(Gasp) I can’t believe he just posted that!

Journalists from all over recently got to see the social media policy for NBC owned stations.  Immediately after an article on TVNewsCheck was posted outlining the policies, journalists and legal experts began tweeting, many calling the policy ridiculous.  No doubt, it is strict.  According to the article, you have to state that you are an employee of NBC Universal on every social media site you use, even private ones.  You also have to get approval from management if you want to express an opinion about any issue, on any of your sites.  Yes, this includes personal accounts.  Any facts should be verified before retweeting someone else’s comments.  All of these points are worth discussion.  There’s already plenty of talk about it online.  But one part really struck me.  An ombudsman for the station group stated that when posting online, there is a tendency to “be more flip.”  Anything you post, you should also be ready to broadcast.  His statement is a reminder that what you say or do online is out there for everyone to see.  It reminds me of what a couple of mentors used to say, “If you do the news, you don’t get the option to be truly anonymous.”

That advice is certainly true, and as Chef Emeril Lagasse would say, “Let’s kick it up another notch!”  What you say online can be seen by more people, than things you say even out in public.  Over the last year I have watched many journalists make comments online that surprise me.  I saw a tweet from a reporter claiming a company she hired for a home repair “stinks” and is a “rip off.”  She named the company, then stated you should never hire this company.  A producer tweeted about a story in one of the station’s newscasts, stating that he doubted a business owner’s claims that a piece of equipment that failed had recently been inspected and passed.   An anchor posted video on Facebook of another anchor shooting the bird and chiding her.  A photojournalist mentioned on Facebook that he thought someone accused of a crime was “guilty as hell” weeks before the trial even started.  The list goes on and on.  And in many of those cases, their Twitter accounts specified exactly where they worked.  Like it or not, that means their comments could be construed as speaking on behalf of those companies.

We all have a right to opinions.  We all have a right to blow off steam.  We all have a right to talk with our friends about things we love and things that bug us.  But participating in social media is more public than going to a restaurant or bar and living it up one night.  There is a far greater chance of getting caught doing something your station will not approve of.  Yes, again some of these social media policies are overly harsh, and possibly would not ”hold up.”  But consider your paycheck, do you want to try and fight it?  I can read all kinds of articles on why these social media policies are ridiculous, but is enough written about how to gauge your influence on social media as a journalist?

Let’s spell it out.  Your comments on social media are published representations of you.  Do not forget, with each post, you are potentially giving a worldwide audience access.  If you have a bad day and go off, those comments could come back to bite.  That can be the case even if you do a mea culpa, and even if you delete the post realizing you temporarily lost your mind and did something pretty stupid.  As journalists we understand how permanent publishing something truly is.  Yet, so many journalists are posting things online that we would not dare write down on paper.  By typing your thoughts out, instead of just speaking them, you create a permanent record.  It is much harder to pull off a “he said, she said” type of defense.  If you ever are sued, how you act on social media accounts could be brought up to question your credibility.

The point here is not to preach, but to protect.  Social media is such an incredible opportunity for journalists to connect with their audience and each other.  Let common sense prevail.  That way it won’t matter if your station’s social media policy is strict.  You will always showcase yourself in a positive, proactive and professional light.