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Social privacy roundtable: A recap

About a month ago, we held a community roundtable at the News Center to discuss the question of where social media and privacy intersect. It was a lively forum that provided us valuable feedback on social media use in our own newsroom, but it also held a wider-ranging purpose: The results of our meeting were summarized and sent to the Associated Press Media Editors as part of a larger study on social media and the press.

If you attended the roundtable - or if you didn't, and are curious about what we discussed - here's the summary version of what was recently sent to APME, courtesy of Jonathan Kealing. As always, we'd love to hear any comments or thoughts you may have on these findings; please leave a comment below. Thanks!

Six people joined the conversation in person and about five to seven people joined in via Twitter. Among the participants were two attorneys or law students, as well as three people who might be described as experts in social media. The rest were a mix of interested locals who use social media regularly and are interested in privacy specifically or the media in general.

We had a far-ranging discussion of several different topics (you can find the topics described here) from our newsroom and from a newsroom in Maine. We talked for nearly two hours and did not get to the final scenario. The discussion on the previous scenarios was quite good. We also discussed social media and privacy in the context of other industries in attendance, which, while educational and interesting for everyone, isn't necessarily germane to this report.

While none of these recommendations are game changers, they are worth codifying and considering whenever journalists put themselves in a position where their tweets, Facebook posts and links could invade the privacy of someone else.

• When tweeting about something that is happening in real time, do your best to make your presence known. Be up front that you're with the media, especially if the topic is potentially sensitive.

• Consider the important role that the media plays as a filter — someone who comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. Remember objectivity as well. Not every tweet deserves to be retweeed, not every Facebook profile deserves to be linked. Sometimes, our audience wants to know what we're talking about, and not be able to find it directly. Sometimes, we can best protect criminal suspects or others by describing what they say on their social media accounts, rather than linking to them directly.

• When possible, seek permission before reposting or sharing information that someone shared via their social media account. This may not be practical in some circumstances.

• Remember that on some occasions, sharing information may actually be the best way to help someone protect their privacy. Social media has given everyone the ability to publish — and report. When something curious has happened, people will post about it on Twitter until they can find out what happened. A discreet, well crafted post via social media can squash rumors that may otherwise be uninteresting. For example, with a suicide in a private place, there may still be a large police presence. If people are curious about it, they will remain curious and keep posting until they find out it’s a suicide.

Above all, the best advice is to always keep the privacy of producers and consumers of social media in mind — just as we always have when publishing in the analog media world. The particular elements of social media, however, may require new behavior.

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Wanted: your thoughts on privacy and social media

Social media and privacy: Are the two mutually exclusive, or is it still possible to keep areas of your life private online? And what happens when law enforcement, the media or both get involved?

That's what we examined last night at a community roundtable here at the News Center, and the discussion was lively. And while we're of course interested in this issue on a local level for its own sake (the discussion continues next Wednesday, Sept. 21, at the weekly Social Media Club of Lawrence breakfast), our roundtable served a national purpose, too. The summit was part of a credibility study by the Associated Press Media Editors (newly renamed) that will cover several facets of social media. LJWorld.com and the Lawrence Journal-World, as well as KnoxNews.com and the Knoxville News-Sentinel, are the two newsrooms in this study looking at the intersection of social media and privacy.

At the bottom of this post are a few examples of where someone’s life was changed — or they felt it was changed — because of information shared via social media. During our roundtable, we examined the examples and discussed what we or another news organization might have done right or wrong under the circumstances, and what could have gone differently. We had some fantastic feedback from those in attendance both in person and via Twitter; thanks to everyone who came to the News Center last night, or joined @WorldCoSocial in a Twitter chat on hashtag #socialprivacy. (Click the link to search the hashtag for items discussed, or watch this space for a more definitive summary soon.)

If you didn't make it to our roundtable, we'd still like to hear your thoughts on social media and privacy, particularly regarding the situations outlined below. Or, if you'd prefer to make your opinions known in a more private forum, send an email to Jonathan Kealing (via Gmail at jkealing@gmail.com, not his old LJWorld.com address); he'll be helping wrap up this project from his new post in Minnesota). If you have any other examples of ethical dilemmas in the intersection of social media and reporting, we'd like to hear them as well.

Once everyone's opinions are gathered in the same place, we'll share a summary here in this blog. Thanks for weighing in!

Here are the discussion items:

1) Over the police scanner, a reporter hears a report of a “Code Black” (dead body) at a home in the area. A quick phone call to emergency dispatchers advises it’s being treated as a medical — an unattended death. A quick tweet is put out saying that an ambulance and police are investigating an unattended death, but it’s believed to be a medical. No other action is taken by the reporter, but a competing news organization goes to the house later and bangs on the door, disturbing a grieving spouse. The spouse calls the original news organization and complains.

2) A father kills his estranged wife and two children before killing himself. The man's Facebook page is public. It includes numerous pictures of himself with his children and wife, and frequent wall posts on how much he misses his children and the fun they used to have together, with other posts from friends and relatives trying to console him. He does not mention that he is legally barred from seeing his children because he had been charged with holding the family at gunpoint as he threatened to kill his wife. The wife has a Facebook page, but hers is restricted to only be viewable by her friends, so there's no way to see what, if anything, she was saying.

3) Two reporters are covering a public forum where community members are speaking with elected officials about the closure of the local social services office. Many speakers are identifying themselves by name and as the reporters are tweeting about the meeting, they are identifying the speakers. There are numerous cameras and hundreds of people in the room. A few days later, one of the speakers calls the newsroom and is upset that her name was listed in the tweet.

4) A man is arrested and charged with killing his wife. We find the Facebook page of the woman's daughter, who is about 14. On her profile, which is public, she expresses her grief and shock and says repeatedly that she is sure that her stepfather killed her mom and makes allegations that he had previously abused her mother.

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