Digital Publishing Guidelines

Social Media

When using social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc., for reporting or for our personal lives, we must protect our professional integrity and remember: Washington Post journalists are always Washington Post journalists.

The following guidelines are meant to help Washington Post employees navigate the evolving social-media landscape. As social platforms develop, we will revisit them accordingly. If you have questions about any of these guidelines, please talk to your editor.

1. MAINTAIN CREDIBILITY

Social-media accounts maintained by Washington Post journalists — whether on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or elsewhere — reflect upon the reputation and credibility of The Washington Post’s newsroom. Even as we express ourselves in more personal and informal ways to forge better connections with our readers, we must be ever mindful of preserving the reputation of The Washington Post for journalistic excellence, fairness and independence. Every comment or link we share should be considered public information, regardless of privacy settings.

Post journalists must refrain from writing, tweeting or posting anything — including photographs or video — that could be perceived as reflecting political, racial, sexist, religious or other bias or favoritism. When posting content online, ask yourself: Would this posting make a reader question my ability to do my job objectively and professionally (whether you are a reporter, an editor, a developer or a producer)? If so, don’t post it.

2. AVOID REAL OR APPARENT CONFLICTS

Post journalists should not accept or place tokens, badges or virtual gifts from political or partisan causes on pages or sites, and should monitor information posted on their public profiles (by individuals or organizations) for appropriateness.

Care should also be taken when joining, following or friending any person or organization online. Post journalists should not be involved in any social networks related to advocacy or a special interest regarding topics they cover, unless specifically permitted by a supervising editor for reporting and so long as other standards of transparency are maintained while doing any such reporting.

3. BE PROFESSIONAL

Social networks are no place for the discussion of internal editorial issues such as sourcing, reporting of stories, and decisions to publish or not to publish. The same is true for opinions or information regarding any business activities of The Washington Post Company. Such pages and sites also should not be used to criticize competitors or those who take issue with our journalism or our journalists. When it comes to your colleagues, be constructive and collegial: If you have a question or concern about something that has been published, speak to your colleague directly. Nothing in these Standards should be interpreted as prohibiting communications protected by federal or state statutes.

4. PROMOTE TRANSPARENCY

Trust is the basis for any good relationship, and the same goes for the relationships we foster with readers through social media. Whether using social networks for reporting or personal use, we should always:

  • Use full name and professional title in social bios; include language to indicate that links and RTs do not equal endorsements.
  • Attribute aggregated links to their sources, preferably citing a user’s online "handle."
  • Clearly distinguish news from opinion when promoting or aggregating content.

5. LOOK BEFORE YOU LINK

Link-sharing is a core function of social networking. We “follow” people on social networks because we trust them to filter content on the basis of some expertise. Our fans and followers must trust our links to:

  • Be informative. Social media encourages sharing of the human experience, but we should balance personal information with useful information.
  • Fact-check. Information on social networks needs to be verified like any other information. Work to verify the authenticity of people and organizations before attributing facts or quotes to them.
  • Take ownership. If you mistakenly retweet or forward erroneous information, correct your mistake in a subsequent tweet/update and make an effort to provide a more accurate link.

6. THINK IN REAL-TIME

Information spreads more quickly than ever on the social Web. We should be conscientious of timing by:

  • Reacting quickly to breaking stories. If news breaks on social networks, notify your editor immediately. Producers should consult with Universal News Desk and originating editors before posting unverified news on Washington Post accounts. As more fully described in the guidelines on sources, it is acceptable in some cases to attribute breaking news to a credible third-party source until a Washington Post story is available. If credibility of a social source is in question, consult your editor.
  • Being attentive to the “real-time” tense when crafting headlines. Present tense indicates breaking information, but what was breaking 20 minutes ago on Twitter might be old news by the time you post a link.

7. MIND THE MEDIUM

People are following you because they are interested in engaging with you, and are interested in your reporting, expertise and voice. Credibility and influence in social media are tied to your ability to actively participate. Some useful tips on dialogue:

  • Be a good listener and don’t ignore people who are engaging you in productive ways.
  • Foster connections (and potential tips/sources!) by responding to readers. It can be as simple as throwing out a question when you need a source or tip for a story.
  • Know your voice, but remember that voice is not opinion.
  • When you encounter criticism, count to 10. Don’t take it personally, and never make statements on behalf of The Washington Post.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are the guidelines for breaking news on social networks, especially Twitter, when the information is not yet available on washingtonpost.com?

In breaking-news situations, accuracy remains our overriding concern: Reporters, producers and editors must evaluate any story before posting it on Washington Post accounts. As a general rule, we do not cite information that isn’t sourced. If we are confident in the sourcing of a third-party report, we may cite it on social networks while also attributing the information to the original source. If facts or sourcing are murky, it is preferable to buy time by telling readers we’re investigating a developing story, then consult with originating editors for advice.

2. Is it okay to follow partisan organizations or people on social networks?

Following newsmakers, partisan or otherwise, is a key way of tracking news on social networks. Following an individual or organization does not constitute an endorsement. When individuals or organizations make newsworthy statements on social networks relevant to our journalism, we may consider referencing those as a way of curating social news, always taking care to provide context and attribution. An example tweet might be: @newsmaker on egypt crisis: “comment goes here within quotes”

3. What should my biography on social networks contain?

Your “handle” can be informal, but your display name should contain your full name. Your bio should also contain your title and Washington Post affiliation. Post journalists are free to continue using personal accounts but should remember that they remain, at all times, Washington Post journalists. Disclaimers about “personal” content do not exempt us from our journalistic ethics and standards; however, bios should make clear that links and RTs don’t equal endorsements. (Example of a good bio: twitter.com/wpjenna.)