Saturday, October 20, 2018

To combat fake news, try to correct it when you see it


During the second week of September, I started to receive messages from former students, colleagues and friends letting me know that an old video of me was making the rounds as part of an online article about the top 10 colleges for writers in 2018. When I went to the link they'd included in their messages, I scrolled through the post, which listed the best colleges in reverse order. There's no indication how the list was determined.

Kenyon College clocked in as the ninth best college for writing and was accompanied by a video of one of its alumni, the writer John Green extolling the virtues of the place. At No. 6, Emory University, a video of Associate Professor Jericho Brown's TEDx Emory talk on the art of words leads the entry. And there, sure enough, right atop the entry for Emerson College, what the writer of the piece indicated was the No. 1 college for writing in the United States, was a 2 minute, 10 second video of me posted eight years ago to YouTube.

While John Green was mentioned in the write-up for Kenyon, neither Professor Brown nor I were in the write-ups for Emerson. It appeared that the writer or an editor had scoured the web for videos after the piece itself was written. Fair enough.

But while Professor Brown appears to still be on thefaculty of Emory, I left Emerson in August 2011, something that the writer and editor could easily have known if they'd checked the online directory or faculty listings for Emerson.

There's nothing I say in the video that I still don't believe. Emerson was a great place to teach and it still does have a unique writing, literature and publishing department. It's hardly likely that any reader of the piece would choose to attend Emerson because I happened to speak to them through their computer or smartphone as they read the list. It's equally unlikely that riches will befall me because any viewers mistakenly think I'm still affiliated with what the site deems to be the best in the land.

But to any viewer of the video, it appears I'm still on the faculty there, and that would be incorrect.

I didn't post the video nor did I write the article, but when we find information about us that isn't accurate, even if it presents us in a good light, do we have an obligation to try to correct it?

I believe it's the right thing to do. And I believe the writer or editor has the obligation to correct the error and ideally run a note indicating that the piece had been corrected.

The day after I saw the piece, almost a month ago now, I emailed the writer of the post thanking her for including Emerson on her top 10 list but letting her know that I hadn't taught at Emerson for going on eight years. I never heard back, and as I write this column, the video still remains on an article that's been shared 711 times.

If we want to read accurate information, then we have an obligation to let providers of that information know when they got something wrong. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2018 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.



Sunday, October 14, 2018

Seek permission to post images to social media before assuming it's OK


Arlene, a woman from Boston whose real name is not Arlene, was invited to attend a gathering of community organizations in her area. The gathering was being held in the backyard of a private residence not far from where Arlene lives.

For many years Arlene has wanted to get more involved in her community so she was glad to attend the gathering. When she arrived, a sign directed her to a sizeable backyard where the event was to occur. She was asked to fill out and put on a name tag so others in attendance would know who she was. She gladly complied.

After some small talk and the partaking of some tasty snacks provided by the host, the speakers from the various organizations spoke to the assembled group about their missions and what opportunities there were for people to get involved.

It was an enjoyable event, Arlene writes. She gathered some literature on some of the organizations so she could follow up. One representative even gave her a T-shirt on her way out.

But Arlene was surprised a few days later when a friend of hers told her she had seen her photo posted on someone's social media site, which was accessible for the general public to see. She emailed Arlene a link to the post and sure enough there she was standing in the backyard with a few others in the backyard of a private residence. The note accompanying the post identified the event.

"No one ever asked me for permission to post my photo," Arlene writes. "I didn't even know anyone was taking photos."

Arlene wants to know if the poster was wrong to post the photo of her and a few others without securing their permission.

As I've mentioned often, I'm not a lawyer, so I can't speak definitively about the legality of posting someone's photo without permission. Laws vary from country to country. In the United States, generally taking someone's photo in a public place is fair game, but in a private setting it's not. Given that this was a public meeting in a private setting, I'll let the lawyers sort out the legalities.

But from an ethical standpoint, the photographer should have sought permission of people in the photo prior to posting it online. People have a right to expect to have some control of whether their images are posted on social media.

If the poster was from one of the organizations, then that person should have mentioned that photos were being taken of the event. If it was posted by another attendee, he or she should have taken the time to seek out permission.

Not everyone wants the world to know where they've been at any given moment of the day without their consent. But common courtesy would dictate that if you plan to post someone's visage on your social media site which is accessible to the general public, the right thing is to let that someone know.

It's perfectly reasonable for Arlene to ask the friend who notified her to ask the poster of the photo to take it down. Perhaps receiving this message would remind the poster that while he might not care about his own privacy that doesn't give him the right to decide for others about theirs. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2018 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.


To combat fake news, try to correct it when you see it

During the second week of September, I started to receive messages from former students, colleagues and friends letting me know that an ...