Ethical Implications of Graphic Images

The Boston Bombings brought along many images of people who were either killed or seriously injured in the blasts. Many of these images were placed in online articles with a disclaimer that these images were graphic and people should look at their own risk. But when it comes to social media, there sometimes is no disclaimer. Even if there is a warning in the text of the post, often times the audience scrolls to the image before they have a chance to read the warning. I honestly don’t see anything good that can come from posting graphic photos from the Boston Bombings on social media.

Images that end up in various news feeds don’t have age filters on them. Even if a teen is old enough to have Facebook or Twitter,  they may not be mature enough to handle images of death or gruesome injuries. Obviously I don’t think the teens would be seeking out images of this nature, so I believe it is the responsibility of the person who is posting them to consider all the ways that it could upset the audience if he or she did post them.

As I mentioned, instead of posting the image directly to social media, they could post the article with the disclaimer, to give people a choice of whether they want to see the images or not. This could not only shield minors from viewing the images, but it would protect friends and family members of the victims from having to involuntarily see images that might bring back painful memories. Finally, if members of the audience have an uneasy stomach or can’t handle any type of blood or gore, the wall of the link would shield them from the potential of getting sick.

If someone were to post graphic images from the Boston Bombings on social media for everyone to see, some could view that as the person wanting attention or trying to shock the audience rather than doing something good. With a tragedy so widely publicized as this, people understand the extent of the damage without having to see it on social media. If people wanted to donate their time or blood to help victims, they could do that without a graphic image persuading them.

Finally, if a victim of the tragedy was injured and one of their photos was put on social media without their permission, there could be serious ethical concerns. Personal privacy vs. public interest would certainly be one of the main arguments. The victim may not want to be remembered forever as “the person who survived the Boston Bombings” and wouldn’t want to be looked on with pity for the rest of his or her life. If their photo was placed on social media and went viral, there’s a good chance that the person would never be able to break their public association with the event.

 

Ethics of an American Tragedy

I remember the day of the Boston Marathon Bombings very vividly. I got home from school, turned on the television and immediately texted my friend, whom I know has family in Boston, to see if everything was alright. Even though most of my days are spent on social media, this was one event that I didn’t hear about on Facebook first. However, for the rest of the time that the bombings were at the forefront of the news, most of that news came to me through social media.

In dealing with the news breaks of tragedies like this, people have many ethical dilemmas about what content to publish on social media and how that content might affect the audience. There are certain situations where someone’s heart is in the right place, but it comes off as in poor taste to the public. When a news broadcaster asked fans to “like” a photo of an injured boy on Facebook to let the boy know how many people care, it was met with some intense backlash. Even in situations that are bad, but maybe not to this extent, I always feel awkward “liking” a post with bad news. I would feel much more comfortable commenting to let the person know that I am thinking of them, rather than “liking” the post. I feel like this is what the broadcaster should have done to create the desired effect of his post, while also possibly eliminating any negative feedback. Although it could be annoying to see so many of the same message, people have the option to personalize it and truly let the boy know how they feel about him.

Courtesy of PA Media Group

In response to the image above that Ford posted to the first responders of the bombings, I saw nothing wrong with it. I can understand why people would think that Ford was doing this to push their own product, but I don’t believe they were. In an article with PR News Online, head of social media for Ford, Scott Monty said “if you manage social media for a brand, this would be a good time to suspend any additional posts for the day.” I don’t think Monty would have said that if his true intention was to sell a product during a catastrophic event like this. If people thought that Ford had an agenda more than sending out well wishes, I think they are cynical. It’s not unethical to thank someone on social media and Ford should not be made to feel bad about doing something good.

With every tragedy, there are going to be questionable moments of whether posting something on social media is ethical or not. If you’re unsure of how people will react, don’t post it. But most of all, think of every possible way the content could be misconstrued and do everything in your power to eliminate those possibilities.

The Convenience of Privacy

When it comes to social media, privacy can be a tricky thing. People are on social networks to connect and share information with their friends. But certain people don’t want the entire world knowing their business. This is where privacy settings come in. If I’m being honest, I probably haven’t taken a close look at my privacy settings for at least six months to a year. I just don’t post that many things on social media where I feel like it would hurt my safety or my reputation if they were made totally public. There are certain things that I hide from certain people, mainly family members, that I might want to hide so I don’t get bombarded with questions. The beauty of status updates on Facebook, my main social network, is that you can block certain people from seeing one post, but not your entire profile. I am willing to admit that I have done that a few times to save myself a little stress.

I think many people don’t use privacy settings to their advantage because they either don’t understand them or aren’t aware of involuntary changes made to them. There are ways to combat both issues. Every time Facebook, Twitter or any other social media channel makes changes to their privacy policy, the channel needs to go out of their way to notify users. They can send emails, messages, news feed posts, whatever they need to do to make sure users are aware of the smallest change in their privacy. People will lessen the complaints as long as they feel like the channel is being honest with them. And to make users comprehend them better, instead of only using legal jargon, they could also have a simpler explanation next to it for reference.

Another aspect to privacy on social media is whether you should have to deal with journalists in a supposed “safe space.” I studied journalism in undergrad and I consider myself an ethical journalist. My alma mater, The University of Arizona, would condemn me if I were to ever try to contact a source of a sensitive news situation on social media. However, I will alter their way of thinking for my own process in getting the scoop. I will use social media to connect with a source, only if every other mode of communication had been exhausted. But, I would be completely honest about who I was and what my motive was. I will not compromise my integrity and ethics just for a story.

In the same vein, if I did gain access to that person’s private social media material, all of that material would remain private unless I was otherwise given permission to use it. If the words “off the record” are spoken, the information is not usable. I would not take the information from the source and share it as my own on any social network unless I was allowed to do so. Republishing material without permission is a form of plagiarism and copyright infringement. If I didn’t want someone else to do it to me, I am certainly not going to do it to them.

LinkedIn’s User Agreement

In this week’s reading reaction we looked at the Terms and Conditions of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, which were also briefly covered in lecture. For this week’s assignment I decided to tackle the Terms of Service for another social media channel that could be very valuable to me in the future, LinkedIn. LinkedIn is quickly growing to be my second favorite channel, behind Facebook, so I decided to analyze what you can and cannot do on the channel.

Some aspects of LinkedIn’s User Agreement are confusing and contradictory. Firstly, I take LinkedIn very seriously as a digital resume and an opportunity for working professionals to showcase themselves to potential employers. If every member of LinkedIn is supposed to be a working professional, why is the minimum age in the United States only thirteen? At thirteen years old a person is barely legal to work, so I find it hard to believe that they should be allowed to have a LinkedIn profile. If the majority of thirteen year olds are not working, then they’re either not on LinkedIn or they are using a profile for something they shouldn’t be using it for. It is my feeling that LinkedIn should raise the minimum age of users to at least fifteen or sixteen, in order to prevent the creation of fake profiles or inappropriate content, which is also part of the User Agreement.

Like with Facebook, the user owns the content they publish, but LinkedIn has the right to use content published on the channel at their discretion without notifying the user. I don’t like that part of the agreement, but I understand that LinkedIn is a business. When a song I wrote was chosen to be recorded by an independent record label, the contract said I retained all rights to the song, but they had the discretion to change the arrangement or lyrics as they saw fit to increase the quality of the song. With that, I am also allowed to sell the song to another label if I choose, a label that could keep everything the way it was originally intended. I may not like every detail in the agreement, but I don’t think I can make an argument that there’s anything unethical about that detail.

As is the case with Twitter, LinkedIn does not monitor all content and it is up to the users to report anything illegal or unethical. However, it says that LinkedIn has the right to limit or prohibit contact between LinkedIn members or limit the amount of connections a person has. If a LinkedIn user is “solely responsible for your interactions with other Members,” then how is LinkedIn allowed to limit interactions? If an interaction has been reported and LinkedIn revokes your right to that interaction after the fact, that should be made more clear in the User Agreement.

As of right now, those are the ethical dilemmas of LinkedIn I object to. If they could reword some of the entries to make them more understandable, many of their ethical issues would be resolved. I’m looking forward to seeing how they revise this agreement in the future.

 

Ethical Dilemma of Facebook

I have had a fairly substantial background with the idea of ethics as it relates to journalism. In my time studying journalism at the University of Arizona, I may have only had one formal ethics class, but the idea has been weaved through many of my other classes as well as my personal work. The part of the dictionary definitions of ethics and morals that strikes a nerve with me is the idea that morals are concerned with an entire society and not necessarily an individual. There should be certain universal morals of course, but the idea that an entire society dictates what’s right or wrong for one person to do irks me a little bit. I like the idea of moral dilemmas, because the “right decision” for one person within that society might not be the “right decision” for a different person in that society.

With regard to this week’s main discussion on whether it is ethical to send a friend request on Facebook to a murder suspect’s friend if you are a journalist, I would say yes it is. Means of contact are growing and I think as long as it is ethical to contact the murder suspect’s friend through phone or email, then social media should be OK as well. Speaking to the friend of the murder suspect has journalistic value, as lecture states, and as long as that source agrees to talk to you everything is fine in my book.

The video brought up the idea of whether or not the journalist should hide their identity as a journalist when sending the friend request. This is something I would never do because I find it unethical, however I understand and respect the arguments to the contrary. Certain situations like uncovering potential crimes would deem it necessary that a journalist hide their identity to obtain the story and I am OK with that. If there is a potential threat to any person and the only way to uncover that threat is by going undercover or concealing your identity, by all means do it. If this murder suspect has the potential to hurt other people and talking to the friend while your identity is concealed is the only way to help prevent future crimes, do it. But if the journalist is only interested in the story and not the well-being of the audience or the source, that to me in unethical.

However, nowadays many posts that appear on someone’s Facebook profile are public because they don’t take the time to make every post private or don’t fully comprehend the privacy terms and conditions. If you can find public information without having to send a friend request to the suspect’s friend, or if the request you do send is denied, that is also within the realm of things that are ethical to do in order to obtain the story.

I would take utilitarian approach when weighing the pros and cons of sending a friend request to the murder suspect’s friend. My duty would lie with the audience who may be affected by this story, which includes the source, the murder suspect’s family and the murder victim’s family. I think the model of motivation, likely effects and where your duty lies is acceptable in this as well as most cases of an ethical dilemma. I may not always use the same order when examining an ethical dilemma, but each aspect almost always comes into play.