The Associated Press announced an update to its social media guidelines, with a focus in part on potentially dangerous or sensitive stories, like the recent terrorist attack in Boston.
"When there’s been a mass killing, a natural disaster or a breaking event in a war zone, AP journalists need to use every tool at their disposal to get the story—and, when possible, the images," AP Social Media Editor Eric Carvin and AP Standards Editor Tom Kent wrote in a blog post. "As always, we need to work quickly. But when potential sources of newsworthy tips, witness accounts and amateur content are in dangerous or otherwise sensitive situations, it’s critical that we make smart and ethical news gathering decisions."
While that last sentence will surely evoke images of the Boston Marathon bombing, given the misinformation that flowed on Twitter from various media sources, Carvin told Adweek that the guidelines actually predate the attack. "We've been working on this for several weeks," he said.
The AP's official guidelines encourage staffers to be "sensitive and thoughtful" when reaching out to potential sources on social media who might be in harm's way or who have suffered a personal loss. "Staffers should use their journalistic instincts to determine whether inquiring through social media is appropriate at all given the source’s difficult circumstances, and should consult with a manager in making this decision," the AP's social media guidelines say.
The guidelines also urge AP employees not to circulate rumors. "Staffers should always refrain from spreading unconfirmed rumors online, regardless of whether other journalists or news outlets have shared the reports; because of staffers’ affiliation with AP, doing so could lend credence to reports that may well be incorrect."
Carvin explained the reasoning behind this particular point: "We see a tweet as publishing, just as if we were to put something out on the AP wire or distribute it through one of our digital products or broadcast it in a live TV feed."
Other updates refer to handling news that breaks on prominent social media accounts and how staffers can use personal websites to show off their work for the news organization.
Read the updated social media guidelines here.