Content sharing and social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are important tools for reporters and editors; they may provide a first tip-off to breaking news events and statements or be the source of otherwise unobtainable photographs and videos.
Under most circumstances, common sense and normal practice as outlined in our Stylebook guarantees proper usage of material posted on the networks.
However, because of the openness of the internet, use of this material carries significant risks to the agency’s reputation for reliability and accuracy, notwithstanding any legal issues. These guidelines, drawn up from our experience, are aimed at minimizing the risks to the agency by ensuring as far as possible the authenticity of the material, our rights to use the material, and that we have provided all the necessary context for clients.
Guidelines for text
Reporters and editors should monitor Twitter, Facebook, etc. just as they do other sites. They apply the same checks to reports from these networks as to news any other sources and they must ensure that the agency has the right to publish or distribute information integrated into their work.
What we can do
1. Monitor statements by personalities, politicians
Reporters should build up a network on Twitter and Facebook of trusted accounts relevant to their beat, whether politicians, personalities, contacts or the competition. Otherwise, we risk missing important statements and news alerts. There is no need to verify authenticated Twitter or Facebook accounts. For example when Egyptian opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei returned home on January 27 we used his brother as a direct source but we also used a message ElBaradei himself posted on Twitter.
2. Provide reactions to events
We may use Facebook, Twitter etc. for evidence of reactions within social networking sites to soft news events, such as the death of a celebrity. However, we could not use those statements as a source for the event itself.
3. Search for people in the news, contacts
Social networking and content sharing sites can be valuable research tools, too. For example when French broker Jerome Kerviel was accused of a five-billion-euro trading scandal at Societe Generale, we were able to see co-workers he had listed on his Facebook site, and then to contact them for comment through a search in the White Pages.
We can also use official Facebook pages to appeal for witnesses.
4. Use as an alert to news breaks relevant to an event
Reporters may use Twitter as an alert by following key contacts and the competition and by tracking key words directly related to specific events such as a conference. On May 1, the death of bin Laden surfaced first on Twitter an hour before the official announcement by President Barack Obama via the account of @Keith Urban, who had worked with ex-defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Such monitoring is an integral part of news-gathering which is our priority.
What we can’t do
An unverified statement on a social networking site may not be used as the source for a news break, nor for a description of unfolding events unless we are sure of the authenticity of the account .
We have been caught out in the past, for example by a fake Twitter account in which the British foreign secretary supposedly sent a message of condolence after the death of Michael Jackson ending with the words: "RIP, Michael."
Statements and breaking news on the social networks must always be verified with the person involved or their representatives. Be wary of totally fabricated stories online.
In September 2009, for example, DPA ran a story that a German rap group, the Berlin Boys, had mounted a suicide attack on a small town called Bluewater in the United States. The story was backed up by the group’s Internet site, the KVPK television news site and a page in Wikipedia. It was later discovered that neither the town, nor the group, nor the television company existed. DPA called a press conference to apologise.
AFP journalists must be scrupulous and careful when picking up comments published on the social network or internet.
Jokes (LOL) and the free and easy language which characterize the networks should not cause us to forget the basic rules: don’t quote from anonymous accounts, don’t publish comment that is smutty, libelous, racist, sexist etc. We apply the same standards to such comments as to those gathered during standard reporting.
Use of Wikipedia as a documentary source is banned. Don't quote Wikipedia, it does not meet our standards of reliability.