If you were in college in the mid-1990s, you will probably recall that the Internet was not the first, maybe not even the second, or third thing to come to mind when you needed sources for your school assignments. Today, technology has changed that scenario completely. The first thing most students do nowadays when looking for sources of information is to open a browser session and search for material based on key words from their assignment topic. The same way students resort to the Internet to find sources nowadays, professional communicators often do as well. Likewise, just as students must always verify the credibility of their sources, so must professional communicators. The Internet has made it easy for just about anyone to create and share content online. While many people do it responsibly and professionally, many others merely pose as experts and either copy others’ content or, even worse, fabricate it. Obviously, this has made the work of professional communicators challenging because, at the same their audiences demand immediate communication and interaction through a variety of platforms while their timeframes seem to have become smaller, they have a much larger amount of sources to go through to verify their credibility. Communicators nowadays must be constantly alert to false and misleading reports, as this could damage their own reputation by carelessly using them as sources. But that can be a challenge in itself, as false and misleading reports may come even from reputable organizations, as a group of journalists at The New York Times found out while investigating reports from their colleague, Jayson Blair, who, as they uncovered, had been plagiarizing content and misleading audiences and colleagues. The readers believed he was reporting from places where events were happening, while in reality he was in New York manipulating images and fabricating comments (Barry, Barstow, Glater, Liptak, & Steinberg, 2003).
As part of their self-training, communicators must apply safeguard techniques to avoid becoming victims of false reports, especially when communicating via social media, which has become one of the most popular channels of communication across the globe, so much so that the National Public Radio, for example, created ethics guidelines specifically for communicators using social media. According to NPR, this code of ethics addresses new and unfamiliar challenges that journalists began to face with the advent of the Internet and social media. It acknowledges the value of online sources to provide real-time reports on events worldwide—often posted by the very people experiencing them—and historical material. At the same time, it recognizes that such value can be jeopardized (NPR, n.d.); while online sources can significantly help communicators convey their messages faster, the fast-paced environment that is the Internet can also amplify the effects of any ethical misjudgment. Thus, the NPR social media ethics handbook serves as a guide for all professional communicators to ensure the highest level of professionalism while using social media as platform for their messages.
Read the full investigative report about Jayson Blair’s trail of deception.
Access NPR’s complete Social Media Ethics Handbook.
Barry, D., Barstow, D., Glater, J. D., Liptak, A., & Steinberg, J. (2003). Correcting the record; Times reporter who resigned leaves long trail of deception. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2003/05/11/us/correcting-the-record-times-reporter-who-resigned-leaves-long-trail-of-deception.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm
NPR. (n.d.). NPR ethics handbook. Retrieved from http://ethics.npr.org/tag/social-media/