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.