Is Facebook Safe for Journalists?

Q. I’m seeking some professional advice related to Facebook, and I noticed that you’ve written about the subject on Poynter’s Web site.

So here’s my story:

I recently created a Facebook account. I use it if I need to scan Facebook for local kids/people for a story related to Web stuff/privacy/social networking issues, etc. So almost immediately a couple of former sources found my page and wanted to be friends. It struck me that this could be a good tool for keeping in touch with sources and finding new ones — one high schooler I once interviewed has dozens of other local high schoolers that he’s friends with whom I now have access to via Facebook.

The issue is this: Some of my personal friends have found the profile too. How much should I be worried about personal friends/information making it onto the site? Am I just being overly paranoid? Should I create a different, personal Facebook page for them — after all, the Web site is a good means for keeping in touch with them, too.

Any suggestions?

Cautious Friend

A. I’ll set aside my discomfort of “friending” sources as being online terminology. Social networking sites can be valuable reporting tools.

But I am very concerned by what I see on a small number of journalists’ and journalism students’ Facebook accounts and in their Twitter tweets. We will see their material plastered all over the Web or see someone get fired.

I do not need to know when they have hangovers, see them getting wasted, learn the intimate details of their personal lives, or know their religion and politics.

This can damage a person’s reputation with an editor, but it can reflect poorly on all of us with sources. We need to use discretion.

Facebook, MySpace and Twitter are too porous to protect reputations, and emerging services like PeekYou can cause us to inadvertently open ourselves to trouble. Blogs offer even less of a firewall. All are valuable tools, though.

Having more than one online persona is no protection and might even encourage you to slack off.

Keep one profile and keep it professional — even if it makes you seem a little boring.

What do you think? What rules do you follow for safe social networking? Join the discussion by clicking on Add Your Comments.


Coming Thursday: Voting, donating, registering for a political party: She wonders how far journalists can go.


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