During the How (Should) Journalists Use Social Media? session at last weekend’s Northern Voice 2010 blogging conference, panelists Lisa Johnson and Kirk Lapointe both noted that newspapers regularly mine social media, especially Facebook, for information, leads, and photographs. Sometimes the journalists use the site to obtain information on criminal activity – if I recall correctly, Lisa Johnson explained how Hell’s Angels member Leonard Pelletier’s involvement in a Vancouver-area shooting was (partially?) outed via Facebook. And sometimes the media uses Facebook to obtain photos of teens who have died.
I sensed that some people in the audience were perturbed to learn this, even though it’s increasingly clear that material published online can be discoverable in one way or another. And if it’s on Facebook, it’s even more likely to be found – hence the growing popularity of the google search, “How Do I Delete My Facebook Account?”
Based on what I heard from Lapointe and Johnson at Northern Voice, the discussion of journalism’s use of social media now splits, for me, into two directions.
One path, broached by Kirk Lapointe after he was challenged by an online new media journalist, Linda Solomon of the Vancouver Observer, leads to the question of how the mainstream media uses leads and information – stories – that it harvests from social media sources, and whether or not it shares those sources with its readers.
Most of the time, mainstream media doesn’t share its sources with readers, as my post from yesterday (about Bruce Schneier’s article for CNN.com) illustrates clearly. Lapointe tried to cow Solomon, who challenged him (in his capacity as managing editor of the Vancouver Sun), by arguing with her, claiming that bloggers and online media also “steal” the newspapers’ stories. True, Solomon replied, but, she added, we give credit – aka “link love.” Bloggers and digitally native media freely give links back to the various sources, which is something the mainstream media still has to learn to do. We don’t need to “own” the story – but mainstream media apparently still does. This is particularly odd thinking, in my opinion, since – as Kirk Lapointe said himself at the very session – in the new landscape opening up for journalism, “the topic, not the article, is the centerpiece.” How, I would ask him, can a news outlet, “own” a topic?
The other path that’s red hot right now, which Johnson and Lapointe also opened up, is the question around privacy and social media. For an impassioned analysis of that issue, read Danah Boyd’s blog post, Facebook and “radical transparency” (a rant), which she published today.
Boyd says it better than most: questions around transparency and privacy are also class issues, which must be analyzed in terms of privilege and/or disadvantage. Mainstream media can certainly use social media as a “news scanner” (or maybe police scanner), as Lisa Johnson put it (see Raul Pacheco-Vega’s live-blog of the session). But the media must also realize its use (and possibly abuse) of power here. Given Boyd’s excellent deconstruction of the power relationships exerted by closed platforms like Facebook vis-a-vis the users, there should be a conversation – and maybe policies – around the morality of mainstream media mining social media sites for information. Of course they (we, anyone) are going to mine these sources, but we don’t do so innocently.