Broadcasters Behaving Badly

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I’m always shocked when broadcasters and celebrities “behave badly” both on air and on social media. Not because of what is said or implied, but because they seem not to know any better (though they clearly should).
Public figures have to accountable for what they post online. They are their own brand, and making posts with specific political, racial, or any sort of implication reflects on the brand. Everyone monitors his or her posts; there is no privacy. Shouldn’t they know better?

The obvious example is Kanye West. West post what he wants, when he wants, making vast generalizations and accusations. However, his brand is stronger than ever. Has the novelty of the inappropriate celebrity worn off? Or is this just what we have come to expect from certain public figures?

Another example is Donald Trump, who uses Twitter to air grievances and basically talk smack about other celebrities. Is it even news anymore when he rants and raves? Or is it just enough publicity to keep him relevant when nothing else is going on in his career.

It surprises me that more celebrities aren’t locked into ethical contracts with their management, record label, TV station, etc. I would enforce such a contract with specific guidelines about what hot button topics can be discussed, and how to handle when asked about them. Social media should help build the individual brand, and add to the reach of the governing body (TV station, record label, etc.). Repeat abuse of the policy should result in suspension of airtime and pay, as it would with any other career.

I think we all learned this when we were young, but it rings true today: If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.

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Graphic Images of The Boston Bombing

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I think our nature inherent curiosity as humans is what drives sensationalistic journalism, particularly after tragedies, such as the Boston Marathon bombings of April 15, 2013. It seems as though we were all connected to that day, whether we were there or knew someone who was, or just connected as concerned, scared people. However we were connected, the need to grieve and understand is strong in each of us.

For those of us who were not there, social media and newscasts provided the details of the day as they unfolded. I specifically remember using the hashtag #BostonStrong to monitor the events of the day and receive information as it was released. This hashtag was not only used by news outlets, but by concerned citizens and people who were actually in attendance. I think it goes without saying that many of the pictures shared after the bombings were horrific, startling, upsetting, and graphic.

Not only were individuals sharing images of the massacre, but national news outlets were also retweeting and sharing the images, both online, and on television. This, in my eyes, is unethical for various reasons. For one, it is sensitive material involving real people (who I am sure did not sign a waiver in their time of despair allowing their image to be streamed across the internet). What if the family of the injured only discovered it because they saw it on Twitter? These events are traumatic on so many levels, and in this case, citizen and organized journalism truly added to the trauma.

If you were severely injured after a tragic and horrendous incident, would you want your picture to go viral? Should the photographed person have a say before they are the “face” of a specific tragedy?

I personally would never want my image shared without my written consent – particularly in a situation like the aftermath of a bombing. The mistakes made in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing are plentiful, yet I worry that these are going to be real, constant issues in journalism as we move forward.

The Boston Bombings

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I remember clearly the curiosity and concern during my day at work after the Boston Marathon bombings. Without a television to watch, I turned to Twitter and CNN.com to provide the details and breaking news as it developed. I wasn’t alone; it seemed to be all anyone was talking about, whether it meant offering prayers, first hand accounts, or speculations about the event.

I also remember clearly the amount of confusion. There were so many inaccuracies in the reports, as news outlets were simply trying to delivery the story as it evolved, with no time to check facts and sources. To me, this event sums up the ethical concern and implications, as well as the general pros and cons of social media journalism. The benefits of fast, breaking news are met by the concerns of sharing falsities and inaccuracies.

The Boston Marathon bombings inspired such a pouring outreach of concern and love from people across the nation. But much of that concern was shared through viral stories that turned out to be false or fabricated. I think the ease of sharing content on social media removes the legwork of checking on the validity of the story. Sharing viral content can be heartfelt, caring, and even fun – but the credibility of the source is key to content sharing.

Using social media to capitalize on a tragedy is unethical. However, determining the motives and intentions behind these types of post is tricky. Is it unethical to for a company to make a post in support of the city of Boston during a time of trouble by using trending topics like #BostonStrong? No. It is unethical to make the same post while plugging their product (I’m looking at you, Ford)? Yes. I think the motive behind the post is key, but how can we determine that? Not everyone exercises the best judgment (or tact) on social media, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t have good intentions. Again, this question of ethics falls into the gray area.

I think the best approach is simply warm, well wishes and support, without the blatant promo as well.

Ethics on the Job

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With smartphones and tablets, it’s almost impossible not to check in with your social media accounts multiple times a day. I lose track how much I check my Facebook – I leave it up all the time, so I guess you can say that I am always checking it. I obviously am not alone in this; everyone is checking in and logging in, if not on their computer at work, then certainly on their phones on (or not on) breaks. I think it’s clear that all of this social media usage can’t possibly be completely work related.

In my eyes, employers can handle this in 2 ways. 1) Block access to all social sites on work computers. However, this does not solve the problem of smart phone usage at work, and it is pretty hard to dictate cell phone usage, particularly on lunch or on breaks. Or 2) Allow social usage if it means that employees are promoting the company or brand.

I do not allow my employees (“the girls”) to use the work computer for anything personal. Because it is our main POS terminal, I want to limit the Internet use so that the terminal is always open and ready to accept a sale. I do regularly check the browser history to make sure that they are not using it, and have password protected several sites on the browser (even though I am sure they are fully capable of clearing the browser history). I feel that I am fully within my ethical rights to do so. However, I do allow them to bring in their personal tablets and smartphones – as long as they are not in use and locked when customers are in the store. As far as social media, I do not monitor their activity on their personal devices. That would be unethical and pretty nosy and invasive. I actually encourage them to check in at work and to use #thepinkpetticoat on their posts, to further market the brand. To me, this is a positive contribution to the store – showing employee engagement and a sense of team within our work place.

I have a very loose social media policy in place, and I do think the business would benefit from something more structured. I want to be represented well by my employees both when they are at work, and when they are not. I certainly don’t want social media ranting and raving to happen, either.

I think a set of guidelines would be a positive impact on the ethics of the store, as it would provide everyone a sense of assurance of what is appropriate and what is not. With that assurance, no one has to be worried that the posts are going to result in termination or a reprimanding. Instead, we can all focus on using social media to promote and be ambassadors for the brand.

 

Privacy

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I always find these discussions regarding journalistic ethics extremely interesting. With so many of my classmates holding a degree or extensive work experience in journalism, I feel a little lost in the crowd (considering I have neither a degree nor any experience in journalism). What is most interesting to me is the difference in opinions regarding ethics between those who work in journalism, and those who do not.

To me (the non-journalist), a private social media should be off limits to journalists who are seeking information or a scoop. However, a person who shares information publicly online is essentially waiving their right to any argument on why that information should now be private. I think part of being a good journalist is knowing when to respect the privacy of the subjects and how to approach stories in a respectful way (as in the lecture example of a murder investigation).

I keep tabs on my privacy settings on social sites pretty regularly. I also take it a step further by not posting anything personal or information that I do not want public – regardless of the privacy settings. On certain social sites, like Facebook, I post almost nothing. Other sites, like Instagram, where I jointly post with my business brand, I never share anything that I would not want made public. For example, I never add a location to my photos or add them to my photo map. This is partly because I never think to do so, and also because I do not want people to know my location. I have many followers that are not people that I personally know, and that is a risk that I am not willing to take.

As a general rule of thumb for reporters, I believe that private social media profiles should remain private. However, all social media users should operate under the knowledge that nothing is private once it is online – and that accepting friend requests from strangers compromises the privacy of your accounts, regardless of the settings.

Do you accept friend requests from strangers on your personal social sites?

Do you adjust your privacy settings to control what strangers or acquaintances can see (i.e. limited profile settings)?

Do you have any examples (personal or not) of journalists blurring the ethical lines online in order to get a story?

Data Mining

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Data mining, though sort of creepy in a very Big Brother way, is an unavoidable reality. While the idea of having my personal information gathered and analyzed is slightly concerning, it comes with the territory of living life online. The bottom line is that if you want to live “off the grid”, then you have to be completely unplugged. However, I do not think data mining is completely negative. It has its own value and can, in many cases, gather very helpful and valuable data.

Companies should address data mining in their terms of service, so that each user knows what specific information is being gathered, and for what it will be used. I also think users should have the option to decline having their information gathered.

From a retail standpoint, data mining can be incredible valuable. By collecting information on purchase history, I can (though I don’t) track customer behavior, buying trends and patterns, and effectively market to those who specifically shop online. You see this often on websites that ask you to make an account in order to make a purchase. This allows the site to track all your purchases and specifically market to you through email and social media based on these purchases. I recently browsed through J. Crew online, simply clicking on items that struck my interest, and never putting any of them in my cart. The following day, several of the items that I clicked on showed up in J. Crew advertisements on my Facebook newsfeed and in banner ads on websites I frequent, suggesting the items as “things I might like.” Coincidence? I think not.

 

 

Accuracy

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One of my biggest pet peeves about the instantaneousness of social media is the lack of accuracy. News outlets are more interested in being the first to break the story than to be accurately reporting the information. As a greater audience, the majority of people are more tolerant of speed over accuracy, simply accepting that details of stories change with each moment. But isn’t reliability and accuracy what makes a news outlet trustworthy?

I, personally, find it exhausting to read a report on Twitter, and then have to seek out verification on another, more accurate site. However, I am used to hearing multiple reports, full of “witness accounts” and hearsay and accepting it as fact.. .until they tell me otherwise. I believe when news organizations are live tweeting events and happenings, the ethical thing to do is to delete the inaccurate information previously posted. By deleting the posts, they aren’t necessarily trying to cover their tracks, but more so trying to eliminate confusion to readers who are late to the conversation and latest updates.

Even citizen journalists should take caution in reporting, or re-reporting information. Perhaps by making sure people know that the information is not official, or is hearsay, or is still developing. I don’t have a personal example to relate to the issue of accuracy, but it does remind me of a current event. George Zimmerman filed suit (part of which was recently dismissed) against NBC for reporting a modified 911 call and other information during his trial involving the Trayvon Martin that portrayed him as racist. Though this was a very polarizing case, the accuracy (and inaccuracy) of the reporting during the trial was a huge contribution to increased publicity and tension.

Have you ever retweeted or posted inaccurate information? Did you later delete it or post a retraction?

Do you accept inaccuracies with a grain of salt, or do you think there should be greater regulation on sensationalism in journalism?

Responding in Moderation

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Ugh, the dreaded negative feedback response.  This week, as an exercise in moderation, I am responding to two fictional Facebook posts.  While the language and approach of the posters in not exactly how I would go about things, I think as a social media manager, a tempered response in necessary and appropriate in both instances.  Effort is important, and occasionally, a response is all the poster is looking for (though doubtful in this case!)

Comment 1:

I am disgusted about the state of your store on 1467 Justin Kings Way. The counter was smeared in what looked like grease and the tables were full of trash and remains of meals. It makes me wonder what the state of your kitchen is?!!! Gross.”

I apologize that your experience was anything less than perfect at our Justin Kings Way store.  We pride ourselves on cleanliness, efficiency, and customer service – and the conditions you reported are simply unacceptable.  Rest assured that this is under investigation.  Please direct message me the best way to get in contact with you directly so that we can handle this matter.  Thank you for your patronage and for bringing this issue to our attention.

I hope that the customer understands that this is not how we run our stores, and that the store involved will be reprimanded.  By asking for their contact information, the opinion is valued and we have the opportunity to privately make amends for the unpleasant experience.

Comment 2:

Your reporting on the Middle East is biased in the extreme. You gave almost all your air time to spokespeople for the Israelis last night and there was no right to reply for the Palestinians. The conflict upsets me so much and your reporting of it, saddens me even more and makes me f**king furious.

XXX News provides unbiased and accurate information in all of our reports, and we stand behind our reports on the Middle East.  Though this is a controversial issue, we make every effort to represent both sides of the story.  As the story and situation continues to develop and unfold, we will continue to interview and air footage from representatives of both sides.  Please feel free to engage in healthy debate and conversation on our message boards.  However, please be aware that inappropriate language will result in a loss of posting privileges.

Directing the poster to the message board to continue the conversation helps them not feel dismissed, but removes the negative comments from the Facebook page.  I feel I stood up for the integrity of the news outlet, while offering to continue the conversation in a productive manner.  Addressing the language etiquette standards of the message board addresses the foul language without scolding the poster.

 

Moderation

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Moderation is tricky business:  finding the right balance of how to address our audience in the best way, identifying who they are, and keeping our ethical approach in tact, no matter what the situation.  Tailoring our approach to each situation requires a lot of thought and insight to the specific user and situation.  It can be complicated.

I previous worked at a Catholic church as the Director of Religious Education and Youth Ministry.  At this point in time, the church was under high scrutiny regarding creating safe environments for children.  Because of this, and understandably so, contact and interaction with the youth was highly regulated.  Staff and volunteer were required to attend special training, meet specific guidelines, and even undergo FBI background checks.  This was no joke, and as the DRE, it was part of my job to enforce and regulate these standards.  However, this also effected how I, as the acting youth minister, could also interact with my students.  There was no moderation, there was rigidity.  As someone who grew up very active in youth groups and church activities, it was difficult for me to see how the regulations took away from the fellowship in the youth group.  But as the DRE, I completely understood the logic and needs behind it.

I think of this time in my career often when engaging on social media now.  Too many rules and regulations, policies and canned responses do not lend to an engaging and constant stream of trustworthy conversation.  However, moderation is important to keep things appropriate and on track (especially in my new career in lingerie… quite the jump, I know).  Also, certain platforms, especially Twitter, really force you to keep the engagement to a minimum because of the character restrictions.

From a marketing standpoint, I do think that exercising moderation is key.  No one wants to be bombarded or annoyed with constant posts and “sell, sell, sell” tactics.  I sometimes post when angry (bad) but I also try to acknowledge and engage with amusing posts or ones that drive a bigger conversation (good).  I think focusing my posts will be an exercise in moderation for me, but an exercise that will definitely be worthwhile.

Do you find it more difficult to moderate your original posts or your responses?

Has there ever been a post you completely ignored, and why?

 

 

United Breaks Guitars

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The “United Breaks Guitars” is… hilarious. What a clever and fun way of expressing an issue! I am sure it caught United’s attention. The combination of his musical prowess, access to the means to create such a video, and his following really took this video to the next viral level. While all of those attributed to its creation and success, United could have handled things in a very different way to minimize the damage and turn the situation into an opportunity.

The effects of the video were compounded by United’s lack of social media presence at the time, and by their request for the video to be removed (Social Media 101: never delete negative feedback!). At that point, the video was a huge internet success and was not going anywhere.

Here are some of my ideas on how United could have managed the situation more efficiently:

1. Beef up the social media presence and work with customers to meet their needs. United apparently has a 24 hour window limit in which customers can report any dissatisfaction or issues. This seems to be an oddly small time frame. Sometimes our travel adventures last more than 24 hours (and that’s just time spent in airports and on planes). Sometimes our travels take us to places where internet is spotty and phone calls are expensive. Sometimes we just want to enjoy our vacations without spending a large amount of time on hold with customer service, etc. If United really wanted to appease customers and right their wrongs, then the 24-hour window would not be in place.

2. Use the video to their advantage. Despite the bad press of the video, it truly is clever, funny, and entertaining. United could make their own video parody of Carroll’s video, work the song into a new jingle for a commercial, or even hire Carroll to write another song for them/star in a commercial. Make amends with the guitar owners and explain the brand’s point of view and policies on these matters.

3. Make amends in a big way. From a PR standpoint, United could have done something really meaningful. For example: donate 100 new guitars to music centers for children, etc.

In general, I think that United could have handled the situation with a little more grace and a little more “human”. The situation, though clearly not ideal, was something that could be managed in a way that would have been positive for the company.