Social Media Policing: The AP Way?

On 3rd November, Associated Press (AP) updated its Social Media Guidelines for Employees, with a particular emphasis on Retweeting.  A number of criticisms were levelled against the update across Twitter and other platforms.  No surprises there… At first glance, it does seem a very heavy-handed guidance by AP, almost curtailing the right to an opinion and some very strong policing of staffers.

But, is it really that restrictive?  Or is it indicative of a highly scrutinising public and a litigation-prone media environment?  Nonetheless, it is crystal clear that the lines between various channels of communication are fast blurring… almost to the point of non-existence.  It’s ever so tricky to know what’s acceptable and what’s not.

While it is evident that AP wants to restrict the appearance of any bias in what its journalists write (articles, blogs, tweets, facebook, etc.), a closer examination of the guidelines also begs the questions:

  • Where do you draw the line between personal and official use of social media handles?  And, who decides that?
  • How far would you go to map your personal values and views to those of your employer?

In any case, guidelines are not set in stone.  They (hopefully) promote sanity in an otherwise noisy social media environment.

Here’s a selection of the very prescriptive AP guidelines for you to ponder on:

  • AP employees must refrain from declaring their views on contentious public issues in any public forum and must not take part in demonstrations in support of causes or movements. This includes liking and following pages and groups that are associated with these causes or movements.
  • …if you or your department covers a subject — or you supervise people who do – you have a special obligation to be even-handed in your tweets. Whenever possible, link to AP copy, where we have the space to represent all points of view.
  • Retweets, like tweets, should not be written in a way that looks like you’re expressing a personal opinion on the issues of the day. A retweet with no comment of your own can easily be seen as a sign of approval of what you’re relaying.
  • In particular, since friending and “liking” political candidates or causes may create a perception that AP staffers are truly their advocates, staffers should avoid this practice unless they have a true reporting reason for it. If we must friend or “like,” we should avoid interacting with newsmakers on their public pages – for instance, commenting on their posts.
    • If reporters need to friend a newsmaker who is using a personal profile on Facebook, they should limit the newsmaker’s access to their own personal information using Facebook’s Friend Lists and privacy settings.
  • To keep track of tweets by newsmakers, we recommend using a Twitter list that allows you to receive postings without joining the person’s official list of followers.
  • Managers should not issue friend requests to subordinates. It’s fine if employees want to initiate the friend process with their bosses.
  • When you vet a source found using social media, you must apply the same principles used in vetting a source found any other way… you must never simply lift quotes, photos or video from social networking sites and attribute them to the name on the profile or feed where you found the material.
  • We ask that AP staff refrain from liking or commenting on official AP-branded Facebook posts. These accounts are official, public-facing channels of communication, and we want to reserve the comments and the interactions for the public, not for journalists to talk among themselves in a public-facing spot. It can be off-putting and alienating for an average Facebook user to click on a post and see conversations between colleagues or virtual insider pats on the back.


3 thoughts on “Social Media Policing: The AP Way?”

  1. You draw upon some interesting points re use of social media – it is something we civil servants frequently struggle with as partisan views are often frowned upon!

    Btw, I was under the impression that AP staff got into trouble as they were breaking stories on Twitter when they weren’t really meant to.

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