Media ethics are dying. Nowadays, people can report anything they wish to an audience of millions from the same devices they use to take photos of their soy-mocha lattes. To say it’s a bit chaotic may be a bit of an understatement.
What separates journalists from everyday people who now have the ability to report “news” anywhere at any time are supposed to be ethical guidelines.
The Code Of Ethics
The code of ethics breaks down into four major points.
Seeking the truth and reporting it
Meaning ethical journalism needs to be accurate and fair with as little-to-no bias as possible. It also requires journalists to be “honest and courageous in gathering, reporting, and interpreting information.”
This aspect is constantly overlooked in the age of social media. Journalists need to decipher how much harm a potential story can cause, and if it’s worthy of being published. It also requires knowing how to handle sensitive subject matters, such as ones involving victims of sex crimes or juveniles.
Journalism is on its own island. You’re not supposed to work with the police or other government authorities. You shouldn’t receive gifts, favors, or any special treatment from anyone (especially if you’re doing a story on said groups). Journalists are to serve the public, and acting in the best interest of the public requires journalism to be its own entity.
Be accountable and transparent
The last requirement of ethical journalism requires journalists to take responsibility for their work while also being as transparent as possible to the public. While some stories are rather straightforward, there are also murky, more ethical articles that require clear and honest explanations from journalists. This also requires journalists to expose organizations or individuals who aren’t acting within these guidelines.
Fake News Is Real
In 2018, Democrats and the media ran with a story that was a clear example of fake news.
The Associated Press published a tweet accusing former President Trump of referring to illegal immigrants as “animals.” When in actuality, the President was referring to notorious gang MS-13 as “animals.”
Trump declared at a White House roundtable: “You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals.” He said it moments after referring to the gang. The Associated Press fucked up and sent out a Tweet, saying he called all immigrants animals.
The story blew up
The New York Times tweeted, “Trump lashed out at undocumented immigrants during a White House meeting, calling those trying to breach the country’s borders ‘animals.’”
Additionally, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) declared, “When all of our great-great-grandparents came to America, they weren’t ‘animals,’ and these people aren’t either.”
The next morning the press was walking back their stories, and several outlets called them out for it.
“MS-13 is a demonic death cult. And President Trump has Nancy Pelosi defending its members’ humanity,” said Washington Post writer Marc Thiessen.
You Don’t Get a Do-Over in the Social Media Age
The damage was done once the AP, New York Times, CNN and other media outlets pressed publish on the Tweet…
Trump said it was “fake news” — and this time around, the Press agreed:
“AP has deleted a tweet from late Wednesday on Trump’s ‘animals’ comment about immigrants because it wasn’t made clear that he was speaking after a comment about gang members,” they said in a prepared statement.
There’s a lot at stake here for journalism. The two above tweets encapsulate it perfectly.
Once information is out in the open — from a trusted source like the AP no less — the damage is done. Readers buy into their narratives and look no further than the information that was provided to them.
Some inquisitive types may look farther into the info, but the data isn’t on their side.
Is Media Losing Its Credibility?
According to Pew Research, 18% of U.S. adults say they turn most to social media for political and election news. That’s lower than the share who use news websites and apps (25%), but about on par with the percent who say their primary pathway is cable television (16%) or local television (16%).
Moreover, Pew Research concludes that Americans who mainly get their news on social media are less engaged and knowledgeable.
Furthermore, another Pew study in 2016 showcased that 69% of people would like to see more diverse viewpoints in their online social circle, while 30% are okay with one-sidedness.
Speaking as a journalist who’s made mistakes in the past, we are human beings capable of overlooking anything. However, doing our due diligence is more critical than ever, especially if a story is going up on a social platform.
The former President’s notions of “Fake News” was given credibility in this instance. That’s gut-wrenching. Not because it’s coming from Trump, but because it means the media — which serves as the voice of the people as you may remember — is losing its credibility.
This is likely what led nearly 50% of the country to vote for Trump; because they feel as though they have no voice that represents them.
And as much as you might pull your hair out because of conservatives flocking to Parler, be happy that these groups will feel like their voices are being heard. The ability to expressing a dissenting opinion from your own is what prevents violence from breaking out in the first place.
Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. — JFK
Social media is terrifying. Not because it rots your brain or leads to addiction. Well, those things too. But what really scares me is we are clearly not ready for a tool as powerful and omnipresent as this.
If top professionals from the AP or New York Times can’t handle it, what makes us think an everyday person can handle a Twitter account?
Echo chambers are created for this very reason.
The original writers of the SPJ Ethics never envisioned a world with social media. They never saw a tool that could express an unedited opinion so fast and do so much harm in the process. In a way, social media posts probably require more attention than a piece written for online or print.
Unfortunately, ethics wasn’t made for the social media age. The line between what is a writer or journalist is being blurred by the second. As mentioned in the Trump case, this is why so many people feel so misinformed.
But seeing as social media isn’t going anywhere, the best we can do is continue to inform ourselves. This includes reading the news we may not agree with. We also should dig deeper into a story, even when we’re already satisfied as it plays into our narrative.
If we cannot do this, then social media will consume journalism — which will, in turn, destroy democracy.
Thank you for reading.
If you are interested to read more of my writings, you may read the following one published in The Masterpiece.