Warning about ‘need for speed’

Warning about ‘need for speed’Sydney Corcoran is comforted by a stranger as she lays injured. IMAGE: John Tlumacki, Boston Globe

Currently, there is no difference between media laws that apply to traditional media and the media laws that apply to publishing online and through social media.

Gadens Lawyers partner and media law expert Roger Blow said journalists need to be particularly careful with the harsher demands of a 24-hour news cycle.

“Given the speed at which media now operates, it’s a natural reaction for journalists to try to get the stories out quicker,” Mr Blow said.

“Journalists should be aware that there is no differentiation with respect to potential issues like defamation when publishing to social media, online or print.

“When they’re posting something online, they’re being judged to the same legal standard as they would be if they were putting the same content into a hard-copy publication.”

Griffith University lecturer and media law researcher Professor Mark Pearson said journalists’ checking practices shouldn’t change just because they’re writing online.

“If in doubt, leave it out,” he said.

“They need to be just as wary of the legal pitfalls of publishing on their websites and social media as they were about traditional media, but they need to make those decisions or take that advice much more quickly in an instant news environment.”

Morality and common sense are the biggest things that journalists have to take into account when using social media, according to Mr Blow.

He said the days following Boston bombings in April provided examples of the negative consequences of hasty and misguided social media posts.

“There was one Facebook post that used a photo allegedly of a man crouched over a girl that he had been waiting to propose to when she finished the marathon” he said.

“It ended up being a completely fabricated story by someone who I assume just wanted to get some attention by having a post go viral.”

The heart-wrenching story behind the photo was proven false, but not before being seen by millions of people online.

After the initial reactions to the blasts, online forums and community groups such as 4chan and Reddit took it upon themselves to try and identify the suspects responsible for the bombs.

Users incorrectly identified a number of suspects and circulated their names on Twitter, including Salah Eddin Barhoum and Yassine Zaime, who were later plastered across the New York Post’s front page under the headline ‘Bag men’.

While Reddit apologised for its inaction in shutting down the discussion about potential suspects, the New York Post said it stuck by its story.

The story in itself did not name the two young men involved, but insinuated the two were involved.

The father of one of the teenagers involved is now seeking legal advice about the matter.

Mr Blow said that despite the falsities that emerged after the event, it was also a good example of how social media can work.

“It was the first time I’ve seen police agencies and the mainstream media openly acknowledging the importance of citizen journalists in assisting with the investigation into a major disaster,” he said.

Closer to home, Twitter again played a major role during the non-event of the March leadership spill.

A fake Kevin Rudd Twitter account confirmed Mr Rudd was going to stand against Prime Minister Julia Gillard, which was then retweeted by Senator Ursula Stephens, as well as some members of the media.

“In hindsight, that’s an example of journalists not doing their homework and trying to shoot first because it was such a big story,” Mr Blow said.

“People won’t remember the fact you were first – they’re more inclined to remember that you were wrong.”

He said harsher deadlines and more pressure would inevitably lead to journalists making mistakes.

“You cannot verify sources and achieve the same quality of reporting in one hour as you can in 10 hours,” Mr Blow said.

“That’s not just a legal question. When dealing with sensitive stories involving victims, there’s also a moral obligation to get it right.”

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