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.