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Experiencing Digial Media Ethics First Hand

by on October 17, 2016

Recently, I got a slap on the wrist.

I am currently a blogger for a start-up company that does hair and make-up services in women’s homes. My role in the company is to produce beauty-related content that is going to drive people to the website and thus, be intrest them in the services.

This past weekend I did just that, but not in the way I was hoping…

On Facebook, I am part of a private group of bloggers who discuss beauty-topics, promote their blogs, and anything else prevalent within the beauty world. For occasional inspiration I post a topic or video and ask the blogger’s opinions.

To my fault, I used some of the bloggers’ comments in one of my articles without their knowledge. To avoid plagarism, I quoted each blogger’s Facebook comment along with their name and personal blog. Bad idea.

I received a good amount of negative feedback saying I should have asked their permission beforehand. They were right. I immediately apologized and deleted the article from the website. Thankfully, they were all very forgiving and understanding.

Let me just say, I felt terrible (and still do as I write this post). Asking permission to use someone’s quote is Journalism 101. So, how could I not have thought about doing something so crucial?

As I continue to contemplate the negligence of my actions, one thing comes to mind. In our readings this week, we looked at Digital Media Ethics and all of the shifting dynamics around ethics in the current age of social media. As the article points out, we are experiences a “Revolution in Ethics.” Easy access to the internet and social media is giving anyone and everyone a voice, whether or not they are professional journalists.

When interviewing someone one-on-one, I am fully aware of the importance of getting full consent. In my mind, however, I figured posting something on Facebook is public knowledge (even though the group is private). Although I should have, I did not consider the ethical courtesy of alerting the bloggers their information would be used in a digitally public sphere outside of the Facebook group. I assumed by posting their opinions on the internet, this is something they should have known.

Ethics of journalism have shifted indeed. Out of the many things this experience taught me, one is that just because social media gives everyone a voice, not eveyone necessarily wants their voice heard.


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  1. Zander Manning permalink

    That’s such a tricky issue, I totally get why you would just use it and think it’s nothing. I’ve done similar things myself in the past and thought it was simple enough to say where it was coming from, but I’ve been quickly corrected.

    You’re lucky people were understanding and not very upset about it. It is possible that they should’ve known that, but I get where you’re coming from.

    Good issue! I’ll definitely keep your situation in mind when writing in the future!

  2. I can see how this happens. Often I assume that people with similar training or experience with media have the same understanding as I do, and so some procedural practices can be skipped. I often remind myself that their experience is less of a sign of common ground, and possibly a sign of one’s ability to scrutinize my work and actions. Good lesson learned in a non-harmful way.

  3. What’s weird these days is that while we are still getting used to Facebook in the grander sense as journalists, it’s also changing while we do that. For something like twitter, it’s there for the most part as long as you have a public account so you can use it. Facebook, everyone’s privacy settings could be different, so it may not be totally public. Now, we have groups. They’ve always been a part of Facebook, but they are extremely active now. Despite privacy settings, what you post in these groups could be completely public or private depending on the settings of the group, but it’s for sure that people you aren’t friends with will be able to see it if they are also in the group. Many closed groups actually have a lot of personal information disclosed in them (something that oddly came along with “Weird Facebook.”)

    It’s hard to tell what’s public and what’s not without doing an intense privacy check on everything about the post. Even after doing that, you might reveal what someone didn’t know about privacy settings in that they are much more out in the open. It’s extremely complicated because beyond figuring out how the privacy settings are working within the quote you want to use, you also have to grapple with the person’s knowledge of privacy. Arguably, you don’t have to, but for something that isn’t imperative to public knowledge, it’s best to not also be pissing off sources.

    Such a hard situation. Sorry you had to deal with that. The internet is changing everything.

  4. The issue of what can and can’t be used over the internet is an interesting one. People use Facebook and Twitter, for example, to casually share their thoughts. Every single day, people’s Tweets and Facebook statuses become parts of memes that are shared around the Internet, and these are surely used without the permission of their owners. But as you did here as a journalist, we hold ourselves to different standards in our reporting. What’s important is that you recognized this early on, but it is a difficult and fine line in the ethical department.

  5. I agree that this is a tricky subject. I think you are right in saying if they post it onto Facebook, especially in the private bloggers group, it is accessible to all who use that group, without having to ask permission. I do however, think that quoting the blogger who said that piece of information was an important step. While the quote is public, it is still something that they said, not you. Yet, because the blog is private it leads me to believe that using her quote outside of the blogs permission might not have been the best move. Using the quote for an article inside the domain of the blog without permission seems like it would be more acceptable. I agree with Kaitlin, at least you questioned your decision early on. It’s honestly hard to say what the right call to make with this but it seems like quoting her was a sage bet.

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