AP updates social media guidelines: Sharing opinions on sports are fine, but not on ‘contentious public issues’

Dylan Stableford
The Cutline

A week after issuing a memo warning staffers not to express their opinions on Facebook and Twitter, the Associated Press sent an updated copy of social media guidelines to its global news staff.

The new guidelines include "an elaboration of our policies on expressing personal opinions on social networks," Tom Kent, the AP's deputy managing editor for standards and production, wrote in the memo. "Just as social media and its uses continue to evolve, so will our policies related to this topic."

From the updated "Opinion" section:

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.

In terms of friending, "it is acceptable to extend and accept Facebook friend requests from sources, but we should try to avoid situations that may jeopardize AP's reputation by giving the appearance of bias."

Here's some additional detail from that section:

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.

Employees "may not include political affiliations in their profiles and should not make any postings that express political views."

And it doesn't matter if your settings are private:

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.

Oddly, the memo stipulates that AP managers "should not issue friend requests to subordinates." However, "it's fine if employees want to initiate the friend process with their bosses."

And, like other news organizations, the AP warns against staffers breaking news on Twitter and Facebook:

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.

You can click here for the AP's updated set of social media guidelines.