Social networking is double edged sword for journalists, even more so than for the average person. It seems like everyone loves Facebook and Twitter. Both sites have millions of users around the world who use them on a daily basis. On the surface they are a fun and easy way to connect with friends and loved ones or to keep up with celebrities or cultural interests. But they have real world impacts, both positive and negative, that are far more significant.
Four years ago Iran’s presidential election ended with incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared the victor in a landslide win that was contested by all three of his opponents, as well as thousands of citizens. Over the following weeks protesters filled the streets, despite crackdown by military and police. The media was not allowed to report on any such events, but through Facebook and Twitter the world was shown the truth of what was being done to quell the protesters, as gun fire was broadcast live and in color from people scared for their lives.
But it’s not all sun shine and roses, as most the time people are focusing on their own lives and interests, perhaps too much. People of all walks of life have seen their careers come to an end due to a lack of discretion on social media. In her article, “13 Controversial Facebook Firings: Palace Guards, Doctors, Teachers and More,” Huffington Post writer Ramona Emerson looks at a number of people who had lost their jobs over comments they made about their boss or their place of business.
Not only are journalists no safer from such repercussions than your average employee, but they face even more dangers. Being friends with the wrong person or even failing to report such connections to the right people could bring questions about sources and ethical investigative tactics.
Despite all of that, Twitter and Facebook can each be very beneficial tools for reporting the news. As in the case of the aforementioned Iranian Green Revolution, breaking news can be gleamed form twitter, not only from reputable sources, but from trending topics. As Leah Betancourt pointed out in her article “The Journalist’s Guide to Facebook,” social networks can be an invaluable tool for reaching out to communities, groups and sources that one may not otherwise have access to. There’s nothing like knowing exactly how to contact a source one desperately needs to help flush out, or add credibility to, a story.
People in all walks of life must be careful of how much of their private lives they allow the world access to. But these networks have made the world a smaller place, six degrees of separation must be nearly cut in half, and journalists can use these connections to assist their reporting and ability to connect with their audience. However the lure of immediate gratification can be dangerous and journalists must be careful not to let the race to be first impede their responsibility to be right.
Breaking a story is enticing and helps a reporter get noticed and notoriety, but blasting incorrect information from a digital megaphone is a quick way to gain notoriety as a bad source and an unreliable “journalist.”