Fact Checking Using Social Networking Sites

There’s a great post on Mashable titled “The Journalists Guide to Facebook” where the author Leah Betancourt says the world’s largest social networking site can be invaluable to journalists. Facebook gives reporters a means to connect with communities involved with stories, find sources, and generate leads.

It’s also a great place for public information officers and professional communicators to find out information the might not have access to elsewhere. However, there’s one big “but” about using it for facts or source material – you need to verify.

“Verify, verify, verify. Facebook is a great source for story ideas, but no news story should be solely-sourced through social media,” said Jane E. Kirtley, Professor of Media Ethics and Law and director of the Silha Center at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota,. “Seek corroboration. And if at all possible, interview the person either by phone or face-to-face. It is so easy to lie on the Internet, and to misrepresent oneself. No journalist wants to spread falsehoods or be taken in by a hoax.”

According to Kirtley, “Most news organizations realize how valuable social networking can be, both as a newsgathering tool and as a way to promote the news organization’s ‘brand.’ The trick is to accommodate the competing interests without stifling the exchange of ideas. It’s not an easy task.”

Ethics Tips from Jane E. Kirtley

  1. Verify facts, identification of sources, etc. Be as certain as possible that the information you are providing is truthful and accurate, or, if that can’t be determined, making very clear what the source of it is.
  2. Remember that nothing on Facebook or social media is really private.
  3. Once it’s posted there’s no way to take it back or restrict what other people might do with it once they get access to it.
  4. Reporters should disclose in their stories that they utilized Facebook as one of their reporting tools.
  5. Be cautious about friending controversial individuals.
  6. Be aware that others may draw inaccurate conclusions from your decision to friend someone.
  7. Friending an unnamed source is the same as revealing the source’s identity. If you’ve promised confidentiality, you shouldn’t do it, even if the friend is using a pseudonym.
  8. Journalists are regarded as “journalists” virtually 24/7, especially nowadays with people with all kinds of agendas who are constantly looking for evidence of journalists’ bias.
  9. Use images and content from sites such as Facebook with care. How do you know it’s accurate? Don’t spread lies.

Tips on Using Facebook from J.D. Lasica

  1. Be human. You’re not a detached observer, but a participant who need to share and give back instead of just taking.
  2. If you’re using Facebook just to publicize stories you’ve written, you’re using it wrong.
  3. Remember that Facebook is about sharing, not about broadcasting.
  4. It’s all about karma. The community won’t share with you unless you’ve shared (your experiences, your thoughts, your passions) with them.

To read the entire post called “A Journalists Guide to Facebook” click here.

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