During Free Speech Week 2017, RTDNA co-hosted a Know Your Reporting Rights discussion addressing how the First Amendment applies to journalists. Here is part four of a new series expanding on the topics and tips in that discussion (Part 1: FOIA, Part 2: Privacy, Part 3: Safety). This week: social media.
Social media has grown into a source ripe for news gathering as almost anyone, almost anywhere, can quickly & publicly disseminate information.
We turn to Twitter for breaking news as individuals on the scene of fires, etc, share what they’re seeing as it happens.
In many cases, we’ve come to expect announcements from political candidates and the like to come via Facebook post rather than press release.
The question for journalists is, are social media posts fair game in news gathering and reporting?
The answer, in most cases, is yes, though there are always exceptions.
Be mindful of copyright and intellectual property protections, especially with images from social media.
Copyright protects the tangible expression of an original idea. If you copy or disseminate the work without permission, you could find yourself facing fees and fines.
How does this apply on social media, where sharing is one of the main functions?
If you retweet or share, for example, a photographer’s own post, or a post with a properly licensed or permissioned photo, you’re directing users back to the original source. On the other hand, if you download a photo from social media and distribute it in a graphic or web article, you’ve copied the work and, if you do not have permission from the creator, you may be violating copyright.
To avoid facing copyright infringement suits, get permission to use images or stick to images that creators have stated permission to be used, generally with attribution, such as through Creative Commons licensing.
One word of warning: double check that the source you’ve identified as the owner of an image is really the owner with a reverse image search tool like TinEye.
More: Can I use this image?
Terms of Service
Be aware of the specific social media platform’s terms of service. For many social media platforms, the terms of service give the platform a license to display and distribute the content posted on the platform to other users, and, in some cases, for others to do so as well.
Aside from copyright considerations mentioned above, users agree to Twitter’s Terms of Service: “This license authorizes us to make your Content available to the rest of the world and to let others do the same.”
Privacy & Context
When considering quoting social media posts in your reporting, ethical, not just legal, implications are important.
Consider how you obtained the post.
Is it an announcement from a political candidate on a public page? What about a public official’s personal social media account? These are increasingly considered official for FOIA purposes when the content relates to official business, and courts are currently weighing whether public officials can block individuals from their social media pages, or if that is exclusion from a public forum.
Or is the post in question from a personal account in a private group?
Be particularly cautious when the social media content involves children, victims of crimes, or other vulnerable populations.
We often briefly quote articles or books, and, in many cases, it may be equally as appropriate to quote a Facebook posts. But many social media posts are brief and lack context. The actual identity of the author may not be clear.
In many cases, the best approach is to get permission, and if possible, dig deeper into the social media post. Your reporting and your audience’s trust will be stronger for it.
More: RTDNA Coverage Guidelines for user-generated content and social media & blogging plus, Should Facebook posts be quoted without permission?
Stay tuned next week for part 5: hidden & secret recordings. For more on privacy, FOIA and what your newsroom needs to know before heading into any potentially confrontational story, download our Know Your Reporting Rights guide.