My 78-year-old grandmother spent her childhood riding a donkey to a one-room school house. Today she watches St. Louis Cardinals baseball on her 50 inch flat screen television while playing Words With Friends on her iPhone 6. The world is changing rapidly.
How has technology advanced this much in only one person’s lifetime? Technological advances always come with their own ethical implications. World War I saw the entire concept of war change as automatic weapons debuted on the front lines. The problems underlying World War I obviously weren’t resolved, or it wouldn’t be called World War I. World War II came along a couple decades later and provided its own ethical conundrums, most notably atomic weapons.
I would argue one of the biggest modern ethical conundrums is privacy in a world that is focused more and more on sharing. There are several ways to look at this. A recurring national news story has been the call for privacy from search warrants stemming from the Patriot Act. On a lower level, mobile users worry about criminals hacking their mobile devices for personal information like banking.
At the same time, many citizens willingly compromise their privacy every single day when using social media. The question for journalists is, “What is fair game for reporting?”
Can a newspaper publish reactionary tweets after a controversial event? What Facebook posts are fair to use? Are anonymous posts ever noteworthy?
These are tough questions to answer and less than two weeks into this class I have already run into a few of them.
Matt Dulin, the Missourian’s director of community outreach, shared some advice with me that I think everyone should see.
Dulin explained that you should consider the intent of the person who posted the information.
“Another thing to ask yourself is whether there is an urgent need to use the information that people are sharing. Is there a news value that compels you to use something that you found without getting explicit permission? And would using this information undermine the audience’s trust in us?”
When considering whether or not to use a Facebook post you can also look at the privacy settings. Would someone without a Facebook account be able to see this? What about someone who isn’t ‘friends’ with the person?
Dulin also shared this fascinating Poynter post.
In the end, much of it comes back to your original journalistic instincts. Verify the information. Make sure it is accurate and in context. It’s always best to confirm with the person.