Monday, November 14, 2016

Social Media: The New Influencer

Victoria Souza

“Social media” is a term that wouldn’t have had any weight 10 years ago. However, these days, it’s a key resource in every journalist’s repertoire. The game has changed. The public no longer goes to newspapers first when looking for news, they go online to check their social media feeds. Journalists have been adapting to this change since the transition from print to online has taken off in the past five years or so. However, if you look at this development in the broad scheme of things, five or so years isn’t much time at all in the journalism world. Journalists are still attempting to find their footing when it comes to the ethics of interacting and publishing on social media.

With the extreme changes happening to traditional journalism, the ethics codes have had to be drastically changed as well, and, even then, there is so much grey area because social media is an ever changing, ever expanding platform. Journalists have to rely mostly on common sense and personal judgment over correct and ethical behavior on social media. While the RTDNA has helped by putting out guidelines that most companies have used as their blueprint for their specific social media rules (Coca Cola), the volatile nature of social media means that journalists need to be on their toes when interacting on these social media sites. The true test when interacting on these sites is not knowing how the public is going to react to things posted. 

Citizen journalism is a topic I have written about many times in the past. The term used to be used to label public citizens that would write and bring an unknown story to a newspaper for publishing. These days, that term has been loosely adapted to describe those in the public who cover or break stories on social media - the most effective way of getting out breaking news as it happens. Social media users, especially those on twitter, can find out breaking news much faster than when traditional media reports on it. As a result of this, much of the public aren’t tuning into news broadcasts at all. A huge issue here is oftentimes what is perpetrated on social media may not initially be correct, leaving the public wildly misinformed.
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The main and glaring difference between these citizen journalists and professionals is that citizen journalists don’t have to uphold the same standards that professional journalists do. When a twitter user breaks a story that could potentially go viral, they aren’t going to be as worried about the validity of it, and they certainly aren’t going to do the same amount of extensive verification that a professional would. This is where social media can become a dangerous stage. Take for example, the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013. Social media users thought they had figured out who the bombers were before the true culprits were actually discovered. Users then tweeted out the names of 2 innocent people and labeled them as the bombers, and these tweets were picked up by other users and quickly went viral. As a result, two innocent men and their families received death threats and had their accounts attacked within the hour. Incidents like these prove that social media sites need to be more closely controlled. It doesn’t just matter what journalists post on there or what content the public makes viral. It’s up to the social media site itself and the journalists working behind the scenes there to try to fact check and validate the content posted. Social media is a powerful tool that can influence the public in a number of ways… whether that’s influencing the public verbally attacking an innocent citizen or influencing an election.
Going forward, we as journalists have to make sure we are being ethically conscious in how we interact on social media (to the best of our abilities) and understand that what we post online is truly permanent. Corrections and disclaimers can be made, but the original content will always be there, and the public can take it and run away with it faster than you can blink. Social media is the new influencer in this day and age, and we must learn how to properly cooperate with that... and, as citizens, we need to take what we see on social media with a grain of salt.

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