Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Jason Falls and the Ethics of Social Media and News Reporting

Last Friday, Jason Falls came to speak to our social media class.  I was insanely excited to have him speak and he didn't disappoint, because whatever kind of lecture I had been expecting, it was not the one he gave (and I mean nothing negative when I say that).  He spoke to us about the lack of ethics in social media when it comes to much of the "news" that is broadcast on mainly Twitter, Facebook, and blog posts.  But he didn't seem to lecture from a strictly social media professional outlook.  Jason Falls was once a journalist, so he (very successfully, mind you) tied in the issues of ethics from the journalistic point of view as well.  Before coming to UofL, I was a photojournalism major at Western Kentucky University so the fact that he brought the journalistic aspect into the equation really struct a positive chord with me.  Falls drew from a recent and relevant topic to help support his points; the bombing of the Boston Marathon.  

Currently in the field of social media, it's not an unknown fact that there is a consistent push to be first to say relevant on the topics, be current and up-to-date with real time marketing and reporting.  Because of this insane push, people forget that there are certain lines that you must be cautious not to cross in addition to people's lives that could irreversibly be ruined.  An example Mr. Falls used was a 17 year old track star that essentially happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time and somehow became a "suspect" for the bombing.  His picture was plastered all over the internet via Twitter and Facebook and now he can barely attend classes, let alone leave his home all because his name and picture were paired with words that essentially condemned him.  Another incident he mentioned was about an individual that overheard a name given out over a police scanner as a possible person of interest (possible, not yet an actual suspect) who then turned around and gave the name to NBC.  This broadcasting company then reported this name on live television and received mass amounts of backlash for releasing this name before it was even confirmed with authorities.  As you can imagine, another name falsely tarnished. 

While I cannot argue that during times and incidents such as these, it's very easy to have emotions get high, as well as having an elevated need for answers and something to help understand.  Couple that with the need to be the first to get something out for people to read and be at the fore front of the news, it's now more important than ever to really fact check before you jump in.  Always remember, it's generally better to be accurate than first.  It's much more difficult and time consuming to fix an avoidable mistake.  Before an individual active in this area slights not only their reputation, but another innocent person's in the process, make sure what you say is true and not just myth or a temporary explanation.

There's an article that was shared with the class that ties in nicely with Jason's lecture.  Augie Ray wrote the article Ethics in Social Media Marketing: Responding to the Boston Tragedy.  While his is written less from the journalist aspect and more from the marketing and advertising side of things, I think the main point trying to be made is reached.  My favorite argument he makes discusses the Ford ad thanking the Boston first response team for capturing the last bombing suspect.  While yes, it's admirable that they attempted to show support for the individuals involved in the capture, their execution left something to be wanting.  

(credit: Augie Ray Ethics in Social Media Marketing: Responding to the Boston Tragedy)

If they had left it at a simple text post on Facebook or a tweet simply saying, "Thank you, you are true American heroes" that would have been admirable and enough.  But to turn around and release an image with their product and logo plastered all over it was going a step too far in the wrong direction.  Had they used a photo of the first responders with their logo in the corner as it is above, that would have even been acceptable.  But not what was sent out to the public.  It comes as using this tragedy to gain more advertising possibilities.   I compare what Ford did to what Jason Falls is currently doing with his company.  For any product they sell that has anything to do with Boston, the proceeds for the bought items go straight to charities in Boston.  They aren't advertising this at all because they don't want any recognition for what they are doing (which is why I didn't want to name the company).    

Before I close this out, I want to mention that I'm sure Ford has done several other things to help those affected in Boston.  I was merely pointing out that in this one case, they could have done better.  I have nothing against the Ford company at all :)

Jason Falls Twitter: @JasonFalls

Augie Ray Article