Is sharing graphic photos ethical? Boston bombings victim weighs in

social media, ethics, graphic images, Jeff Bauman, Boston Marathon bombingsAfter the Boston Marathon bombings, many Americans took to social media to follow coverage of the attacks, and also to show support for the victims, their family and friends, and the city of Boston. In fact, just minutes after the bombings, “#PrayForBoston” was trending on Twitter. In the spirit of trying to get news out there and trying to show support for the city of Boston, many graphic photographs from the scene were shared on April 15 and the days following. Although those sharing the photos may have had good intentions, there are ethical implications to consider when sharing graphic images.

One of the images that went viral after the bombings showed a victim who lost his leg in the blast. The man has since been identified as Jeff Bauman. The photograph clearly shows Bauman’s face, so his family and friends could see it in their newsfeeds before they got any notification from Bauman himself. I couldn’t imagine finding out about my loved one in this manner.

Not only does the victim need to be taken into consideration, you also need to think about minors online and whether or not graphic images are appropriate for them to be viewing. Some may argue that if they’re online without parental supervision, they’re old enough to handle whatever content they see. Here’s my problem with that logic: Minors are going to find ways to get online without their parents knowledge, and I’m 25 and photos from Boston are hard for me to look at.

social media, ethics, graphic images, Jeff Bauman, Boston Marathon bombings

You could also make the argument that your social media followers are all adults. However, with the viral nature of social media (especially Twitter), the content you share could be seen by the world in mere minutes. If you wouldn’t want your child to see the image, I wouldn’t recommend sharing it on social media.

As much as we can all weigh in on how sharing graphic images is or isn’t ethical, I think the best point of view that we can receive is from the victim himself. One year after the attacks, Bauman was interviewed about his iconic photo. He said he wished that his parents hadn’t found out about his injuries from the photo, or seen him in that state. His mother searched for him for hours after the photo had gone viral. Bauman also said he wishes he wasn’t the face of the victims so he could recover in peace and at his own pace.

I’ve mainly been talking about the unethical nature of posting graphic photos, but Bauman points out another side to the issue. He said he’s no longer angry about the photo because the photographer was doing his job and was helping in his own way. He was showing the world the truth. He also points out that the photo isn’t about of the bombings or him being injured. The photo captures the heroes who helped save people that day.

News organizations are going to share graphic images, that’s the nature of news. Next time before you share an image, consider the people you could be impacting.


Social media and the Boston bombings

I was at work when bombs exploded in the streets of Boston during the city’s infamous marathon. As a runner myself, I had so many questions, but without access to a TV, I turned to Twitter for answers and updates. I wasn’t the only American who logged into a social media account for coverage on the Boston Marathon bombings. According to the Pew Research Center, a quarter of Americans received their information about the bombings from social media.

Social media is a great tool for news seekers, but it also has rapidly increased the flow of information, which can lead to more inaccuracies by news agencies online. Even CNN tweeted inaccurate information after the attacks on Boston. It’s no surprise that rapidly evolving situations can also lead to ethical concerns.

It was the Boston Marathon bombings that forced me to reevaluate the content that I share on social media. After the attacks, I retweeted a photo of a victim that included a heart-wrenching story. I later discovered that this information was completely made up. As sad as it is, there are people who try to capitalize on tragedies. If you’re going to share information that you find on social media, it’s best to make sure that it comes from a reliable source. Even reliable sources get it wrong sometimes, so do your own investigating before you share any content on social media.

Several broadcasters and companies were blamed for trying to capitalize on the Boston tragedy. One broadcaster posted a photo of one of the victims in his hospital bed on Facebook. He then asked his followers to “like” the photo to wish the boy a speedy recovery. Because I don’t know the broadcaster or his relationship to the victim, I can’t accurately speculate on his motive for posting the photo. If the post was his way of getting page likes, it’s obviously unethical. However, his post could have been to raise the boys spirits and to raise awareness (money) to help the victim. Only he knows his true intentions.

Ford also got put into the spotlight after the attacks. The car company posted the following image:

Boston Marathon bombings, social media, ethics, Ford

Many people scolded the company for using a tragedy to promote products. Once again, without being the one making decisions for Ford, I can’t really speculate on their intent. I think it would have been in better taste if the company had dropped the Ford logo in the corner and used an image of real first responders on the scene in Boston. This approach would have made it seem less like an advertisement, and more like a genuine thank you.

Social media at work – Is it ethical to log in when you’re on the clock?

social media, workplace, ethics, FacebookI check my Facebook account about a million times a day, so it’s not surprising to me that 72 percent of social media users that the National Business Ethics Survey polled, say they log into their social networks while they’re at work. Twenty-eight percent of the 72 percent said they spend an hour or more on social networks while they’re on the clock. One third of those people admitted that their social activity isn’t work related. Clearly, employers have their hands full with social media.

Several of the places that I have worked have handled the distraction of social media by blocking the sites on company computers. That was a pretty effective tactic until the invention of smart phones. They proceeded to tell employees they weren’t allowed to be on their personal phones, but I’ll admit that on lunch breaks or when there was a lull in the action I used my iPhone to check out what was happening on my Facebook or Instagram pages. Luckily now that I’m working in social media, I don’t have to try and hide my social media use!

It was pretty well known at one of my previous jobs that the employers were checking employees’ browser histories to see what websites they were spending time on. Is that invasive? Yes. Is it unethical? No. They’re paying you to do a job for them and I’m guessing your job description doesn’t include scrolling through the Facebook album of your friend’s baby shower! Not only are they paying you to get work done, the computer you work on belongs to them. They have the right to make sure that you’re using their property for the right reasons.

If you’re a manager or business owner, it’s important to have some type of social media policy in place. Be transparent with your employees and let them know what is and isn’t acceptable. Your policy should address social media use on and off the clock. You want your business to be well represented beyond the hours of nine and five. It’s expected that employees will have a life outside of the job, but remind them to think before they post on social media accounts because they represent the company.

Instead of viewing social media as a distraction, use it to your advantage. Set up a social media page regarding your social media policy. When employees have a question, they’ll know where to look. They’re much more likely to read it on the social sites where they’re already spending time, as opposed to a bulky packet (don’t kid yourself, they won’t read it!).

While it’s important to set clear guidelines, don’t make rules so strict that employees are afraid to spend time on social networks. Employees are great brand advocates. Think about how far your content could reach if your employees were sharing it with their network of friends. Encourage employees to follow and engage with the brand on social sites, and really use social media as an asset.

Social Media Privacy – The Power Is In Your Hands

Social Media Privacy Ethics JournalismThis week continues the debate on social media and privacy. It’s surprising to me that 13 million people are completely unaware of their Facebook privacy settings. If you’re going to maintain social media profiles, it’s important that you’re aware of who can see the information that you’re posting. I try to check in with my Facebook privacy settings somewhat regularly because the network is constantly evolving. In fact, I just adjusted my privacy settings on the network today.

Even though I’m well aware of the privacy settings of the social networks that I maintain, it seems as though I may be in the minority. We were asked what the social networks could do to help more users to understand their own level of control over their information, but I wonder if that’s even their job. It’s our information and reputations, shouldn’t we be the ones seeking out our privacy settings?

Sure it would be helpful for the networks to inform users how they can manage their privacy settings, but I don’t think that they’re doing anything ethically wrong by not going out of their way to insure that every user is aware of how much of their information is being seen by the world. They could highlight it in the terms and conditions when users are signing up for an account, but honestly, how many users are actually reading through the agreements that they sign? The power lies in the hands of the users.

Professor Norm Lewis raises some interesting questions about whether or not it’s ethical to approach potential interviewees on social media without identifying your intentions. Having served as an editor for a daily newspaper, I can see both sides of this issue. I know the pressures that exist in the newsroom when everyone is trying to break the next big story, but I can appreciate interviewees wishing to have privacy on their social media networks.

Social media definitely blurs the lines a bit of what is acceptable when approaching a potential interviewee. Is approaching a potential interviewee on Facebook or Twitter evasive? Yes. Is it unethical to approach them via social media or republish content from their social pages? No. It’s the social media user’s responsibility to understand their privacy settings. If they don’t want the world to see what they’re posting, they have the capability to limit who can see their post…better yet, they can choose not to post about certain events at all! If an event is truly private, I’m not going to blast about it on social media.

As a journalist, I’ve used social media to contact and research potential story leads or subject matters. If they have a provocative and useful quote on their page, that’s fair game. That being said, I also try to respect peoples’ privacy on social sites. If they have their page set to private, I’ll send them a message explaining who I am, and what my intentions are. It’s all about finding the right balance.

Online Accuracy – You’re only as good as your word

Whether you’re conducting business in an office, or you’re conducting business online, accuracy is essential to success. As a former newspaper editor, I know that you’re only as good as your word. From the standpoint of a consumer, I wouldn’t want to share the content or follow an organization that wasn’t posting accurate information on social media. I certainly wouldn’t want to make purchases from an organization that I didn’t trust.

Social media (especially Twitter) has sped up the rate at which people consume news and information, and that makes fact checking critical. News outlets are always trying to be the first to break a big story, but that doesn’t mean that accuracy can go out the window. Although it didn’t happen on social media, one news organization that was so focused on breaking a story and didn’t do enough fact checking, was KTVU News after the Asiana plane crash.

As funny as this mistake was, KTVU lost a lot of credibility after the incident. As much credit as a news organization might gain from breaking a story, all credibility is lost if that story is inaccurate. The audience expects news organizations to be accurate. It wouldn’t have taken much work or time for KTVU to fact check the information that they received, and if they had, they might not be the laughing stock of the entire world.

If any type of organization posts information on social media that turns out to be false, I don’t think it’s unethical for them to delete that post. Although organizations should aim to be transparent and should acknowledge their mistakes, if they leave the inaccurate information on their social media pages, people who are unaware of the situation may share and spread that false information. By deleting the inaccurate post, acknowledging their mistakes, and providing followers with accurate information, an organization can get back into the good graces of their consumers. Deleting a false post can actually show an organization’s followers that they care about the accuracy of the information that they’re spreading.

If I were the social media manager for KTVU and I had posted the inaccurate information on our social media pages, I think it would be unethical not to delete the post. As humorous as the mistake was, people died in the crash. Leaving the post up would be in bad taste for the families that lost a loved one in the crash because to them it’s not a joke.


Social Media Moderation

social media moderationIf your brand has a presence on social media networks, you are most likely going to get a fair share of feedback, both positive and negative. If you’re in charge of monitoring the brand’s social pages, it’s your job to moderate the conversations, and determine if a comment is out of line and needs to be removed from the site. As easy as it would be to delete any criticism of the brand, you have to maintain a transparency with customers so they continue to trust and follow the brand.

A social media manager’s job can be made easier with moderating policies or guidelines. Unfortunately, not every brand (including my own) has such a policy in place. It’s left to my discretion to choose how to respond to customers’ comments. Fortunately, I have yet to run into any major problems. The only time I have ever deleted a post, was when it was spam. The rest of the posts I leave out there for the world to see. I “like” and acknowledge on the praises on Facebook, answer any questions a customer may post, and try to help customers who may have some discrepancy with the brand or its social media.

Before you post or moderate any social pages, you have to be aware of the norms and behaviors of each different network. You most likely wouldn’t share the content that you post on LinkedIn, with your Facebook followers. While that is an obvious example, there are plenty of other examples out there. There are general norms of each network, but how a company approaches those networks, is going to differ from each different brand or person.

In my personal experience and usage, I share more personal posts and articles with my Facebook community. My Facebook followers are made up of mainly family and friends, so I have a level of comfort when posting on the network. I don’t think as much or worry how I’m going to be perceived because my followers all know me pretty well.

More professionals and colleagues follow me on Twitter, so it’s a completely different vibe. It’s a way more casual version of LinkedIn. I try to share professionally-related content, but I do it in a more fun, and trendier way. I love a good hashtag! I use more abbreviations or jargon because Twitter only allows so many characters. I also allow more of my humor and personality to shine on Twitter.

I view both Instagram and Pinterest in the same light in terms of how I moderate my pages. Both networks allow me to post more creatively. I think brands have the same advantage when using these networks (at least if they’re using them correctly!). These networks allow a brand or individual to reflect who they are or who they want to be. For brands that are struggling to bridge the gap between being professional and human, these networks could help you accomplish that.

Online Reputation Management: Listening May Have Prevented United Crisis

When Canadian singer Dave Carroll boarded a United Airlines flight, he faced a musician’s worst nightmare: Baggage handlers broke his Taylor acoustic guitar. After a year of failed attempts of trying to get some compensation from United, Carroll used his singing skills to finally get noticed. Carroll’s YouTube video “United Breaks Guitars” has received over 14 million views, and its immense popularity created a crisis situation for United Airlines. Today, many online reputation managers use “United Breaks Guitars” as a case study for how a brand should respond in a similar situation.

If I were United’s Online Reputation Manager and Carroll had reached out to me via social media, I would have responded to his complaint immediately. A timely and compassionate response can often turn the tide in a social media complaint. Many times customers just want to feel like they have been acknowledged, so a response could prevent a complaint from turning into a full-blown crisis. It’s important to have a time frame for social media responses in place. It maybe different for every company, but for an airline, I would expect a customer to have a response within a couple hours of making a complaint or inquiry.

United Breaks Guitars, online reputation management, social media, Crisis management, United Airlines

Even if Carroll had taken to other methods of communication and I was unaware of his complaint until the YouTube video was produced, I would have used social media listening tools (Google Alerts) so I would have known that a complaint was out there. Once again, if United had been listening and responded to the video in a timely fashion, some of the backlash may have been avoided.

If I wasn’t using social listening tools and was completely blindsided by Carroll’s video, then I would go into crisis management mode. I would start by releasing a press release apologizing to Carroll that his complaint hadn’t been resolved. I would iterate that his experience with United was not the typical customer experience and it wasn’t the standard of customer satisfaction that United hoped to achieve. I would then assure Carroll and all other customers that their satisfaction was important to the United brand, and the brand would do everything in its power to rectify the situation. I would share a link to the press release on all of United’s social media pages.

After releasing the press release, I would create a YouTube video in response to Carroll’s video. Once again, I would apologize for his negative experience and say that it’s not the typical United experience. A simple apology and acknowledging mistakes can make a brand appear more human, and can prevent fallout from a crisis scenario. I would also highlight what the brand strives to provide in terms of customer experience to put a positive light back on the brand. Finally, I would let Carroll and all other customers know how we planned to rectify the situation. This transparency goes a long ways with customers.

Great customer service doesn’t stop after the initial response. I would check in with Carroll via social media to make sure the situation had been resolved. These continued interactions show your customers that their service and happiness really is important to the brand. Had United followed these steps, some of the crisis fallout could have been avoided.