Reporters for major media outlets who also tweet commonly include a disclaimer in their Twitter profiles stipulating that retweets do not equal endorsements.
But that's not enough for the Associated Press, which issued an updated set of social media guidelines on Thursday with a new section addressing the dangers of retweeting without context.
Here's that section, via a memo from Tom Kent, the news service's deputy managing editor for standards and production:
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. For instance:
RT @jonescampaign smith's policies would destroy our schools
RT @dailyeuropean at last, a euro plan that works bit.ly/xxxxx.
These kinds of unadorned retweets must be avoided.
However, we can judiciously retweet opinionated material if we make clear we're simply reporting it, much as we would quote it in a story. Colons and quote marks help make the distinction:
RT Jones campaign now denouncing smith on education: @jonescampaign smith's policies would destroy our schools
RT big European paper praises euro plan: @dailyeuropean "at last, a euro plan that works" bit.ly/xxxxx
These cautions apply even if you say on your Twitter profile that retweets do not constitute endorsements.
"There was no particular issue that led to today's update to our guidelines," Kent wrote in an email to Yahoo News. "The language we've added on retweeting, rather than trying to limit retweets, illustrates ways AP staffers can retweet opinionated material much as we'd include it in a news story: in a way that makes clear it's not the staffer's personal opinion."
The news service's social guidelines already caution staffers about expressing their opinions on contentious issues--or simply trash-talking sports teams and celebrities:
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.
"People will disagree," Lou Ferrara, the AP's managing editor for sports, entertainment and interactive, added in an email, "but our job is to make sure our journalists--and others in the industry who regularly follow AP's advice--participate in social media without bias."
Other popular Yahoo! News stories: