DISCUSSION: When Do You Twitter?

Hey Multimediaites —

We’ve talked a bit about how Twitter is used in sharing stories and in breaking news events.  But, are there ethical guidelines.  Should you Twitter a funeral?

The decision by the Rocky Mountain News to twitter a funeral last year drew considerable criticism.  Others defended the decision.

The surgeon tweeting from the operating room is in a different category, given that’s it’s not journalism.

But, journalistically speaking, what are the boundaries?  Should there be boundaries?  Are there ethical guidelines to follow here?

Weigh in on the comments board with your thoughts.

Also, here’s a good guide on how to Twitter from Ellyn Angelotti at Poynter.


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17 Responses to DISCUSSION: When Do You Twitter?

  1. stephaniemcpherson says:

    I still need to be convinced when it comes to Twitter. I completely agree with the criticisms of the Rocky Mountain News. Twitter has no place at a funeral. I understand that there were reporters at the funeral, and there would be a story in the paper regarding the events of the funeral, but there’s something disrespectful about typing and posting during this very personal event.

    Twitter, to me, lacks the credibility that is essential in good journalism. Stories with anonymous sources are sometimes considered unacceptable – Twitter posts have no sources, other than 140 characters that readers are supposed to take on faith. The idea of crowdsourcing with Twitter seems okay, but even then, how do you know who is responding to the question? Maybe I don’t yet understand the point of the site, but there is a level of anonymity with Twitter that makes me uncomfortable in reporting and accepting posts as truths.

  2. The problem with Twitter is that whether you are using a phone or computer, people don’t know that’s what you are doing, even if you are a journalist. Clicking away at a computer or phone looks rude. Twitter feeds themselves are not disrespectful or trivializing . As for the doctor… the fact that a doctor is multitasking while performing a procedure makes me feel uneasy. Why not have a promissing intern Twitter what the doctor is saying and doing?

    As for ethics, it will be a matter of time before Twitter is fully accepted and understood.

  3. I would never go so far as to Twitter a funeral. I think Twitter is a great tool for breaking news…a funeral is something that can be attended by a journalist who later writes down what he or she saw. The use of a cell phone in a funeral is not accepted by the public, even if it is for a innocent purpose as reporting.
    I thought Samuel Freedman (quoted in the abcnews article) put it best: “…reporters are often in the uncomfortable position of reporting from settings where people are in great grief…These situations call for the greatest understanding and discretion on the part of the reporter.”
    I can understand that people who aren’t able to attend the funeral would want to know what happened, but that can be told in the form of a article after the fact.
    I think twittering in the operating room is NOT okay.

  4. I understand what it is like being in a setting where everyone around you thinks you are disrespectfully text messaging. It wasn’t the same thing as doing it during a funeral, but I definitely got many weird looks both before and after the Vassell hearing. I do however find it odd that people who text incessantly during classes, I am generalizing here based on three semesters at UMass, would even consider the fact that constantly being attached to your phone could be deemed disrespectful in any setting. I am sure there are people out there who sent a personal text during a distant aunt’s funeral.
    I am not sure why the Rockey Mountain News decided to cover this event in the manner that they did beyond kitsch value and pushing the envelope of new technology, but the fact they did not warrant the outrage. In the ABC News piece, Samuel Freedman claimed that twittering the event was “equivalent to a TV journalist doing stand-up in the middle of a funeral.” Wrong. I highly doubt family members were distracted during their time of grief by a man typing into his cell phone. Also, he goes on to say, “A memorial service for a murdered, for a slain child is not a fit subject for play-by-play updates.” That seems to imply that if the funeral was for an elderly person who died of natural causes, it would be alright to tweet the event. Problem being, everyday events like that do not hold the public’s interest as much as the funeral of a slain 3 year-old and would not be considered as newsworthy.
    The mortuary manager’s comments are even more asinine, suggesting that there is no way to detect this new technology or not permit it when the family states they don’t want anyone in the chapel. The boy’s parents allowed the media to cover the event, and that is what they did. I have no problem with it.
    When it comes to the surgeon’s twitter habits, beyond the ew factor, there is no problem with it. The patient, I assume, gave consent and the person doing the surgery was not the one doing the updates. That would require a level of multi-tasking I would not be comfortable with.

  5. emilygrund says:

    Twitter should have the same ethical boundaries as normal journalism plus some. Twittering from a phone, I think, should only be used for breaking news. A story about a funeral can wait. People don’t need to be glued to their computers to read that a family is mourning. It’s pretty obvious what goes on at a funeral.

    Twittering the Oscars I thought in some instances could be neat. If you can’t watch them but don’t want to wait till the next day to find out who the winners are, it could be fun to follow the Oscar tweets.

    It’s very easy to make errors when Twittering because it’s at such a fast pace if you’re following an event. That is why I think unless something is absolutely necessary to hear about immediately, it can wait the extra bit of time to edit and at least post to a blog.

  6. ciscoishere says:

    I think that journalistic outlets made possible by Twitter are pretty cool. It uses at things like surgery to keep the other doctors posted and up to date, as well as in scenarios like trials is pretty nifty. For the most part, I’d be fine just reading the article or blog post but I can’t fairly say that there would never be an event that I wouldn’t be interested in seeing Twittered but for the most part, I doubt it.
    In regard to the funeral being twittered, do I think this is morally wrong? No. If someone wished that they could go to the funeral for somebody that they cared about, it can be a nice outlet to take the time at the office or wherever they are check up on the Twitter. It seems reasonable to me, but I still don’t like it. If someone wishes to be a part of the funeral, in spirit rather than in body, they can find their own way to do it – they should need to rely on internet postings to feel the connection.

  7. kkoczwara says:

    Twittering a funeral is a low point in the the “Tweeting” world. There are still moral and ethical rules of the dead that should be followed. But if Twitter is used properly with some sort of journalistic and human integrity it can be a great tool. I am not a fan of the posts such as “I am going to the bathroom,” or the likes. But at the same time no one should be stopped from ‘tweeting’ something offensive that is said in the halls of a public meeting or board meeting. Those are open forums that need to be reported on and kept up to date for the better good of the people living in the areas that are being governed. In fact I may start ‘tweeting’ the SGA meetings just for this reason (that would be in an ideal world where I had enough time to do that) or the Daily Collegian’s meetings (if only they were interesting).

    The other problem with Twitter becomes the responsibility aspect of what is being said and who is saying it. It is a blank screen and can be a lie. I trust who I know on there and who have a backing by a company like the Times or the Post. Because behind a computer screen someone can hide and post things that are far from true or with a slant that I cannot account for because I do not know their affiliation.

  8. In response Keith Shannon, the Vassell hearing is an interesting thing to cover. The idea of court is generally attractive to the public, so I’m sure many people who can’t make it in would want to hear what’s going on inside. However, I think some courts have extremely strict rules about not allowing cellular phones. I wonder if this could change in the future – at least for journalists. But, I’m not surprised you or anyone else trying to use their phone would get weird looks.

  9. Lucas Correia says:

    Personally, I fail to see the value that Twitter holds for journalists. The only thing it can really be used for is breaking news. But even so, how do you know it’s reliable and accurate?

    Even though news is meant to be concise and easy to understand, I don’t think limiting information to 140-character bits can really help in the long run. Reporters are also meant to give as much helpful and descriptive details as possible, but if he or she is working under pressure to get a breaking story out, something is bound to be missed.

    In that same sense, Twitter can also hinder on a writer’s creativity and personal style. With a huge movement from print to online content, standards should not be dropping, but I can’t shake the feeling that they are, especially since the 24-hour news cycle and instant communication creates so much demand.

    Overall, I think Twitter isn’t helping anyone in the long run, except for people who just want to broadcast their lives to the world as quickly as possible.

  10. Stephanie McPherson says:

    Keith, I totally disagree with your whole “disrespectful texting” argument. It’s making unfair generalizations. Just because a few people text during class doesn’t mean everyone does it, and it also doesn’t mean that posting to Twitter during a funeral is at all acceptable. Yes, maybe the family consented, but I agree with what Emily said in that everyone knows what goes on at a funeral. Twittering from a trial is different, because there are interesting pieces of information being revealed, and there is actually action. At a funeral, there are prayers and tears and mourning that I find unnecessary to broadcast in real time, even if it will be in an article the next day.

  11. There are always boundaries when it comes to journalism, the difficulty with twitter is that it is such a new form of communication and thus reporters are more likely to be somewhat reckless in what they post.

    When I was in Washington DC for the inauguration, I got a text message from the Washington Post’s twitter feed telling me that one of the subways had been shut down because someone had fallen onto the tracks and died. That is powerful news and when I told my friends, the strangers ahead of me in line looked back at me very concerned. Now, I wouldn’t have believed it if it hadn’t been from the Washington Post, but as it was, I did believe it. Now, that incident has made it clear to me that when it comes to social media, even trusted news organizations are no longer all that accurate. (For what it’s worth, an elderly woman had fallen on to the tracks, but only had a couple of bumps and bruises.)

    Anyway, I think the argument is moot at this point. Twitter is a throwback to the old dot-com bubble of the early 2000s. It relies solely on capital investment for its funding and has no way to raise funds from its users. It is but a precursor to another technology that will further enhance it. It will be as friendster is to facebook.

  12. Stephanie-
    Twitter posts are not totally anonymous. They can be tracked back to the “tweeter’s” profile page that contains a short bio and gives some perspective into the source of the information. Also, many posts contain links to larger stories, usually connected to a news Web site or blog post.

  13. Ted Rogers says:

    Ah, Journalism ethics brought into the web 2.0 world of technology. Is there anything less morally confusing? Personally, I would say that twittering a funeral wasn’t a lapse in ethical considerations, although it may have been a little distasteful.

    Why do I think that twittering a funeral was morally sound? For the same reason I think traditionally covering a funeral is morally sound, and why journalists have been doing that since forever.

    The regular rules still apply. It would be important to give the grievers emotional and physical space for the entire event. And while yes, Twittering a funeral is something I would be uncomfortable with, I think it is because the technology is more emotionally detached, not because it is inherently disrespectful towards the departed and the people they knew in life.

  14. After hearing/reading more about the surgery that was Twittered, I have to clarify my previous thoughts. If the patient allows it, then by all means Twitter the surgery. I understand now that it was not the surgeon who was Twittering, it was another doctor typing the surgeon’s remarks. As long as this practice doesn’t interfere with the patient’s health, I believe it is okay. I can imagine reading this Twitter feed would be fascinating. I still believe there are ethical issues when it comes to funerals.

  15. Alyssa says:

    A recent user of Twitter, I have not fully come to understand its purpose yet. After using it the last couple of weeks, I have seen that it can be useful at certain times, like with news updates, but a lot of the posts I see are like “Facebook” updates, just telling me what a person is doing or feeling at that particular time.

    As for Twittering a funeral, I think that it is wrong. It is disrespectful to the family to sit there, whether it be on a computer or on a telephone, and write step by step what is going on. I think it is okay to write an article about the funeral, but after it has ended. I don’t see the urgency of having to update a funeral minute by minute. One of the last things I would do at a funeral is whip out my phone and start texting.

    As for Twittering a surgery, I don’t think this is quite as bad, but only if the person who is performing the surgery is not the one Twittering. I could see how this could be useful to, say, medical students, who maybe couldn’t be in the operating room but are getting a feel of how the surgery will go.

    Like any new form of electronic media, there are kinks that need to worked out and ethical boundaries that are going to be pushed. Time will only tell how these issues will be worked out.

  16. Michael Messina says:

    I’m still fairly new to Twitter. Last Sunday was actually the first time I’ve extensively used the program – to Twitter the Oscars. I found it pretty cool how I could see all the updates my classmates were posting.

    I agree that Twitter should have some ethical guidelines with it. Twitter is a great way to cover breaking news because you can constantly update it, but Twittering a funeral doesn’t seem very moralistic. Many may consider it to be rather insulting.

    I’m not sure where this is going, but perhaps someday there will be guidelines. If people continue to Twitter things like funerals, it will only be a matter of time before someone gets really upset and protest its use.

  17. emilygrund says:

    I agree with Stephanie when she said: “Twitter, to me, lacks the credibility that is essential in good journalism.” I also need convincing of Twitter. I suppose linked headlines is a good way to get information across in Twitter, but we already have google and RSS feeds for that.

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