Facebook Ethics?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008
I'd be the first to admit that when I write stories about college or college age students, I use facebook to find sources. I am a master facebook stalker. I've found the phone numbers of people who had specifically made their accounts private. Which, of course, makes me more wary of what I put on mine.

Today, I got a friend request from a source. As far as I can remember, this is the first time that happened. I am facebook friends with some students who were sources when I was at my college paper, but they were also my classmates. This person is an adult, a spokesman for an organaztion I spent a lot of time covering.

My facebook profile is remarkably clean. My mom once worried that it was too sarcastic, but she's particularly sensitive to sarcasm, and the sarcasm is about newspapers and novels. Any photos where anyone under 21 is holding alcohol are only open to the people who were at those parties. Photos that are open to the public include things like: college students sitting on the grass playing Apples to Apples, college seniors at senior dinner or wearing matching t-shirts. I'm talking wholesome. My facebook profile comes across as an over protective parent's dream of what college should be.

But I am still really wary of accepting this friend request. And, I think more than anything, it's in the name. I'm not friends with my sources. I'm not allowed to be. Not in real life and not in facebook life. I have a professional relationship with them. And so no matter how G-rated my Purim costume is, I don't really think my sources should get to see it.

Am I crazy to think that? I have 590 "friends". Maybe I should just be thinking "what's one more?"

But I'm not. I'll be sending the source an e-mail instead.

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Written Pyramids is a blog written by a journalist living and working in Washington D.C.

I have left my real name off of the blog so as not to imply that the blog is somehow linked with the journalism I get paid to do. (Still, I never write about my beat on this blog, and rarely express opinions about the day's news regardless of its relationship to my beat).

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