SXSWi 2014: Accurate, Fair & Safe: The Ethics of Social News

Panel description: These days, reporting the news effectively and competitively would be virtually impossible without the powerful contributions of amateurs who witness major news developments — especially the ones that happen where professional journalists aren't.


  1. Talking social news ethics this morning. #sxswi #sxtxstate
    Talking social news ethics this morning. #sxswi #sxtxstate
  2. Mandy Jenkins and Eric Carvin are today's panelists. Both are board members of the Online News Association and part of the ONA ethics team that has come up with the five key ethical issues facing social newsgathering. 

    1. Verification and accuracy
    Ethically means getting it right, all the time - and having plans in place if you ever do get something wrong. Carvin said, at the AP, they work in multiple directions to verify it. They have experts to inspect on a technical level. They also have journalists in the field who can verify the content on a native level. And they also reach out to the person who submitted the content. Jenkins said Project Thunderdome always teaches its newsrooms that if something is too good to be true, it likely is. Outrageous content must be treated with extreme skepticism. Jenkins plugged TinEye, a tool to tell how old a photo is and how many times it's been shared in the past. This can quickly debunk most photo hoaxes:
  3. Jenkins said her newsrooms also work with Storyful, a social news agency:
  4. It's also important to have a set of guidelines on how to reference UGC. The AP does specify where it gets information or content. Jenkins makes an important point: Don't credit the platform - credit the person! YouTube or Twitter isn't a source. Someone posted that content to YouTube or Twitter.
  5. 2. Contributors' safety

    When people are creating content for you, as a news organization, you must consider their safety. Carvin said there will come a time when an everyday citizen is out there collecting content for a news org and be killed. So journalists must always be cognizant of this, especially when the reporting involves war or riots, etc. If a contributor gets arrested, will the news org get them out? There needs to be a plan in place for these types of issues.
  6. 3. Rights and legal issues

    What steps does a newsroom take to ensure it can use content posted via social. There are varying policies in place for this. Key questions Jenkins' newsrooms ask: Who owns it? How do we get in touch with them? If we don't get in touch with them, do we still use it? 

    Jenkins: "We don't want to be in the business of taking other people's work. Because we don't like it when they do it to us."

    Carvin also said treating members of the public respectfully is also a key part of this. Giving them credit and going through the proper steps to acquire that content will make them more likely to contribute later. Carvin also mentioned the most important question a newsroom should ask when soliciting a photo from social. DID YOU TAKE THAT PHOTO? Jenkins said users share screenshots, download and upload, etc. all the time. Journalists have to get to the original source of a photo. This especially applies to Facebook. Most pictures of people were taken by someone else. So who has the right to give the user rights away? It's a sticky situation on Facebook.
  7. 4. Social journalists' well-being

    It's very important to not suggest social journalists who are verifying this content is the same as members of the public who are actually facing physical danger to gather content. But, a social journalist could be exposed to a lot of incredibly graphic content - especially in war zones, etc. Carvin said there are now concerns of Virtual PTSD. Other journalists have made sources or connections who are out in the field in these situations who go missing. Newsrooms don't have plans or policies or training in place to handle situations like this. And, many times, these social journalists are young and inexperienced.
  8. 5. Workflow and resources

    This is a practical issue. Jenkins said establishing connections in the community is one of the best ways to quickly verify UGC. Also, use all the great tools out there - especially when it involves verifying location in content. For instance: 
  9. Also, Chrome has an extension called Falcon where you can hover over a person's username and see all other usernames associated with that email. This can be incredibly helpful in tracking down their location to see if they're really where they say they are: