Social Media Guidelines
PDF Version Social media has become an integral part of the contemporary journalism, both in terms of finding and dissemination of information. The following recommendations are based on the editorial documents of international media, press council codes, and aims at assisting journalists so that they are able to observe in the performance of their professional duties the principles of impartiality and confidence through the use social media. The recommendations contained within the document are of general nature, meaning that concrete details should be agreed and regulated in compliance with the editorial policies of media outlets themselves. General principles
  • Personal account of social network may be used by the journalist both for private and professional purposes.
  • In using the social media the journalist is also liable to observe ethical and professional standards, the way it happens in the real environment.
  • Usage of information spread via social network is granted, however, verification is required, due to the simplicity of spreading false information online.
  • The imposition of regulations by an editorial office to its journalists with respect to the use of social media should carry a balance between the freedom of expression and ensuring the confidence of the audience. To that end it’s necessary that in the beginning of the working relations the journalist received concrete recommendations by the editorial board as to his/her conduct in social media, as well as the consequences of violating those regulations.
sources Social networks have become an important source of information. Public figures and organizations often spread initial information through social networks. Falsification in the virtual space has now become still simpler. In the exchange of information, a great deal of nuances can be lost. There have been many cases of spreading information on behalf of a certain person from fake accounts, which has also become a challenge for the contemporary media. Therefore, journalists have to learn how to use new tools for verification of information. The Supreme Court of Georgia has designated Facebook as public space in one of its decisions. Accordingly, receiving information from a social network, as well as using of the given platform as a source, is not an issue, yet it’s the journalist’s responsibility to assess the information value of news published on a social network, and whether it’s possible to contact the author for the specification of details.
"Public dissemination within the context of "freedom of expression" doesn’t solely imply voicing of information only through the press and television, especially in conditions when the role of social media, blogging, and micro-blogging in the life of the contemporary society is ever more significant. Any instrument that can be used for providing information to an unlimited number of people, should be evaluated as source of public dissemination… In this respect, Facebook is one of the world’s major and most popular social network, uniting millions of users around the globe. Information spread by a concrete user on Facebook becomes available for that person’s friends, or all users, as per the author’s will. Any users having access to information can share it with his/her contacts, or an unlimited number of people, as well as citing it in a private conversation, press or online editions. Thus considering these very qualities of a social network, open publication of status or comment by a concrete user should be considered as public dissemination of information". The ruling of the Georgian Supreme Court from Jan 9, 2014 (1559-1462-2012)
  • Information obtained from a social network should go through all the filters of verification of news obtained otherwise.
  • Journalist should be extremely cautious with using information concerning privacy published on a social network.
  • If journalist is unable to verify the authenticity of information, then he/she should inform the audience of this. Part of editorial codes suggest journalists not stop at the stage of information verification, and inform the society on the outcome- whether or not the information has been confirmed.
  • Verification of information sources in social networks may be difficult, yet the journalist should exert every effort in order to accomplish the process.
  • Journalist should also discreetly approach the verification of fake accounts. The majority of popular people use special marker on their social network pages to prove the authenticity. There, however, have been cases when even Twitter got deceived, and false accounts were marked. It’s necessary, therefore, that journalist him/herself conducted the verification. In case of doubt inform audience.
  • When using outside link in a material, journalist should be confident in its credibility (we think before we link ).
  • When using in a journalistic product photo/video published in a social network , it’s advisable that the journalist identify the holder of copyright, and ask seek permission of that person.
  • Often, photo taken quite a while ago is spread via social networks as a new, which may become a ground for manipulation-something to be avoided by the media.
  • Journalist should not resort to any means of accessing other person’s account, even when dealing with a private correspondence published in public space. Prior to the publication of such material the journalist should try to ascertain its authenticity with the interlocutor’s of the conversation, and if that hasn’t been achieved, inform the audience regarding for that matter.
  • The journalist should prior to the beginning of the conversation warn the respondent that his/her responses will be publicized.
  • Journalist or a media outlet is entitled to appeal to the reader via social network to express his/her viewpoint on certain issue, as well as ask the photo/video material describing the event. The reader shouldn’t be asked to send the material from a location being in which could be dangerous for that person.
  • When a journalist contacts a source through social network, or uses a social network for the professional purposes, it’s important that he/she be openly represented as a journalist associated with a certain media outlet.
In 2015, Associated Press and CNN got mislead by citizen Marie Parker, after she reported on her twitter having witnessed shooting in San-Bernardino, and associating the shooter with a certain organization. Mary Parker stated: "When the shooting occurred and made its way to the news, I tweeted saying how I was in hiding at the shooting and I had gotten a glimpse of what happened. Immediately a bunch of reporters kept following and dming [direct messaging] me asking me if I wanted to be interviewed… I didn’t get to say anything I wanted but it was still pretty amazing how I somehow made my way on the broadcast.
Questions for Newsroom:
  • Who’s the author of the photo/video/text? What was a motivation for spreading?
  • Shot by the author him/herself, or uses the footage of others?
  • Does he/she hold a right to publish?
  • What does the metadata of the photo says?
  • Are there other sources of receiving information?
  • The value of information provided by the user?
  • Presence of agreed set of procedures for a journalist to comply with in a social network (Facebook, Twitter, Youtube , etc )for the verification of photo/video material?
  • Posting in social networks, whether marked as private or public, is considered an information made in public space.
  • Any type of personal information, post, or comment, may be associated with mediacompany where user journalist works. Therefore, a journalist is advised to handle with discretion the information which he/she posts in a social network, especially the information concerning the topics he himself or his company is working on.
  • Publication of posts reflecting political views, sympathies or antipathies may call the journalist’s impartiality in question and impair confidence towards him/her.
  • Explicit support of an information or other type of campaign in a social network may call in question the credibility towards journalist.
  • Generaly, a journalist is entitled to have privacy in the web-space, so the best option in this case would be to use special functions of social pages, including filters, so as to easily define the circle of people to share information to. Also, it’s important that a journalist constantly kept in mind him/her being representative of a media company.
In 2014 British Press Complaint Commission confirmed violation of ethical standard by a journalist that, according to the complainant, had harassed him via Facebook. The fact of the matter was that the complainant had emailed the news editor expressing his disappointment that she had not published several letters that he had written to the newspaper. Editor dedicated several posts to the given fact for instance, "I plan to make his life a misery as much as possible" The newspaper denied breaching the Code, stressed that the comments had been made on her personal Facebook account, which had privacy settings. In addition, The news editor had been on compassionate leave when she received the complainant’s email. The Commission confirmed violation of  Clause 4 (harassment) and stressed that it  applies to all professional conduct by journalists, including on social media sites.
Questions for Newsroom:
  • Is a journalist informed beforehand of the limitations on expression set by the his/her company in social networks?
  • Are journalists allowed to create blogs?
  • What kind of responsibility may a journalist be imposed in the case of violation?
  • Who makes decision regarding the imposition of responsibility?
  • Adding sources of potential information as friends on Facebook, or "following" on Twitter is not a violation of professional standard. However, in the case of adding only one or a few politicians, as well as election candidates, as friends may give the user an impression that the journalist has a positive attitude towards a certain politician. Therefore, a journalist should try to be at "friends" with more or less the total spectrum of election candidates or participants of a political process in a social network. Furthermore, a significant number of media outlets advise their journalists to refrain from commenting on pages of politicians and involving in certain types of discussion.
  • The Journalist is not restricted in terms of "liking" pages of various companies, politicians, or agencies, and can too become a member of their closed groups. Yet the journalist should always remember that the sole purpose of his/her participation in those groups should only be reception of information from those sources, and not participation in discussions.
Official pages
  • Information spread by a media outlet’s official page in social network is regarded as the product of media outlet which is subject to all the journalistic standards applied to the general media product. The given practice is exercised by the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics and the press councils of many European countries.
  • Correction/removal of information by a media outlet should be followed by the official page. For instance, if the photo has been replaced while the old version remains in a social network, then it should as well be removed and replaced by the new one. Similarly, correction of a text in a journalistic product requires correction of the material spread earlier and containing the old version of the text.
  • The same rule applies in the case of a link carrying incorrect information, which should be corrected as well.
  • If after correction of information on the webpage the information in question still persists in a social network with the old photo or title, then the link itself is subject to correction and subsequent re-upload.
Questions for newsroom:
  • Is there a single standard as to the correction of a material spread on behalf of a media outlet via social network?
  • What’s the procedure of correction? Is the audience informed regarding the publication of false information? Or it’s only possible to read the new information after editing of the old one?