The dangers of using social media for journalism research were highlighted May 4 when The Huffington Post apparently used a Facebook photo for its coverage of the suspected Times Square bomber, Christian Science Monitor reports.
According to the Christian Science Monitor, The Huffington Post did post a screenshot of someone with the name Faisal Shahzad – who is the person in question – but not the correct Faisal Shahzad.
The Huffington Post identified the user as a “fan” of the mayor of Karachi, Syed Mustafa Kamal, a progressive politician, Gawker reported. “How likely is it that a wannabe terrorist is really into the secular mayor of Pakistan’s biggest city? Let’s go with: Not very,” Gawker wrote.
The Christian Science Monitor writes that “Facebook journalism is a tricky science,” but it shouldn’t be used to get photos of someone who “might be an alleged terrorist, and then again, might be just a normal dude. That’s the kind of thing that can put someone in danger.”
Commenters on the Gawker article questioned why Facebook was used in journalism and expressed concern for the safety of the Faisal Shahzad who was misidentified as the suspect.
Law enforcement pulled the real Faisal Shahzad from an airplane about to leave New York May 4, the Associated Press reported.
Christian Science Monitor reports “it made sense,” but it wasn’t right, and is now “a testament to the hazards of reporting in the digital age.”
Gawker used the image at first, but then removed the photo and updated its story to reflect that it wasn’t the correct Shahzad.
Gawker reported that the image The Huffington Post was “pimping” was “almost definitely not the Facebook profile of the terrorist behind the Times Square bombing attempt:”
While the Christian Science Monitor states that it does use Facebook sometimes in research because “the site is more comprehensive than the Yellow Pages – and often more useful than a simple Google search,” Facebook isn’t fact.
Now, news organizations are using the Facebook page of the wife of the real Shahzad for photos and information as they try to learn more about the person charged with the bombing attempt, ABC News reported.
Shahzad was charged May 4 with “attempting to commit an act of terror, attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and traveling over an international border to commit an act of terrorism in connection with the alleged attempted car bombing of Times Square” May 1, ABC News reported
iMediaEthics is contacting The Huffington Post and will update with any response.