In the not-so-distant past, I remember being outraged when one traditional media outlet or another quoted from someone's Facebook wall for a story. It usually happened after a student's untimely death (look about 12 grafs down), and the TV stations would dig up the flood of condolence messages left on the student's wall in the aftermath and report them. Easy, low-labor quotes for color. I was upset, however, that the traditional media I respected so much would stoop to taking quotes not given to a media member or intended for consumption by many and reuse it for their own purposes.
In time, however, I came to accept that this is not just the reality of how we're to find commentary, it's also valid journalistically. These quotes are not provided to the media, but if we can access them as easily as typing in a URL, they're fair game. Students know by this point that anything they say online is completely out in the open, and the newspaper can be no exception to that. The problem remains, though, that if I quote Jack Ripper's wall post, I've got no way of knowing that Jack Ripper is a real person, or that Jack Ripper himself wrote the wall post. Especially now that Facebook is open to anybody with an email address and not just an @.edu address, additional avatars beyond your actual name are easy to create and play with. (For example, my own mother wanted to explore Facebook, but instead of creating a page for herself, she created one for the dog.)
As a result, journalists still need to take with a grain of salt the use of many (if not most) social networking sites for quotes. But this raises the question as to whether there are degrees of acceptability in social network quotation. If a Facebook user's name is "Jack Ripper" and their listed email is, in fact, an @.edu address, does that make it more likely that Jack Ripper is legitimate? Does that likelihood decrease if the listed email is @.hotmail or @.gmail?
And then there's the application of that same principle to other social networking sites. An old editor of mine wrote me a brief recommendation on LinkedIn, but had to retract it when he decided that if he was going to use LinkedIn as a source, he could not be in the business of recommending people. I understand that fully, it's a conflict-of-interest if he were to endorse me and then use the same network to dig up information for an investigative article. I'm inclined to believe LinkedIn would be of greater validity for the purposes of quotation than Facebook or MySpace, but there's such less availability for usable quotes in LinkedIn that this advantage is meaningless.
But what about Twitter? I'm subscribed to the "official" Twitter feed for Gov. Deval Patrick. If I ask him a question on Twitter and he responds, can I use that as a quote? Does it become a story if what Gov. Patrick (or any other "official" feed) says does not mesh with what he/she says publicly or when asked for comment by a reporter? And do the rules change when a social media "celebrity" is involved? Say I want to quote Chris Brogan in an article I'm writing. Now, Chris is a big proponent of social media, but does that give me permission to quote his blog or a Tweet of his? After all, it's similar to the Facebook-wall-quote grab: once it's online, it's in the public domain.
I suspect that there is not yet any sort of code for how traditional media can exploit social media in this manner. Scouring Facebook or Twitter for sources to then call up personally is obviously fair game, but I wonder what an editor would say if I turned in an article quoting a Tweet.