How to post ethically as a social media journalist


A Pew Research Center study published in January 2021 reported 53% of U.S. adults get their news from social media. As a result, an interesting phenomenon has occurred in which individual social media users become pseudo-journalists.

Through actions as simple as tweeting a link to an article from a traditional news source or posting infographics on their Instagram story, anyone can become a journalist by reporting the news to their followers.

While social media is an excellent way to share information and spread awareness about current events, a problem arises when individuals practice journalism without considering journalistic ethics.

A very recent example of unethical journalism on social media is the recent influx of “war footage” from Ukraine uploaded to apps like TikTok. While there is plenty of legitimate footage of the situation uploaded to the internet by Ukrainians, there is also video game footage with edited audio of sirens and screaming being circulated on the app.

Fake live streams are another example of misinformation spread about the Russian invasion of Ukraine on social media is fake live streams. In one particular instance, an individual in the U.K. faked a live stream from an air raid in Ukraine.

While faking video from an ongoing invasion and humanitarian crisis is obviously unethical, spreading this misinformation — even unintentionally — is also unethical from a journalistic perspective. If you are sharing news on the internet, it is your responsibility to verify the information that you are spreading.

So, we’ve put together a quick crash course in journalistic ethics to help identify ethical sources and to serve as a rough guide for sharing information ethically. Journalists do not share a universal code of ethics in the same way doctors do, but there are certain common principles present in nearly every definition of journalistic integrity.

Ethical journalism is truthful and accurate. It is the responsibility of a journalist to do thorough research and verify the truthfulness of information through original sources.

Ethical journalism requires the journalist to provide context, to update and correct information as a story develops.

Ethical journalism means reporting the facts as they are, divorced from opinion and avoiding bias. Journalists should never distort facts — including facts presented visually in the form of an image or graphic.

Ethical journalism is rooted in accountability, specifically public accountability. First and foremost, journalists and news outlets owe a responsibility to the public. The public deserves transparency and to be treated with respect. In order to maintain journalistic integrity, journalists and news sources should act independently of the government or other major institutions.

As the role of social media in spreading the news on a global and domestic level continues to grow, it is important that individuals evaluate their news sources critically — whether that be the five o’clock evening news or a TikTok. Can we rely on our news sources to be truthful, accurate and accountable? If not, that news source should be discredited.