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.