Jake Sherlock shared this with the summer session II reporters. It’s really useful.
How much opinion should you be sharing with folks in your social network?
Short answer: Don’t share anything that is going to get you fired, which is essentially what happened to a CNN editor who tweeted about the death of a Hezbollah bigwig several weeks back. Her tweet:
Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah … One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.
This is a classic case of not enough context. The reason why Octavia Nasr said she held respect for Fadlallah (and why she sent the tweet that would eventually cost her her job) was because Fadlallah was relatively progressive when it came to women’s rights.
The mistake Nasr made was the lack of context. The above tweet is only 108 characters — which means she had 32 more characters to explain why she respected him.
Would anyone have had as much of a problem with Nasr’s tweet if that context had been included? I’d be willing to bet she’d still have her job, although I’d also be willing to bet plenty of readers would still vilify her for any positive comment directed as a member of Hezbollah.
And furthermore, I’d be willing to bet that had that tweet come from someone with a last name like Jones or Smith and not from someone with a “Middle East-sounding name,” the uproar would have been much less. But that has a lot more to do with racism than social media best practices.
So, back to the original question: How much opinion should you be sharing with folks in your social network?
There’s no hard and fast answer to that question, but rather a string of best practices I would recommend:
- Don’t express an opinion today that could haunt you tomorrow. Remember, tweets are forever. The classmate you bash today could be your boss tomorrow. Or the idea you criticize today may come from someone you’ll need to work closely with in the future — don’t poison the relationship.
- Don’t tweet anything that could get you sued. The Radio Television Digital News Association put out a list of ethics a few months back that warns journalists not to make public statements that could be used against them in a libel lawsuit: “Biased comments could be used in a court of law to demonstrate a predisposition, or even malicious intent, in a libel action against the news organization, even for an unrelated story.” That’s good advice.
- Nobody is truly objective, so it’s OK to show that you are human. This is where best practices gets sticky. You don’t want to violate the objective method of reporting, but what’s the point of being part of a social network if you can’t be social? My advice: If you can express a thoughtful opinion in full context, you’re probably on safe ground. If you’d hesitate putting your statement in print, don’t put it out on social media.
To get the discussion going, let me offer this case example: Health care legislation was incredibly contentious leading up to the passage of health care reform a few months ago. When the bill finally passed, I sent out a tweet that said I didn’t think universal health care would be nearly as bad as the GOP was making it out to be, but I didn’t think it would be the cure-all that Democrats said it would be — the truth would be in the middle.
So, what do you think? Was I wrong to do that? Was it OK to do that since my tweet was, as they say on Fox News, fair and balanced? And, how does a tweet like that reflect on the Missourian’s opinion section — does it chill readers from writing in with their opinions of health care reform, or does it show that I’m open to both sides of a debate?
I’d love to see your thoughts in the comments below.