AP Updates Social Media Guidelines

The Associated Press followed up on last week’s reminder to its editorial staff to avoid sharing opinions via social media with an updated set of social media guidelines.

Some highlights from the new AP guidelines:

• All AP journalists are encouraged to have accounts on social networking sites. These sites are now an integral part of everyday life for millions of people around the world. They have become an essential tool for AP reporters to gather news and share links to our published work.

• Employees must identify themselves as being from AP if they are using the accounts for work in any way. You don’t have to include AP in your username, but you should use a personal image for the profile photo (not an AP logo) and identify yourself in your profile as an AP staffer.

• Employees should be mindful that any personal information they disclose about themselves or colleagues may be linked to the AP’s name. That’s true even if staffers restrict their pages to viewing only by friends. It’s not just like uttering a comment over a beer with your friends: It’s all too easy for someone to copy material out of restricted pages and redirect it elsewhere for wider viewing. As multitudes of people have learned all too well, virtually nothing is truly private on the Internet.

• Everyone who works for AP must be mindful that opinions he or she expresses may damage the AP’s reputation as an unbiased source of news. 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.

• Sometimes AP staffers ask if they’re free to comment in social media on matters like sports and entertainment. The answer is yes, with a couple of reasonable exceptions.

• First, trash-talking about anyone (or team or company or celebrity) reflects badly on staffers and the AP. Assume your tweet will be seen by the target of your comment. The person or organization you’re deriding may be one that an AP colleague is trying to develop as a source.

• Second, 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.

• 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. Instructions on how to do this can be found on Inside AP’s Social Media Toolkit.

• Don’t break news that we haven’t published, no matter the format.

• If you have a piece of information, a photo, or a video that is compelling, exclusive and/or urgent enough to be considered breaking news, you should file it to the wire, and photo and video points, before you consider putting it out on social media. And in those cases in which you capture exclusive content, you should consult with a supervisor about how to share it on your personal social media account.

• Many athletes, celebrities, and politicians have verified Twitter accounts, meaning that Twitter has given their individual accounts a “stamp of approval” to indicate that it really does belong to that person. Before you quote from a verified user’s tweets for the first time, however, you need to confirm who is managing the account. Is it the famous person? His or her handlers? A combination? Knowing the source of the information will help you determine just how newsworthy the tweet is and how to characterize it.

• Abusive, obscene, and/or racist comments posted to an AP-managed platform should be flagged to the Nerve Center immediately. As for people who send flaming, generic denunciations of our integrity or judgment, there are a couple of approaches. Many such writers will not be satisfied by any response from us, however well-reasoned. Time that could be devoted to responding can usually be better spent elsewhere. There’s no need to engage such people at all.

• We should not get into protracted back-and-forth exchanges with angry people that become less constructive with each new round.

AP deputy managing editor for standards and production Tom Kent said in a memo announcing the update, as reported by The Cutline, “Just as social media and its uses continue to evolve, so will our policies related to this topic.”