Analyzing Standing Rock Coverage in Relation to Media Bias

flickr1

Protest Against the Dakota Access Pipeline in St. Paul, Minn. Source: Fibonacci Blue / Flickr

On Nov 4, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe celebrated a victory as the Department of the Army announced that it would not allow the pipeline to be drilled under the Missouri River. A struggle that have been fought since spring, the media coverage of the Dakota Access Pipeline have been visibly scarce compared to the aftermath of the Presidential Election.

Calling themselves “water protectors,” the founders and leaders at Oceti Sakowin camp have asked that they not be referred to as “protestors,” they felt that the media has not covered this event as widely as they have covered anything else. Does this highlight the ethical issue of bias when it comes to media coverage of current events? Does this have to do with the fact that Native Americans are the smallest group of minority in the United States?

One of the reasons of public criticism over the press is because they perceive journalism is bias. Most would say the public focuses more on the bad news than the good. Gene Foreman once said, “Bias exists in part because journalism is a subjective art.” Journalists get to pick everything from which stories to cover, what facts to highlight, and which to make the front page.

When Al Qaeda-affiliated gunmen struck Paris in early 2015, numerous American news organizations ran the Charlie Hebdo story. Meanwhile the Baga massacre by Boko Haram that happened the same week didn’t receive as much coverage in the same organizations. As pointed out Jared Malsin in Columbia Journalism Review, “The discussion about why the killings in Nigeria were ignored underscored an old problem: News from sub-Saharan Africa is underreported.”

Whereas the bias in the global scale is between the West and the third-world, the unfairness here similarly goes hand-in-hand with the issue of race representation in the newsroom. Before November, it seemed as if no one was paying attention to what’s happening in North Dakota. When asked why there is so little coverage of the event, David Beard pointed out that it might be because “there is a general rush, a post election focus after Trump’s victory,” and the fact that the bigger outlets were slow to get to the story.”

“For the first part of the story, it didn’t get the kind of attention just because news organizations were devoting so much resources to the election that they just let this one pass, which they shouldn’t have,” Mark Trahant of the Trahant Reports said. He also believed that the reason stories concerning minorities didn’t get as much coverage is because of their fewer representation in newsrooms, citing the salmon dispute in the Northwest as another story that was ignored by the mainstream media. “American Indians are just a small percentage of the population,” he added.

The American Society of News Editors 2016 diversity survey stated that Native Americans make up an estimated .39 percent of journalists in U.S. newsrooms, while White make up more than 83 percent of all newsroom staff members. Tommy Cummings, a digital producer of the Dallas Morning News told Poynter, “There’s not a lot a mainstream media [in Standing Rock], and I know why. The industry’s lost half its staff and to cover something that impacts one percent or less is just not a sexy enough issue to cover.”

While the movement began in April, media coverage started recently, when police threw water cannons at unarmed water protectors a few weeks ago, leaving dozens of people with hypothermia. However, the event on Nov. 21 is not the first time the press started to garner attention towards the peaceful demonstration. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! was one of the first journalists covering the event. She went to Standing Rock to cover the story before most mainstream media, showing how police used dogs to attack water protectors. On Sept. 8, an arrest warrant for Goodman was issued, citing riot as the reason. Her charges were dropped in October.

Nevertheless, the scarce coverage is still visible in mainstream media, print and online. Steve Wallick, editor of the Bismarck Tribune informed Montana Journalism Review, “It’s kind of isolated down there. Those are the challenges of knowing what’s going on, keeping updated, and knowing sometimes whether you’re getting a straight story or not.” Trahant, however, suggested that although it is a factor, “It was more of a choice of resources.” He continued, “Sure it was isolated, but there are other stories that are isolated that do get attention.”

“The best coverage of the story has either been social media or newspapers,” Trahant said, while mentioning television as the medium where the story is most narrowly covered. He also added that magazine could’ve done better. On television, CNN’s Newsroom described the situation as “violent clashes,” a term people viewed as another example of media sensationalism. Moreover, citing the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and the Seattle Times, Trahant said, “Newspapers have actually done some really good work, it’s just not been a part of the national narrative for a couple of reasons.” The New York Times website showed more than 1,400 results for “President-elect Trump” in November alone. Meanwhile, “North Dakota Pipeline” got less than a hundred for the same month. In November, the publication only featured the story as front-page news once on Nov. 22, although they have featured it on the front page in previous months. On the Washington Post, the pipeline is mentioned in about 133 articles for the past two months, and 46 in the Wall Street Journal. Of course, news websites are the easiest way to compare media coverage. How would we analyze public awareness between the two topics?

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-6-50-43-pm

Data source: Keyhole

According to Keyhole, a hashtag tracker for Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, there are seven hundred posts using the hashtag #StandWithStandingRock on Twitter. With 197 links posted on the social media website, the conversation reached over two million accounts. Nevertheless, topics such as the affordable care act, or Obama Care, reached 12 million, and Representative Tom Price an even bigger 16 million after President-elect Trump reportedly chose him as Health Secretary. Like any other news stories, most of the posts are retweets from media accounts on Twitter. Furthermore, over four hundred supporters have signed the petition in Change.org.

As journalists, we have a responsibility to inform the public about everything, not just events that concern the majority of the public or those that deemed to be more profitable. As gatekeepers and sense-maker, our job is to place stories within a broader context in a way that turns information into knowledge.

The ethical principle that comes to play here is objectivity. Deontology teaches a journalist the duty to cover as much truth with no exception, while maintaining objectivity as one of the most important ethical principle. According to teleology, you have to think about the consequences of your action. In this case, a journalist’s duty to provide coverage may change the outcome or at least get more people informed and involved. Furthermore, the stakeholders presented in the case are the water protectors and Native Americans, the United States government, readers and journalists themselves.

Journalism is a powerful tool that can give people a voice to a broader audience, hence the need of equal representation of race in media coverage. One of the reasons that contributed to their recent victory is most likely because of public awareness from all over the country. Although Beard, as aforementioned, recognized that the bigger media outlets took time to caught on to the story, “there were a number of good accounts leading up to the showdown that led to the change this weekend where the Army Corps of Engineers gave up for now.” This coalition includes veterans and public figures, such as actors Mark Ruffalo and Patricia Arquette, made more famous by social media presence attracted the awareness it needs to win the fight for water.

Moreover, most articles published online referred to the supporters as “protestors” rather than “water protectors.” The usage of the word “protestor” is itself presents an ethical dilemma for journalists. On one side, Native Americans and those who stood up to the pipeline can be portrayed as a group who are protesting the project, therefore referring to them as “protestors” is understandable. However, as the Native American leaders have asked everyone to call them as “water protectors,” it presents an ethical dilemma of being respectful to the wishes of the subjects of the story and also not wanting to mislead the readers. This is because for some, “protestors” seemed to suggest a group of people who are causing a scene and acting violently, while the protectors in North Dakota are reportedly being peaceful. The language usage also paralleled the recent ethical problem of “white nationalists” wanting the media to refer to them as “alt-rights.”

“I wouldn’t label them,” Beard said. He added, “I don’t want to call [white nationalists] alt-right in the first paragraph just because they want to be called alt-right. I think I need to explain to all readers what it is first.” Trahant credited Los Angeles Times for handling the language problem brilliantly in covering the Standing Rock protests, as well as stating that he would make it clear that the supporters wanted to be called “water protectors,” however he would refer to them as “protestors” too.

Advertisements

the Rise of Conservatism

For this assignment, I chose an article in the Boston Globe about conservative François Fillon being a front-runner in the French election. Even though in the article, he was mentioned as a “the surprise victor,” I mentioned why I didn’t think his victory wasn’t surprising in the comment. What I didn’t realise was that the writer of the article, however, also explained why his ideologies made him a front-runner in the election, because of the “2016’s global shift to the right.” The article compared him to other conservative world leaders such as Marine Le Pen, and of course, President-elect Trump who attacked minorities as a strategy to garner votes during the American election.

In an effort to remain objective as a journalist, I asked why some people are attracted to conservative views presented by politicians who chose to use their platform to single out minorities, which is a now becoming a global trend.

I think that the nostalgia Le Pen and Fillon have that draws attention to their ideologies of a “white, catholic French” is not real, it’s only a social construct. In the past, not everyone was white and/or catholic. They lived in a multicultural nation, but those who aren’t white or catholic are jus simply more oppressed than they are today. I think it’s interesting how some people want to go back to living so conservatively in the Western World, while some people argue that living conservatively, being constrained by religion is exactly what the Islamic State wants the whole world to be.

advancing2

Moreover, in the United States, as an international student, I think that diversity is one of the things that make this country great as it is. I do find it comforting that Marwan Muhammad mentioned that President Sarkozy says awful things just for show, which I like to believe is why Trump runs his campaign on the same things.

As of November 28 there was no response. The traffic seemed small, since there were only three comments posted including mine. However, Scott-in-Belmont, a French citizen, commented his disagreement, explaining that Fillon “is a measured and decent human being who would never insult women, minorities or disabled people the way Trump did and would always stay clear from vulgar comments.”

(Advancing a Story, due Nov.29)

International Influence of the American Election

Out of all the classes we’ve had with Dan Kennedy, we talked about how the media covered the election more frequently than any other topics. As we’ve discussed in class, this year’s election is an “abnormal” one, considering Donald Trump’s role in society and as a public figure portrays him as a businessman and a reality television star before he decided to run. We talked about how Trump’s persona made it a little difficult for the media to cover the race as they used to back in 2012, or 2008 and so on.

As an assignment, Professor Kennedy asked us to bring a brief write-up on a story we came across during the final days of the election. Here’s the article I chose for the assignment, along with the (now-edited and extended) write-up I submitted:

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-3-47-25-pm

The story I came across in the Washington Post shows the American election from a global perspective, which I think is interesting. So far this semester, we’ve covered ethical issues such as media bias, Trump’s insults, and how it affects the election and our society. As an international student, I personally would like to know how these issues would affect people on a broader scale. We know that the next president will have a say in international relations going forward, but this article from the Post also talked about how the international community sees a threat to the United States’ democracy if Trump becomes president, as well as rumors about how the election is controlled by other governments, and so on.

The issue about the United States’ democracy itself is important because countries model their democracy after the United States, so this year’s election involving two of the most unpopular candidates in history almost portrays instability in the democratic system.

“The U.S. presidential election — America’s quadrennial chance to showcase for the world how democracy works in the most powerful nation on Earth — has become instead an object lesson in everything that ails a country long seen as a beacon of freedom and hope.”

Moreover, the article mentioned quotes from Chinese newspapers and other publications abroad, which can be seen as a proof that the way that other countries view the election is not another story fabricated by American media.

The article doesn’t really present any ethical issues in its writing, except that almost all of the negative opinions are directed towards Trump. Regardless of whom you vote for, I think this bias is generated by how the American media cover the race. If it were me, I would find some people who would comment something negative about Clinton, or something positive about Trump, just to balance the article and maintain fairness.

I’m also wondering if we will talk more about the aftermath of the election going forward, because I don’t think the media is ready to let go of it just yet, and I feel that the scrutiny towards President-elect Trump is even more visible after the election.

(Blog Post Pegged to Dan Kennedy Sessions, due Nov.13)

The Hardest Thing to Talk About

Various Pulitzer Prize winners were invited to talk about their experiences in Cambridge as a celebration of the award’s 100th anniversary. The most interesting ethical issue, or at least the one that stuck with me most, was how to get victims to talk about their worst experience in order to create a story for reporters.

Two of the speakers were Sara Ganim and Sasha Pfeiffer, who talked about their Pulitzer-winning works, the Penn State scandal and the clergy sex abuse respectively. Both stories are similar in the way that they are exposing an abuse of power done in both cities. The Penn State scandal exposed Sandusky, while Pfeiffer and her colleagues went after the Catholic Church, which had tremendous influence in the city of Boston.

Ganim explained that the police didn’t believe the allegations made against Sandusky, who was seen as a father figure in Penn State. When prosecutors do believe a victim, dubbed “victim one,” he got bullied enormously, which eventually forced him out of school. Pfeiffer believed you have to push victims to get the details, as well as explain why you’re doing it. “Some do want to talk, they want to tell their story,” Ganim said.

“It’s not comfortable to know that you’re invading someone’s life,” Ganim confessed, “and you’re knocking on their door to talk about the worst moment of their lives every time you do it.” She explained that every person you talk to is different and that she’s still learning that process.

Pfeiffer added that for subjects to see how she hates having to cover tragic stories, as she recounted an experience as a young reporter, “in a strange way make them react with compassion” to her as the reporter. During sensitive circumstances you learn that “if you are compassionate and you are human, which you can be in those situations, it creates affection.” Moreover, she would make sure that the victims will have someone to talk to after the interview as she added, “You have to understand what you’ve just unearth is now going to resonate even after you hung up the phone.”

Identifying victims by using their names can also be a problem in some cases. Maria Henson stated that using the names of abused wives whilst writing an editorial for the Lexington Herald-Leader might put the victims in more danger. Eventually she acknowledged that the victims who dared to tell their stories and show their faces helped make a difference.

(Angle Event Coverage, due Nov. 10)

Note to Self: Personal Ethics Code

Do as much research as possible and present them in a way that’s easy to understand 

  • This emphasizes truth telling and verification. It’s important that readers not only know all the facts that they need to know, and that they understand them to prevent any misunderstandings.
  • When you’re doing research, know which sources you can trust and those you can’t. Especially because journalists’ roles as “gatekeepers” in the 21st century is to differentiate the truth from the lies.
  • Refer back to this list you made when verifying.

Loyalty and responsibilities

  • Our first loyalty should be to the readers, but being loyal to our sources is just as important. When we build a relationship and gain their trust, it comes with a sense of responsibility.
  • To be the best journalist you want to be, you have  a responsibility to your company and supervisors to not plagiarize and/or fabricate stories. Because if you get caught, it doesn’t just harm your reputation, but the reputation of the whole institution you’re working for.

Be compassionate, minimize harm

  • Sometimes journalists receive criticism of being insensitive in certain situations. As human beings, it’s okay show empathy when covering sensitive stories. As long as you don’t interfere too much with the story, for example when Benjamin Fine comforted the girl in Little Rock Central High School.
  • Before publishing stories, apply ends-based thinking. Know your stakeholders to minimize harm. However, circle back to the duty-based thinking that your first loyalty is to your readers and to the public, rather than who you’re covering.

Make sure you come out with an ethical decision that you can defend in the future

  • Always take the three tests; “the front page test,” “the mom test” and “the God-is-my-witness test.”
  • Eventually all of us will get criticized for something that we do as journalists and as human beings. As long as you trust your motivation and you can defend each decision, then don’t pay too much attention. Remember that you can’t make everyone happy

Don’t let your ethical decisions be bounded to an ethics code

  • Trust yourself and trust your gut instinct more than a list written by someone else, or in this case, by yourself. If you’re not comfortable with an ethical decision, get a second opinion from someone you trust. In the end, you’re going to be the one who will be held accountable for your piece, so make sure you’re comfortable with each decision you take going forward.

Case Study: Under His Influence

Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier, 12-year-old girls from Wisconsin became notorious overnight for stabbing their friend 19 times to impress “the Slender Man,” a ghost created by the Internet. Since then, there have been dozens of articles sensationalizing the attack, and a documentary about the “Slender Man case.” There are two ethical questions that attracted me about this case; what is the rule in publishing names for accused criminals under 18? Moreover, out of all the articles written about it, Bridgette Dunlap expressed her views about the trial on Rolling Stone.

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-3-24-38-pm

Source: Youtube / ABC News

According to the Associated Press Stylebook, journalists should not “identify juvenile (under 18) who are accused of crimes,” even if the police releases their names. Moreover, it also stated that we should not “transmit images that would reveal their identity.” As aforementioned, if there’s an HBO documentary made about them, needless to say that their faces have been familiar to most viewers by now. Furthermore, as reported by the Associated Press, both are being charged with murder as adults, even though they are currently 14-year-olds, so having their names and faces released are understandable given the circumstances. Bridgette Dunlap, an attorney and a journalist, said Rolling Stone has already printed their names, “so I left that question up to my editor.”

screen-shot-2016-09-27-at-3-11-59-pm

The news of their medical conditions have also been made public. Geyser was diagnosed with early onset schizophrenia in August, while Weier with “a delusional disorder,” meaning she has a hard time differentiating between reality and fiction. Their diagnosis is one of the reasons why Dunlap wrote about why charging them as adults is “absurd.”

“I think its really just that logic, the reason that we say juveniles are different than adults that they have less control over their lives, over their actions” Dunlap said, adding that we have a juvenile court for a reason. Furthermore, The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) supported Dunlap, writing in an email that they want the public to know that “current delinquency prevention and juvenile justice practices, policies, and laws may not reflect the developmental differences between adolescents and adults.” The judges involved in this case can affect court systems and the outcomes of youth across the country.

“It was surprising to me the way that sort of basic logic of ‘we don’t think children are in control of their actions the way adults are’ was much more controversial than I anticipated.” – Bridgette Dunlap

An ethical issue raised by the article is; how would the family and friends of Payton Leutner, the victim, take this if they ever read Dunlap’s article? I think she has the right to publish her opinion on the web, but what about the issue of minimising harm? Dunlap said that the responses from readers were mixed, while responses on her Twitter showed that not everyone agrees with her.

screen-shot-2016-09-27-at-4-02-20-pm

Data Visualization Project

For our data visualization assignment, I decided to analyze the correlation between the use of gun in homicides each year and acts passed by the State of Massachusetts within that time period. In 2013, The Boston Globe reported that numerous studies found that states with stricter gun laws tend to have fewer gun deaths. By researching the laws regarding gun possession passed each year, which can be found in the Session Laws page of the official website of the State of Massachusetts, there is a visible connection with the reduction of the use of guns in homicides each year. For instance, after they passed an act in 1998 which tightened the possession of firearms, the number of homicides reduced  the next year. It however increased again in 2000 after they loosen the law in “an act of relative to replica weapons” in 1999. Furthermore, when the State changed the 10-year imprisonment for “assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon” to 15 years and added another $5,000 for the fine in 2002, the rate of homicides by guns decreased by more than 60 percent. Lastly, “an act relative to the regulations of explosives” in 2010 stressed that the possession of guns, or “small arms ammunition,” without lawful authority can lead to imprisonment, fine and seizure of weapon. This act could also be seen as a response of the increasing number of homicides from 2009 to 2010.

Our recent trainings in Microsoft Excel taught me how to filter and build a pivot table, applied to find how many cases were involved with the use of guns, or how many victims died each year because of gunshot wounds. After I have the number of homicides from each year, I compared it to the Session Laws I found online. The website only shows the law from 1997 to 2016, while the dataset only provides the data up to May 2014. Moreover, the 1997 and 2001 datasets left most of their “weapon” column blank so I decided to exclude those three years mentioned above. Rather than using Microsoft Excel to make the line graph, I decided to use Piktochart instead, because the website makes it easier to create and edit a graph that catches a viewer’s eyes. I provided a line for two of the examples of laws passed mentioned above. However, I decided not to mention all the examples to avoid the chart from getting messy and confusing.

piktochart

Dear Peter Hamby

First of all, thank you so much for talking to us, it was a really fun class. I’ve been a Snapchat user for a really long time, and I still spend more than 50% of my day on it. When I was assigned to read the BuzzFeed article about how to use Snapchat “like the teens,” it was by far the most relatable article I’ve ever had to read for this class. Unfortunately, the writer didn’t mention anything about the “Discover” and “Live Stories” tabs.

Thoughts about the Discover Tab

When Snapchat added their Discover tab, it was unexpected because I would’ve never thought that people would actually use this application for news stories like they do with Facebook and Twitter. I wouldn’t say that I click on Discover everyday, because there are some days when I don’t even have the energy to watch all of my contacts’ stories and I don’t have as many contacts as the girl on BuzzFeed. Nevertheless, I do click on Refinery29, the Food Network and Vox more than the others.

My News Diet

From those three choices, it’s easy to figure out what kind of news I consume, I don’t really go for CNN or ESPN. I’ve always been more drawn to news about fashion, lifestyle and maybe a little bit about travel. That being said, the news available on Snapchat through Discover suits me perfectly. It covers more news regarding celebrities and lifestyles rather than hard news. When I opened CNN earlier, there were more news about Kanye West than about the election. Despite what I said earlier, I would like to see some more hard news on Snapchat. Maybe even treat the application itself as a newspaper, although that’s a little bit too ambitious. Also, let’s face it; if there’s a choice for that would people like me actually go for it? I hardly even open CNN on Discover.

Thoughts about Live Stories

The contents of Live Stories are always interesting. I’ve discovered so many traditions that I’m not aware of, like something about crowning a beaver on Groundhog Day (call me lame, but I still don’t get it). When you spoke to us, you said there was a live story during the San Bernardino shooting, which I believe was a one of those local stories for the area, because it didn’t show up anywhere on my Snapchat. I’ve definitely learned more about presidential elections through Snapchat Live Stories. Usually, I only care when it comes down to a race between two people but this year was different. This is partly why I like the live stories; I can easily tap through it to find out the final result, whether it’s for caucus or sports. The best thing about having these stories on Snapchat is because the application is used by people of all ages, it gets people more interested in what’s happening around them, more people get to consume these news.

Suggestions and Takeaway

I don’t have that many suggestions because to be honest, there are times I got annoyed at Snapchat for always modifying their application with updates I don’t care about, like showing your top three best friends. As I’ve mentioned before, I would like to see more hard news everyday on Snapchat, but I wouldn’t mind if you decide to add Vogue or Condé Nast Traveler on the Discover tab. Moreover, I don’t really know if it’s such a good idea for people to be able to send live stories during risky situations, like if there’s a shooting or a bombing nearby. From what we’ve talked about, there’s a code of conduct to shield viewers from sensitive images, which covers one of my concerns. The other is that knowing what people post on the Internet, some users tend to see the situation as an opportunity to get featured on Live Stories rather than thinking about surviving. After all, don’t we get a trophy for that?

Just a Few Reminders for All Social Media-Web Users

flickr

Source: Flickr

It seems that if you’re not active on the Internet, you’re a caveman. That’s the society we live in today. Social network websites provide us a way of communicating with each other and bring us closer to our community. The Internet itself brings us information from around the world and educates us. Living in a society influenced heavily by technology, it’s not that hard to believe that a nine year old can be more active than a 20 year old on social media platforms.

A few years ago, you have to reach a certain age before you can make a Facebook. I think we can all agree that the “age policy” is not as enforced as it used to be. Facebook now asks about your age to “make sure you get the right Facebook experience for your age.” For most websites, the minimum age is thirteen, but I’ve seen instagram account made for newborn babies and pets.

Sure, it may seem harmless because the purpose of the account is to share photos with family members and friends halfway across the world. But the real takeaway is that if parents are willing to make an account for a newborn, it’s easy to assume that they’d be willing to do the same for children who are old enough to know how the platform functions, without actually knowing the dangers it brings. Even worse, it’s a possibility that the adult doesn’t even know these risks, or choose to avoid the topic altogether.

Like the New York Times tells us, “Sharing is not new, it’s human nature.” Motivations for sharing may vary for different people. Maybe you want to shed some light about a cause you’re passionate about, or maybe sharing a picture is a way to update your friends and family about your life in general. Whatever the reason is, social media is the best and fastest way to share and receive information.

The key word to keep in mind is privacy. Social media can lead to identity theft. I’m sure we’ve all heard of the term “phishing.” It usually happens after you give out sensitive information, such as your address, credit card information and/or social security number. You’ve probably heard a couple of stories about it. Most incidents happen by email, but now that sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr have made it possible to chat with strangers, that just makes phishing so much easier with fake competitions and rewards.

flickr

Source: Flickr

Furthermore, technology has made it possible today to “enable location” easily on social media. Foursquare is a social media site devoted to that function. It can tell people where your home is and more importantly, when you’re not home. Isn’t it possible that some of your audience is just a robber waiting for an opportunity?

Keep in mind that once you post something online, it’s not easy to take it back. Whether it’s a tweet or a picture, chances are people will see it. We’ve all heard of the viral story of a U.C.L.A. student, Alexandra Wallace. She posted a video on her Youtube channel complaining about Asian students talking loudly in the library. This leads to death threats and her “being ostracized from an entire community” among other things. She eventually decided to quit U.C.L.A. because of the  horrifying responses she got from the community.

People can tell a lot about you through your social media account. So think twice before you click the “post” button. Remember that the second you post something online, it can never be permanently erased. You can always come back to edit or delete a post, but you can never be sure that someone don’t have a copy.

Other than communication, social media sites can also be a platform for cyber-bullying. Please keep in mind that it is still illegal to make death threats, whether if it’s online or in person. An example is when a woman who worked at a Houston hospital expressed how she felt about protestors in Ferguson, Mo. She suggested the police to “purge them.” The post quickly went viral and eventually led to her dismissal.

With the rise of the digital age, people found a new way to become famous, known as “internet celebrities.” Most use Youtube and Vine to post their videos, while others use Instagram to post funny memes. Whether if it’s about make up, fashion or just something hilarious, these people gained recognition and money through their social media platforms. A notable example is Chiara Ferragni, the co-founder of The Blonde Salad, who now makes nearly $8 million a year, reported by Refinery29. While it is great that so many Internet celebrities can make money off of their presence in the digital era, it could also lead to their downfall.

As a journalism student, one of the things I’ve learned early on is to not post pictures without attributing it to a person or a company, unless of course it’s your own. If you got it from another social media site and you don’t know who took it, at least cite which site you got it from or avoid posting the picture altogether.

One of the most famous controversies regarding this happened last year. Josh Ostrovsky, famously known as “The Fat Jew,” received backlash for stealing other people’s content without proper attribution. He apologized and explained that it’s hard to find the original source of a joke or a picture on the Internet, since it is a “vast ocean of stuff.” He continued, “I now realize that if I couldn’t find a source for something, I probably shouldn’t have posted it in the first place.”

These are just some of the key things to keep in mind whenever you update your profiles online; confidentiality, compassion and credit. Personally, I think that as long as you know what to do and what not to do online, you can use everything the Internet and social media platforms offer you no matter how old you are.

Five Rules Verifying Information from Social Media

  1. The importance of reportorial diligence
Noun_33167_-_Social_media

Source: wikimedia

I’m sure that many journalists who work for various news organizations have misreported a story or two in their careers. Although sometimes it is not enough to prevent a news organization from misreporting stories, it never hurts to have diligence when writing a story. Especially in a digital era such as today, technology has made it possible to expand a reporter’s power to verify stories via email, mobile phone calls, text, chat, database searchers and more.

  1. Get a second opinion

Jack Shafer of Reuters says, “Near-perfect news could be printed and broadcast if reports were vetted and peer-reviewed for weeks or months before publication.” You probably don’t need to ask your peers to review it for weeks or months, but review to make sure they have pretty much the same information as you do. If you’re lucky, maybe they know more about the situation than you do and are willing to share the information to improve your article.

  1. Rely on law enforcement sources

Breaking news has always been a difficult thing to report accurately, and one the downside of social media is that we don’t always know who are telling the truth and who are exaggerating or downplaying the situation. Like Mark Little, CEO and founder of Storyful, says, “We are in a business model where we are no longer the owner of scarce information, we are the managers of over abundance of information and data and content.” To avoid any mistakes, it is usually better to wait for a government press conference and official announcements to verify the information that we have on hand.

  1. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge your mistakes

When it comes to breaking news, it’s hard to follow the steps listed above because time sensitivity comes into play. Shafer says that readers “willingly accept a certain level of error as long as the news organizations readily acknowledge their mistakes.” When you have more time to publish a longer story, be sure to admit and correct the mistakes you make in an earlier post. This is easier to do when you publish your story online because surely you can go back and edit your story in a matter of seconds.

  1. It’s a numbers game

It is always better to confirm any information with more than just one source. If there is one thing I learned from Storyful’s case studies, it’s that the more people you talk to about the story, the more you’ll know. You can never know if “two reporters’ sources each had truly independent information or if one was simply parroting what the other had told him,” to quote Bill Grueskin Columbia Journalism Review about Doug Danziger story. False information is still false no matter how much retweets it gets. But if you can find at least five users who tweeted similar things at around the same time, then it’s probably true.