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.

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