Caring About Sharing

While the new version of the Society’s Code of Ethics doesn’t specifically address digital journalism, the changes address concerns shared by all journalists practicing in a digital and social world.

The Code encourages journalists to share as much relevant information as possible and appropriate. It also says that there are limits to sharing certain information. The Code says, an ethical journalist should “recognize that legal access to information differs from an ethical justification to publish or broadcast.”

There is a line that may be easily crossed when it comes to sharing information.

A good example comes from a Twitter post that Jim Romenesko wrote about last week.

Essentially, a reporter posted a picture of a police citation to Twitter and Facebook. The citation included the home address and telephone numbers of a person accused of filing a false police report. The person is accused of filing a false report about an assault by a popular sports figure.

Twitter and Facebook users were justifiably concerned that sharing the accused’s address and telephone numbers crossed the line. Yes, the information is available to the public, but should it be broadcast across social media? Why do people on Twitter and Facebook need to know where this person lives and what their phone numbers are? Is there any possible harm that may come from sharing that information on social media? These are all questions that should be asked when considering whether to share these types of information.

I emailed the reporter who shared the police citation on social media, and asked for an interview. The reporter referred the email to the station’s news director.

He emailed me this response, which he also posted to Twitter: Yesterday, the Bellevue Police Department released a police report from the night Seahawk Marshawn Lynch was accused of assault by a woman. The police are now accusing the woman of making a false report. A KIRO 7 reporter tweeted out the police report. Several people tweeted to KIRO 7 wondering why we would release a document that has the woman’s home address.  The address, phone number, and name of the suspect are in the police report, a document which is now a matter of public record. But, we have taken the address down from Twitter. We understand the concerns it raised and appreciate the feedback.

We live in a society that likes to share, but it must be done responsibly. Sometimes that responsibility requires a second thought before clicking a button and sometimes – as Monica Guzman, the co-vice chair of the ethic committee, so accurately writes – verification.

As children learn, sharing is caring, but we should care about what we share.

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