What are the rules for sourcing from social media?
April 9th, 2012 • social media
I wrote a story for Poynter recently to attempt to tackle this very topic, one I think a lot of people in media struggle with. The vast amount of publicly accessible tweets and Facebook posts from ordinary people can be a dream for reporters – they can instantly pull real-time accounts of breaking news, find context around a story from people who were there as it happened, or find citizens’ reactions to breaking news events. Much of the time, since there are no standard rules about what you can and can’t quote from social media, the thinking is often that if it’s published on the internet, it’s on the record – and therefore fair game to be quoted.
But I think there are a lot of scenarios where this isn’t fair – private individuals who publish something on Facebook or Twitter may have consented to have the friends who follow them see it, but probably haven’t given informed consent for it to published in the Washington Post. Facebook groups are a big point of contention because if it’s a “closed” group – and therefore accessible only to members who have been invited – I have heard many journalists argue that this space, despite still being online, should be private.
It’s still a very grey area to navigate — I tried to tackle it in my piece with a few suggestions for how to determine when something is fair game to be quoted from Facebook or Twitter. But I think when in doubt, it always helps to contact the original poster to get permission, and most importantly, additional context.