Blog 14: What is social media?

Ethical issues of social media in journalism

Nowadays, journalists get the public engaged via social media platforms. What journalists can say on their social media accounts can be both professional and personal. While many news organizations encourage reporters to use social media to build their brands, tweets or posts can put journalists on the spot.

In recent years, there have been so many events that “put journalists in the negative spotlight,” Ryan Guerrero, a photographer, said in the statement. Those incidents include “journalists expressing partisan opinions, promoting political views, endorsing candidates and making offensive comments.” For instance, The Des Moines Register fired its reporter, Aaron Calvin, because of his old racist tweet. Thus, as journalists, we should pay attention to what we say on social media, especially on our professional accounts, because inappropriate posts will affect the reputation of us and our newsrooms.

Aaron Calvin’s racist tweet

For many journalists, they can follow social media guidelines provided by their newsrooms. But what can others, whose newsrooms don’t have the policies, do to prevent the occurrence of those events? The answer is super straightforward — they can follow the guidelines established by the most authentic news organizations. For example, in 2017, The New York Times issued its guidelines for the newsroom: 

“The new guidelines underscore our newsroom’s appreciation for the important role social media now plays in our journalism, but also call for our journalists to take extra care to avoid expressing partisan opinions or editorializing on issues that The Times is covering.”

One of the critical points in the guidelines is that journalists, including those not involved in the coverage of government and politics, should not promote political views. Journalists cannot join private groups on Facebook that may have a partisan orientation. Meanwhile, journalists should be respectful when posting on social media platforms. 

To sum up, journalists need to know that the public can take personal statements related to political views and offensive comments as statements representing the newsrooms. Therefore, to protect our brand and our newsrooms’ reputation, we need to take care of our language on social media and follow those social media guidelines strictly.


  1. The Ethical Issues of Social Media in Journalism
  2. Top Media Ethics Issues from 2019
  3. The Times Issues Social Media Guidelines for the Newsroom

Published by Lgao

NBC News Asia Desk Fellow Reporter

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