Week 4 – Ethics Questions

10. What sorts of verification and accuracy standards are appropriate for material gathered on social networks?

With the rapid rise of social media and citizen journalism, there is a significant amount of material online that simply isn’t true. People spread rumours, others want attention and too often information gets taken out of context. Therefore, journalists need to be cautious when gathering material from social networking sites by making sure they check and verify anything they wish to use.

An obvious but simple way of verifying content that is user generated is to contact the person who provided or posted the material online. David Turner (2012) emphasised this point when writing about the BBC’s UGC Hub, suggesting that usually, a person who is a genuine witness to an event is more than happy to talk. Turner also believes that journalists should always request the permission of any individual who has taken videos or photos before using them as they remain the copyright holder of that material.

With the huge amount of information available on social media, verifying information is a real challenge and social media content, especially images, are treated with particular caution for use in news (Lyon 2012). In the modern world, specialised software and editing programs such as Photoshop can modify photographs in a way that can fool readers and viewers. Therefore, journalists need to take the time to verify these images so they do not mislead the public. Continuously searching and finding the original source of a photo is the best way to check that a photo is genuine. As mentioned, contacting the person who produced the image can help a journalist to not only determine the credibility of the source, but also to receive permission to use the material.

According to Bruce Evensen (2008) the internet is not a source, it is a resource. Therefore, information from the web should only be used to help strengthen an article after it has been verified accurately. Good journalism requires thorough research, and in order to report truthfully to the public, journalists should check every last detail.


Evensen, B., 2008. The Responsible Reporter: Journalism in the Information Age. Third Edition. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.

Lyon, S., 2012. “Detecting the Truth in Photos: How a News Service Verifies Images and Videos.” Nieman Reports [online], 66 (2), 7-9.

Turner, D., 2012. Verifying news on the social web: challenges and prospects. WWW ’13 Companion Proceedings of the 22nd International Conference on World Wide Web [online], 875-878.

11. Does a journalist need to get permission from a member of the public who’s posted material on a social network before using that material? What other rights issues need to be considered?

There are many media professionals who believe that anything said on social media should be allowed to be reported on. If individuals are willing to share their views and material with the rest of the world through a social networking site, then arguably they are open to the possibility of journalists and news organisations sharing and using their content too.

Retweeting on Twitter diffuses information quickly (Kwak et al 2010) and many people use Twitter because they expect to have their views published or referred to by the media. For that reason, arguably journalists do not need permission. However, in order to produce good journalism, journalists need to provide more in-depth information to support these statements. Jacqui Banaszynski, a professor of journalism at the University of Missouri, believes people should be contacted before their content is used as it is “very easy to take just 140 characters out of context.”

Facebook is “the most important social network for referring traffic” (Newman 2011), but its privacy options for users make it difficult to decide whether journalists need to get permission from individuals when obtaining material. Although journalists may argue that it is completely acceptable to take content from public posts, some users may not actually realise that their profiles are public due to the complex privacy settings on the social networking site.

Arguably, it is respectable and simply good practice to always get permission from a member of the public before a journalist uses their material. Media organisations should consider the potential harm that the individual may suffer if the information is made public and whether the public interest outweighs this. Arguably, the source’s emotions should be taken into account and if permission was granted to use their material, the content should only be used how the individual expects it to be used. As well as this, some professionals in the media industry would suggest that journalists should make every effort to look for similar content elsewhere before taking material from social networking sites.


Kwak, H., Lee, C., Park, H. and Moon, S., 2010. What is Twitter, a Social Network or a News Media? WWW ’10 Proceedings of the 19th International Conference on World Wide Web [online], 591-600.

Newman, N., 2011. Mainstream media and the distribution of news in the age of social discovery: How social media are changing the production, distribution and discovery of news and further disrupting the business models of mainstream media companies [online]. Oxfordshire: Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

12. Should a member of the public, who shares newsworthy material on social networks be credited by a journalist who uses that material?

Arguably, it is simply good journalism to credit any newsworthy material that a journalist uses, whether that information is obtained from a social networking site or from another online webpage. Although most content posted on social media is in the public domain, certain material may still be subject to copyright, so therefore it is wise and good practice to credit any information.

When journalists and media organisations wish to use photos that other people have taken and posted to social media, arguably the right course of action to take is to contact that individual and ask for their permission. It is then equally as important to correctly attribute their material when using it in a publication. According to Alfred Hermida (2015), attribution is a “vital ingredient that adds to the credibility of a story.”

However, sometimes it may not be possible to credit a member of the public on the material they have shared, particularly when there is breaking news. If there is a strong public interest in the story, content gathered from social media may be used even if a source has not yet been attributed. Delivering the news immediately and verifying sources later leads to richer coverage (Bruno 2010), and although this is a controversial approach, it is arguably a risk worth taking.

It could also be argued that an individual could possibly be put in danger if they are credited in a publication, particularly if the story is a contentious one or helps to uncover crime or wrongdoing. To avoid this, it is sensible to make every effort to contact the person beforehand to check if they wish to be credited or not. When an individual is not credited, it is still appropriate to label the site where the material originally came from.

Incidents often take place with no journalists present, such as the start of the UK riots in 2011 and a number of recent shootings in the USA. As a result, citizen journalism has been growing in recent years. Media organisations rely on members of the public to upload newsworthy material online and to provide them with the breaking news. Arguably then, it is only right to make every effort to credit these sources.


Bruno, N., 2010. TWEET FIRST, VERIFY LATER? How real-time information is changing the coverage of worldwide crisis events [online]. Oxfordshire: Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

Carlson, M. and Lewis, S., 2015. Boundaries of Journalism: Professionalism, Practices and Participation. Oxfordshire: Routledge.


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