Associated Press warns staffers not to express their opinions on Facebook and Twitter

In an internal memo that could reignite the debate over the blurry line between professional and personal use of social media, the Associated Press issued a warning to staffers about expressing their opinions on Twitter and Facebook.

"In at least two recent cases, we have seen a few postings on social networks by AP staffers expressing personal opinions on issues in the news," Tom Kent, the AP's deputy managing editor for standards and production, wrote in an e-mail to staff on Wednesday. "This has happened on the New York Senate vote on gay marriage and on the Casey Anthony trial. These posts undermine the credibility of our colleagues who have been working so hard to assure balanced and unbiased coverage of these issues."

Kent, who did not identify the offending posts, stressed that "anyone who works for AP must be mindful that opinions they express may damage the AP's reputation as an unbiased source of news," and referred employees to the company's social media guidelines.

"Failure to abide by these rules can lead to disciplinary action," Kent wrote in the memo obtained by The Cutline.

He added:

The vast majority of our tweets on these stories — and on other issues in the news — have been completely in line with our guidelines. They pose no problem at all, and are consistent with the importance of AP staffers being active on social networks.

But social networks, however we may configure our accounts or select our friends, should be considered a public forum. AP staffers should not make postings there that amount to personal opinions on contentious public issues.

A spokesman for the news service declined to comment beyond the statement, adding he did not know whether the posts in question had been deleted.

"Tom Kent's memo to staffers was in line with previously drafted guidelines," the spokesman said, "and a periodic reiteration of AP editorial policy."

Also included in the AP's guidelines: "Don't report things or break news that we haven't published, no matter the format, and that includes retweeting unconfirmed information not fit for AP's wires"--an issue that White House pool reporters raised last week.

You can read Kent's entire memo here.