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When Tweeting Can Cost You Your Job, What About Retweets?

Last week, The Associated Press updated its social media guidelines to address the issue of retweets. Since then, the new guidelines’ concern with bias and objectivity sparked much online debate from reporters, social media enthusiasts, and media critics alike. David Carr of The New York Times Media Decoder blog tweeted: “AP to staff: Don’t retweet anything with an opinion. http://bit.ly/rKbgDE Good luck with that.”

Jeff Sonderman at Poynter introduced the idea of a “neutral retweet,” placing “NT” at the beginning of a retweet to convey: “I do not necessarily agree with this statement, but I thought it was notable enough to call to your attention.” While many in the Twittersphere concurred with this idea, for some, it brought up more fundamental issues of objectivity and journalism.

At GigaOm, Matthew Ingram lamented the requirement that journalists pretend not to have opinions, saying this suggests, “viewers or readers are too stupid to figure out where the truth lies.” He argues that these social media policies actually make things worse, and has recommended positive social media policies that tell journalists how to tweet instead of what not to tweet.

Most media organizations’ social media guidelines are not as strict on the issue of retweets. The BBC’s says, “don’t do anything stupid.” Bloomberg’s says, “ask questions first, tweet later.” And many, like NPR’s, state that professional lives and personal lives inevitably overlap online. Since they do inevitably overlap, does maintaining objectivity mean journalists cannot have personal online lives?

When it comes to tweeting with prudence, every media outlet will have its own standards even though most of them are ambiguous. These are likely to reflect the general guidelines of the organization. The AP, in its Statement of News Values and Principles, mentions its “reputation for objectivity.” Makes sense that they would not want a retweet to be interpreted as an opinion. Contrast this with the Voice of San Diego’s New Reporter Guidelines that say, “there is no such thing as objectivity… everyone sees everything through their own filter. Acknowledge that, let it liberate you. Let it regulate you.” Sounds very liberating indeed.

What do you think? Should journalists adopt the “neutral tweet” model? Or should they let readers discern fact from opinion themselves?

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