December 19, 2019
Should journalists use information posted on social media? (Credit: Pexels.com)
BOSTON — The rise of social media has changed what is considered publicly available information and offers a vital resource to any journalist.
Using social media, I can get useful information for my stories. I can find out where someone works, lives, attended school and learn who that person knows. If I am working on a story about Boston University, I can look on Facebook for people who went to school there, and reach them through the same social media platform. Also, if I am working on a story about a big corporation involved in corruption, I can look up on LinkedIn for a former employee of that company who might be willing to talk. To confirm the person really worked at the company, I could ask other employees. In addition, I can find photos and videos as art.
Journalists should take advantage of the information available on social media, but should be careful with it too, since not everything posted on social media is true. People can post whatever they want. Journalists must check and confirm any information. Sometimes it is important to ask the person for permission to use it.
Working at Boston 25 News, I have learned newsgathering using information available in social media. There we rely on social media for hints on possible stories, and sometimes use pictures posted on social media for our broadcasts.
Recently, for instance, a 17-year-old reported a hit-and-run accident on her Facebook page. She claimed that she, her friend, and their two horses had been hit by a driver who left the scene. She asked for help in finding who was responsible. Her post got our attention at the station, but we needed to confirm the facts. We contacted police to see if they were aware of the incident. We contacted the girl on Facebook, and reached out to her parents, since she was technically a minor at 17. After confirming everything, and getting permission from her parents, we sent a reporter to interview her.
Stories like that would have been much harder to find in the days before social media. Reporters back then were separated from their sources. Today, however, they are simply a click away. Journalists should continue to use social media as a tool for their reporting. The information posted on social media is on the internet. It will always be there, and anyone could have access to it. If people don’t want others to have access to that information, they should be more careful and not post it. However, journalists should be ethical when using information available online.