employee is not being productive they should be reprimanded, whether this is for personal social media use, smoking breaks, or personal conversations with colleagues. Any of these things could lead to employees not getting their work done.

Picture-Social-Media-PolicyMany companies’ social media policies state that employees are representing the brand even when they are not working, so posting negative or detrimental information could result in consequences. I personally am okay with this type of guideline. Even if I don’t always agree with the decisions made at my organization, I am grateful I have a job and I also realize it could be a lot worse.

How can you ensure your employees are aware and knowledgable about social media policies? At my company it’s part of our annual inservices or training. Along with learning about sexual harassment polices or safety in the workplace, we learn about how to conduct ourselves online (especially when dealing with patients and HIPAA concerns). This is mandatory for every employee, even those who are not using social media. At the end there’s a test and employees must pass to make sure the information is clearly understood. I think more companies should implement yearly trainings like this, not just as a refresher course, but also to discuss any industry changes and up-to-date information.

If employees aren’t loyal advocates for a brand who will be? Be professional. In person or online. That’s what it comes down to.

When was the Last Time You Checked Your Privacy Settings?

Lock Icon: FacebookIf your answer was more than a year ago, you may want to log onto your social networks and take a gander at what people can really see when you publish content. Or if you’ve never checked your settings (especially on Facebook), learn how… now. But don’t feel like you are the only one dropping the ball on your own privacy, according to Consumer Reports 13 million people have never looked at their privacy settings. Wow.

Personally, I check my settings every couple of months or as often as I hear Facebook, specifically, is making changes. I always want to be sure I know what can be seen by my friends and by strangers. For me, I want strangers seeing as little as possible, and depending on how you use social media you may feel the same way.

Even though, Facebook has received much deserved criticism over its privacy settings, I think much of the accountability actually falls on the user. We choose to sign up for a social network. We are not forced. Therefore, we should be aware of where our information is going and who is seeing it. Facebook and other social networks have made it easier to learn about privacy settings, either by looking under your account settings or searching on the site for them. I’ve noticed Facebook has announced when major changes are happening. This extra help can serve as a reminder for users who aren’t as in tune with their privacy settings.

Crossing the Line

Facebook Privacy SettingsIs it ethical for reporters to use social media to contact people in sensitive news situations? I think if the reporter doesn’t identify themselves in as a professional, then “yes” it is unethical. As journalists, we should always identify ourselves as such when we are working. A reporter wouldn’t go to a person’s door and not introduce themselves, same goes for a phone interview. If they fail to do this, they really aren’t a true journalist in my opinion.

People keep their profiles “private” for a reason: they don’t want people they don’t know seeing their content. There is nothing wrong with this. Reporters should respect this. If a news situation calls for contacting someone on Facebook (or any social network) the reporter should always identify themselves in a professional manner. And they should certainly never publish information from a private profile without consent.

Now if the profile is public, then I say it’s fair game for capturing screenshots for stories. We see this done all of the time. But journalists have to be careful. If you republish something because it’s public, that doesn’t mean you don’t confirm the source or validate the content. Just because it’s public doesn’t mean the information is accurate. As for contacting someone with a public profile, I think journalists should still always identify themselves.

So, if you still need convincing on checking your Facebook privacy settings (and getting in a regular habit of doing so) this NBC News video, sums it up in 30 seconds.

We’re all Being Watched. Get Used to It.

dataminingPersonal information has been collected on all of us for years. This is nothing new. But in recent months, the gathering of personal information has come to the forefront of the news, primarily in part to the Edward Snowden/NSA revelations. Concerns are now being raised about what kind of data is being collected, how much, and what it’ being used for.

Did you know that data mining is a multibillion-dollar industry? The term “Big Brother” has been taken to a whole new level in this digital age. It’s almost entirely impossible to not have an online profile of some sort (even if you don’t directly know it exists). Google yourself. I’m sure you’ll find information you didn’t realize was online.

For me, data mining isn’t necessarily “scary”, but it’s kind of creepy. To think that our every move online can be tracked, collected, and used by companies we have no official affiliation does seem extreme. Yet, at the same time if it means more targeted advertising reaches my computer screen, is that so bad? I’d rather see ads I find valuable. Wouldn’t you?

When it comes to organizations around the globe, such as the NSA or GCHQ, which claim to use data mining to learn more about intelligence and identify terrorists, I don’t take issue with data mining. The NSA blatantly claims it’s not monitoring the everyday happenings of common Americans. Whether you believe this or not, if the data helps the government keep our citizens safe why wouldn’t I support it. I’m not doing anything wrong, therefore I should not be worried.

laptop and stethoscopeI work for a healthcare organization, so as you can imagine we face ethical situations everyday. Protecting patient medical information is one of our highest priorities. In fact, it’s the law. But beyond that, we want our patients to feel comfortable and trust that we will protect their privacy. We’ve implemented an electronic medical record (EMR) system, with security processes in place to ensure a patient’s private information is never leaked or compromised. As you can imagine this is a more secure way of collecting and tracking health information than paper records.

When it comes to social media, we have an established policy concerning privacy. Our employees are not allowed to look up a patient’s medical record if they are not treating that patient. We do not allow for smartphone photos to be taken by our employees in our facilities (where a patient’s name could be written on a board in the background, etc.). We constantly monitor our social networks to make sure no patient information is posted. If a patient posts about their own personal health information (PHI), that is fine. We just want to make sure we do not weigh in on or further share that information.

Data mining is probably always going to be a controversial topic, as we struggle to maintain our privacy. I feel that as long as it’s being used in a valuable way (to protect others), I’m okay with it.

Social Media Accuracy

There is a lot of noise on social media and it can be hard for users to differentiate between fact and fiction. It can be equally as hard for organizations, more specifically news organizations, to navigate in the ever-changing and fast-paced world of social media.

I worked in a newsroom between 2006 and 2011, when social media was at first seen as the “enemy” and then slowly transformed into a “resource.” It used to be that news organizations wanted to be “first” on the air or in print. That could have taken a number of hours. Now it’s a number of minutes or even seconds. So, how can organizations still be “first” while aiming for accuracy? Unfortunately, there’s no easy solution.

Verify_Social_Media_Profiles_TwitterBadgeOrganizations still need to verify information and “think” before they post or tweet information. Just as with traditional media, organizations need to look at the source of the information. Many social networks, including Twitter and Facebook, have “verified” accounts, indicated with blue check marks. This can help organizations vet the source, depending on the type of information. But as we’ve seen in the past, a random person can break a news story.

Does the Osama Bin Laden raid ring a bell? That first broke on social media from a man inadvertently tweeting from a home nearby. We didn’t learn about it from a “verified source” until hours later. I think it’s important for news organizations to chime in on situations like this, but not post unconfirmed information. Maybe tweeting something like: “We are working to confirm this…” or “We don’t have all the facts yet, but are expecting an official statement on (insert topic) in the next few hours.”

I remember during the aftermath of the Newtown School Shooting Tragedy, a lot of false information was being spread on social media. Many news organizations reported the wrong name, on social media and in traditional media (on air). When releasing names during such a serious situation, news organizations need to use the traditional forms of confirmation, because the damage can be done so quickly on social media.

When information is published incorrectly, I think organizations need to acknowledge it, but then remove it. Some people may think this is unethical, but I see it as trying not to spread even more false information. This way, if the organization acknowledges it (on the specific post), those who have liked it, commented on it, or followed it can be made aware, and then it can be removed so no one else reads it as the truth.

I do think audiences are more forgiving in the social media world, mainly because of the fast pace. What appears in someone’s newsfeed one minute, is gone the next. In a breaking news situation, it is important to keep people aware of what is fact and what may have been a mistake. Owning up to a mistake will go a long way with users, but I think preventing those mistakes to begin with will go even further.