Yes, reporters are reading your FB posts (part two)

Last week’s column pointed out that despite the “private group” descriptor of many of the local “Folks” pages on Facebook, there can be no expectation of privacy, legally speaking. An interesting discussion came up recently on Wakefield Folks after a reader took issue with The Low Down quoting their post about skatepark etiquette, and we thought it would be good to clarify how reporters operate when it comes to this aspect of social media.


Facebook, Twitter, and the rest are definitely being read by reporters because they are great sources for story ideas and local reaction to news events. Journalists don’t have to seek permission to use comments and images on social media as long as we give credit to the author and source; in the industry it’s called “fair dealing.”


That said, while we can extract and publish such content without permission, the question of “should” is more nuanced.


As an article in J-Source (The Canadian Journalism Project) put it: “Journalists don’t have a legal obligation to contact social media users and ask them for permission, but there are compelling reasons to do it anyway. Like ethics and accuracy.” Sometimes there are reasons to check in, and in other cases, it’s not needed. Reporters all over are making such calls on a case-by-case basis.


A good example comes from the Canadian Press Stylebook: “It is OK to quote general comments from a Facebook site set up to mourn someone who has been murdered, but beware of quoting someone purporting to be the mother of the victim. Ask for a direct interview.”


In The Low Down article that prompted this column, we quoted someone asking a general question about how the community felt about the behaviour of young people at the skatepark. Again, Canadian Press says that’s like a modern day “person-on-the-street” reaction to a community issue and is OK to quote without permission. For the rest of the article, we bypassed all the other comments online and went to the president of the skateboarding association to quote an informed source on the issue.


The Low Down has guidelines when it comes to social media usage and it can be generally summed up as: 1. Accuracy first, speed second; 2. Always try to get permission.


The Low Down vets online sources the same way we would treat sources found any other way: we verify authenticity and do our fact-checking. And since it’s a small community where people feel the news more up-close-and-personal than in a bigger city, going forward we will make the extra effort to check in with the author before we cite their social media post, even if other media would deem it unnecessary. That said, in the name of “fair dealing” there are times we may have to go ahead without permission if it is important to the story. Like all news outlets, The Low Down will treat social media content usage on a “case-by-case” basis.


But the best rule of thumb for those on social media – concerns about reporters aside - remember what the lawyers of Facebook stated: “there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.” Think before you post.