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Social Media and Journalistic Ethics

The Council for Mass Media in Finland carried out a research project on the social-media-related rulings of the European media councils. The study analysed a total of 250 resolutions made by seven European media councils over a ten-year period. The report highlights the spectrum of ethical issues related to the use of social media as both a source and publishing platform of journalism.

Unarguably one of the most difficult issues for the media councils has been where to draw the boundaries of their own authority in relation to social media. Thus far, European media councils have taken somewhat different approaches to what type of social media content they consider within their remit: while some councils only accept complaints about content posted on the media outlets’ official accounts, other councils also assess posts by individual journalists.

Some of the complaints handled by the media councils are related to new phenomena and forms of journalism enabled by social media. The issues discussed include, among other things, ethical considerations related to live reporting, sponsored content, and the promotion of journalistic content in the social media environment. Moreover, among the key questions are how corrections should be made efficiently on different social media platforms, and how media outlets should keep their readers’ comment sections under control on social media.

As for the use of social media as a source of journalism, the questions that arise are primarily related to the conditions under which journalists can approach people on social media or use their social media pictures and posts without violating their privacy.

Although the media councils have come to similar conclusions in many cases, they have also adopted different principles on some ethical issues, as illustrated by the numerous examples presented in the report. The report is intended to help councils learn and be inspired by each other’s decisions and insights in the spirit of sharing best practices. Moreover, it provides insight into current ethical issues related to journalism and social media for everyone interested in these questions and journalistic self-regulation.

This study has been conducted by the Council for Mass Media in Finland as part of the Media Councils in the Digital Age #3 project co-funded by the European Commission.

Read the full report:

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