10 tips to guide social media use

Approved by the faculty of the School of Journalism, October 2013

The faculty of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism extend the highest standards of professional journalism—truth, fairness and accuracy—to the use of Social Media (SM) in gathering, reporting and disseminating news created for J-School courses and J-School sponsored organizations. We recognize the powerful role SM has in mass communication. Thus, we encourage students to use these sites, but only after you have tried to interview multiple sources.

Realize that when you are using these sites for personal and professional reasons, you represent the School of Journalism. General guidelines to follow as you use SM: Think of SM sites as tip generators, not as the only source of information;i ii “Do no harm” and “Avoid the appearance of bias.”

Aided by guidelines written by The Associated Press, NPR, Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, students and faculty in MSU’s School of Journalism and others, we’ve provided 10 Best Practices to Guide Social Media Use as an addendum to the J-School Code of Ethics and Standards:

1. Never lift quotes, photos or video from social media sites and attribute them to the website address or owner of the site. Do some digging. Most SM sites provide contact information; use the information to email, call or set up a face-to-face interview with the site’s owner to explain your story and get new information. iii iv v

2. When using photos, videos or other multimedia content from social networks in news stories, determine who controls the copyright to the material and get permission from that person or organization to use it.vi If appropriate, link the content to the original site.vii

3. Be transparent with your instructors, supervisors, editors and audience when using information drawn from an SM site or via an email from the site’s author. Let them know in the story how and in what context you contacted sources and gathered information and how you verified that information or sought to verify it.viii

4. Make corrections quickly and be transparent, admitting to and explaining the mistake, and why it needed to be corrected.ix If you misunderstood something, acknowledge it.x

5. Remember that messages on the Internet are public, permanent and Re-Tweet-able. Don’t put anything on the Internet that you’d be embarrassed to see on the front page of The New York Times, i.e. inappropriate images or accusations without verified support.xi Also, assume that your post will be seen by the target of your criticism and know that like other media, Tweets can give rise to a defamation lawsuit.xii

6. Avoid the appearance of bias. Friending, liking and following sources are necessary to get information for your stories. If you think it might make you look like partisan, indicate that you are a (student) journalist on your page/bio.xiii

7. Obtain consent from sources, disclosing who you are, what you are seeking and where your story will and/or could run. The informality of social networking sites makes it easier for potential sources to misunderstand your intentions and the impact of cooperating.xiv

8. Be cautious when dealing with minors and other vulnerable people who might not fully understand the consequences of cooperating with a journalist. If contacting a child through an SM site, make sure he or she connects you with a responsible adult.xv

9. Report improper online behavior. It is important for you to engage with those who consume your content. However, if it becomes abusive, bigoted, obscene and/or racist, contact your instructor and campus police immediately. xvi

10. Protect yourself. If you find it necessary, you may want to manage more than one SM account, one for professional and the other for personal use. Also, consider customizing your privacy settings on your accounts to determine what you share and with whom.xvii xviii


i Steve Elliott, “Social Media Guidelines for Student Journalists,” ASU Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, accessed August 20, 2013, http://cronkite.asu.edu/node/735.

ii Mandy Jenkins, “Social Media Guidelines to Live By,” Zombie Journalism: Dispatches from the Walking Dead in Today’s “Old” Media, accessed August 20, 2013, http://zombiejournalism.com/2010/06/social-media-guidelines-to-live-by/.

iii “Social Media Guidelines for AP Employees: Revised May 2013,” Associate Press, accessed August 20, 2013, http://www.ap.org/Images/Social-Media-Guidelines_tcm28-9832.pdf.

iv Elliott, “Social Media Guidelines for Student Journalists.”

v “NPR Ethics Handbook: Social Media,” NPR, accessed August 20, 2013, http://ethics.npr.org/tag/social-media/

vi “Social Media Guidelines for AP Employees.”

vii Thea Card, feedback from a student in JRN 400 Spartan Online Newsroom, spring 2012.

viii Elliott, “Social Media Guidelines for Student Journalists.”

ix Jenkins, “Social Media Guidelines to Live By.”

x Gina Masullo, “A Journalist’s Guide to the Ethics of Social Media,” accessed August 20, 2013, http://savethemedia.com/2009/10/19/a-journalists-guide-to-the-ethics-of-social-media/.

xi Masullo, “A Journalist’s Guide to the Ethics of Social Media.”

xii Mallary Jean Tenore, “What Journalists Need to Know about Libelous Tweets,” last modified August 14, 2011, http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/top-stories/141987/what-journalists-need-to-know-about-libelous-tweets/.

xiii Jenkins, “Social Media Guidelines to Live By.”

xiv Elliott, “Social Media Guidelines for Student Journalists.”

xv Elliott,“Social Media Guidelines for Student Journalists.”

xvi “Social Media Guidelines for AP Employees.”

xvii “Social Media Guidelines for AP Employees.”

xviii “NPR Ethics Handbook: Social Media.”