You have an obligation to be truthful online

Because of the Internet and text messaging, it has never been easier to share information – or misinformation.

Also because of the Internet and text messaging, we’ve all become mass communicators. This isn’t the same as passing around a Christmas letter to the family, sending cards to friends or showing a video of the company picnic at a gathering of co-workers. Posting a blog is publishing. Posting a Facebook status update is publishing. Posting a video on YouTube is broadcasting. Yes, it is. You may have set your privacy settings so that only your friends can see what you have published or broadcast, but they have the ability to cut and paste your ideas into their own publications or broadcasts.

And because of all of the aforementioned, you have an obligation in all of your publishing and broadcasting to be truthful – that includes what you forward. I’m not talking about jokes or satire. I’m talking about “Here’s an article from The New York Times” you are sharing because you saw it on someone else’s page – did you make sure it really is from The New York Times? Did you take 15 seconds or less to cut one sentence from the article and paste it into Google or Bing and to see what comes up – a NYT link or a Snopes article debunking the story? (I timed it – it really does take just 15 seconds or less).

You don’t have to be a journalist to have ethics. And you still get to post all sorts of opinions and thoughts and dreams and hopes and fears and jokes and pretty pictures wherever you like, however you like, to whomever you like. But take just 15 seconds or less before you post that amazing story about a boy with cancer or a heroic dog or some outrageous action or comment by someone you don’t like, to make sure it’s true.

What are the consequences of NOT being a responsible citizen of cyberspace? These:

  • You cast doubt on everything you say, once people start to figure out they can’t trust something you post online.
  • You can be seen as careless, once people start to realize you didn’t verify an article before you posted it, an article they initially believed.
  • It’s disrespectful to your network – shouldn’t friends, family and colleagues expect you to respect them enough to verify the information you share with them?
  • You cast doubt on news that IS true. What if there really is a kid with cancer who needs donations, but people don’t believe it because they know that a story you posted about a kid with cancer wasn’t true?

Do you really want the to be associated with untrustworthiness and carelessness? Don’t your friends and family deserve more?

What to do when you find out something you posted is not true? Take it down and replace it with correct information, along with an apology.

I’ve posted information a few times that I thought was true and that turned out not to be. As a trained journalist, I was mortified by my carelessness. I try to use each of those experiences to be a more responsible publisher and broadcaster. Because that’s what my friends, family and colleagues deserve from me.

Related subjects:

Folklore / text messaging interfering with development, aid/relief & public health initiatives

Rampant misinformation online re: Mumbai (from the archives)

Myths aren’t just annoying – they promote hatred

Citizen journalism/crowd-sourcing gone wrong?

Social media: cutting both ways since the 1990s

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *