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More issues related to quoting from social networking profiles

I wrote Wednesday about a social networking issue: [Should journalists quote from sources’ social media profiles?](

I had a few more thoughts to share that didn’t quite fit into that post, so I thought I’d file a kind of disjointed follow-up.

###The Heinous Crime Provision

First of all, media organizations already quote regularly from personal social media profiles — it just happens to occur most often, at least in my experience, when the person in question has committed some kind of horrible crime, like shooting up a crowded theater.

I’m not sure any of us watching at home really think of this kind of quoting at “not OK,” though we may think it isn’t strictly necessary. Still, in situations like that, the media-viewing public is thirsty for any information about the criminal it can get, and social media profiles provide a glimpse into the perp’s mind.

Does this kind of “mass murderer” provision filter down to the level of the average Facebook user who hasn’t committed an atrocity? These people don’t have the same weight of public scrutiny on them that high-profile criminals do, so do we treat their privacy differently? Are we treating the high profile criminal’s privacy with irresponsible recklessness? (Consider that most of this media scrutiny happens directly after the crime and before any sort of court proceedings have determined that person’s guilt.)

I don’t have answers for these questions, by the way. Sorry to disappoint.

###The Integrity of Quotes

Second, I keep coming back to this thing I wrote:

>Second, why would we necessarily give someone a chance to rephrase their wording for the media? If you see something interesting on a person’s Facebook profile and want to quote it but then you do decide to call the person first, what is he going to do? He’s going to reword himself, polish up the quote — make it media-pretty.
>I suppose it’s up to the reporter to decide whether it’s OK for the source to present a media-savvy front or to be quoted in situ. If the quote is worth quoting and it’s public, I’d say go use it.

We do this all the time already. When I worked in public relations at the local university, before rejoining the newspaper, we did it. We let sources edit and then OK their quotes.

Sometimes in the modern newsroom, we call sources before a story runs and read quotes back to them. This is done to make sure the quotes are accurate. The ethical reporter shouldn’t change a quote at a source’s request — probably — especially not if it is simply to make the source look better.

But what if the change the source requests improves the accuracy of the quote? What if changing one word is the difference between being wrong and right? Do you edit the existing quote to reflect the change or make them say it again? Is it enough for the source to say to you over the phone, “That quote you read me? Add in that one word and then consider that to be what I said.”?

Quotations are always tricky when the interview wasn’t recorded or when it was just you and the source in a one-on-one discussion. If a reporter has nothing but her notes as the record, then who is to say that when you sit down to write out that story that you got that source’s words *exactly* right? Add to this the fact that most people wouldn’t be able to tell you the precise words they spokes hours or days before.

With the social networking thing, you have a record of exactly what was said, and even if you call a source back and ask them about the thing they typed as a status update, all the pretty quotes they can give you over the phone doesn’t change the fact that they wrote it in the first place.

###But then again…

What if the source changes the privacy settings on the post in question after a journalist has seen it? Can they pull something back out of the public sphere after it has been seen?