As Social Media Heat Rises, Media Houses Worry About What Journalists Are Tweeting:
The debate over how much journalists should reveal on social media about their political preferences has become even more relevant as the polity and society get increasingly polarised.
Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd (BCCL), India’s largest media house and publisher of the Times of India, Economic Times, Navbharat Times and many other similar publications, made headlines earlier this month because of its new social media policy. The guidelines note that Times journalists should not state their political preferences, or say anything that would compromise their impartiality. The Times Group also advised its journalists to not write in a way that seeks to predict election results, match results and stock market trends. One would imagine that’s part of a journalist’s job, but not if you work for “The Grey Lady” of Indian journalism.
Neither can one “like, favour, recommend, or support comments or posts from politicians, bureaucrats, or anyone in a partisan or controversial position” or “repost or retweet updates from others that can be perceived as an implicit endorsement of a specific viewpoint or fact.” The company has tweaked one of the controversial demands it made earlier. It still retains the right to ask its journalists for their social media login credentials and post from their handles but will now do so only after seeking their permission.
With this new policy, all social media posts of employees will be considered intellectual property owned by the employer. If an employee leaves the company, all content created by him/her on social media – tweets, Facebook posts, photos on Instagram – during his/her employment with BCCL belongs to the company.This isn’t the first time BCCL has tried to control what its employees share on social media. In 2014, the company asked its reporters to hand over their Facebook and Twitter passwords. A year later, they linked variable pay of employees, which is 10% of their cost to company (CTC) in most cases, to the number of times they tweet. The Times Group isn’t the only Indian media house to have laid down such rules. The Hindu, in 2014, asked its reporters not to share stories of rival publications on social media. As restrictive as these conditions seem, a quick survey of the social media policies of international media organisations suggests a similar pattern.
NYT: ‘Leave the editorialising to our colleagues on the opinion side’
Twice in 2016, once after the Orlando shooting and then right in the middle of the contentious presidential campaign, the New York Times warned its staff to avoid editorialising, endorsing candidates or otherwise promoting their own political views on social media.
NPR: “Conduct yourself online just as you would in any other public circumstances as an NPR journalist … If we have something critical to say, we say it to their face – not on social media.”
National Public Radio (NPR), which warned its journalists against celebrating or complaining about the results of presidential elections on social media, has a pretty elaborate social media policy which advises employees on what they should avoid doing on the day of election results, basic etiquette to follow while posting on the internet, how to deal with abusive trolls and much more.
NPR, which bars its employees from advocating for political or other polarising issues online, also advises its staff to ‘follow’ and ‘like’ politicians and advocacy groups from both sides of the spectrum only if their work includes coverage of politics and social issues. Interestingly, the same rules apply while using apps like Snapchat too. Content shared on Snapchat only stays up for 24 hours.
LAT: “Assume that everything you write or receive on a social media site is public and knowable to everyone with access to a computer”
Be aware of perceptions: The Los Angeles Times warns its employees against ‘befriending’ a source or joining a group of a certain ideology as ‘readers may view their “participation” in a group as their acceptance of its views; be clear that you’re looking for story ideas or simply collecting information’.
Reuters: “Avoid flame wars, incendiary rhetoric and loose talk”
News agency Reuters requires its reporters to maintain constant awareness when posting to Facebook, Twitter and other online fora because “an indiscretion lasts forever” on the internet.
WaPo: “Don’t post against our advertisers”
The Washington Post faced a lot of flak in July for prohibiting conduct on social media that “adversely affects its customers, advertisers, subscribers, vendors, suppliers or partners”. The media organisation, which reserves the right to fire defaulters, also demanded that employees “refrain from using social media during work hours, unless using social media is an authorised part of their job.”
BBC: “Don’t do anything stupid”
“You’re a BBC journalist; act like it” is the best way to summarise the social media guidelines issued by the British public service broadcaster. Warning its staff against getting ‘seduced by the informality of social media into bringing the BBC into disrepute’, the organisation reminds them that saying “retweets aren’t endorsements” or adding an equivalent disclaimer in their bio won’t be enough to protect the organisation from reputational harm. Reporters are also advised against ‘breaking’ news on their personal handles instead of sending it to the newsdesk first.
Politico: “Monitor what other people post to your page”
Politico.com advises its employees to make sure they log out of all social media platforms when they shut down their computer to prevent hackers from taking over their account and posting something in their name that could be embarrassing. “Just as politicians learn, to their regret, that they should always assume the mike is live, we should assume that we are always on.”
Denver Post: “Be transparent and correct mistakes where you make them”
The Denver Post‘s advice to its employees in case they make a mistake on social media: Delete the tweet or Facebook post. Issue a correction tweet or Facebook post thereafter. Do not repeat the error. Don’t try to hide the error by deleting the original message and then reissuing the news. Many Twitter clients, for example, download tweets and store them on users’ computers or hand-held devices, so they won’t be deleted from someone’s stream even if you delete the tweet. The same applies for Facebook.