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.

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When “Friending” Someone Crosses a Line

facebook_friend_requestThis week’s social media ethics class kicked off with a “hot button” topic: As journalists when is it appropriate to “friend” someone on Facebook for the purpose of news gathering or story telling? The example discussed had to do with a reporter contacting the friend of a murder suspect on Facebook. Should the reporter identify themselves as a reporter in the friend request or just send the friend request and see what happens?

As I pondered this question, I thought back to my days in a newsroom (just three short years ago) and how much has changed. I remember a time when we were not allowed to pull photos off of Facebook to use on air or not allowed to utilize information from Facebook as part of the news gathering process. Now, even though I don’t still work in a newsroom, a lot of my friends do and they, like many of us, use social media to get and deliver news. One of my friends who I recently saw on a story told me she had to immediately post an update to Facebook before she got back to the newsroom otherwise the news director would come down on her. Oh, how times have changed. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad.

So, when thinking about this week’s topic, I considered when is “friending” someone crossing a line? I believe a reporter should always identify themselves as such. I mean if a reporter goes on an interview in person they should identify themselves. If they are conducting a phone interview they should identify themselves. Why would social media be different? It shouldn’t be. The ethical thing as a journalist is to always identify yourself.

computerwomanIf you’re still not convinced, think about how you are making this decision. What is your motivation? Are you trying to get to the truth, help more people from being harmed, informing the public of a situation? Or are you trying to win brownie points with your boss? If it’s the latter, you probably have some sole searching to do as a journalist because you also have to consider the effects of your decision. If you contact this person without identifying yourself, could it do more harm down the road? An immediate reaction from your boss may not outweigh the long-term of effects of your decision.

As a journalist you should work to not only report the facts, but do so in an ethical way. This is true for traditional journalism and the ever-changing digital/social world. Be ethical and be a great journalist. That’s simple enough, right?!?