UMD concentrates on social media in revised Code of Ethics

How should journalists handle sources on social media, especially during breaking news? Should a journalist verify a social media account or have to speak directly with the user before posting information from accounts? Is it OK to post your political views on Facebook?

These are just some of the issues students at University of Maryland’s SPJ chapter debated during their Ethics session.

The meeting, which had about 20 attendees, opened with a guest speaker from the UMD journalism school who specialized in ethics.

“She talked a lot about social media ethics for journalists and we were able to incorporate a lot of what she told us into our discussion and revision,” said Secretary Katie Wilhelm.

The chapter decided that yes, the Code of Ethics needs to be changed. They made several additions, which you can see here.

“I definitely think it should be changed,” Wilhelm said. “A lot has changed since the last time it was revised in 1996, especially with social media. The Ethics Code doesn’t address that and it should.”

This group is also in the running for SPJ Region 3 Director Michael Koretzky’s $100 prize.

To host this event at your school, read this post which has all the details.

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  • Tegan

    I agree that it’s about time SPJ added guidelines for social
    media to its code of ethics. While the University of Maryland’s chapter made
    some great strides, I wonder if these changes are enough. It’s a great idea to
    first “verify the identity of the original poster of any social media content”
    to test credibility of the source. And under ideal circumstances, of course, it’s
    better to “directly speak with a source.” But what do we do when a source has
    been verified, but s/he refuses to speak with journalists? Do we post the
    public information anyways or take the information out of the story because the
    source did not intend for journalists to use the information in the first place?
    What if the information can only be found through social media and turns out to
    be extremely important to the greater story at hand? Legally, public
    information tends to be fair game, but ethically, in matters of social media, will this
    always be a gray area, or can we rewrite the code of ethics to make the ethical
    distinction clearer?


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