The BBC’s editorial guidelines have been updated to take account of the impact of social media on journalism.
There are three specific entries that offer valuable advice to journalists.
The guidelines on the use of photos sourced from social media and personal websites notes that the BBC should consider the sensitivities in using them, even though the images have been published online.
It urges journalists to consider whether someone intended the image to be available to a wider public:
The publication of a picture on a personal website or social networking site does not necessarily mean the owner of that picture intended it to be available for all purposes and circumstances – or understood that it could be.
This is an issue the BBC has been considering for a while, and highlights one of the tensions with social media. People expect their content to be available to a public, often of friends or family, rather than to the public.
There are also guidelines on the personal use of social media which are refreshing simple and thoughtful.
Rather than setting out specific limits on what staff can and can’t do, the guidelines urge people to “be mindful that the information you disclose does not bring the BBC into disrepute.”
BBC concerns about impartiality are also apparent in the guidelines on the use of social media services like Twitter:
When forwarding or “retweeting” messages, care should be taken that it does not appear that the BBC is endorsing a particular opinion.
Services like Twitter provide a powerful platform to distribute content, so staff are encouraged to link to BBC content “to encourage users to consume more BBC content.”
The guidelines also reflect that the BBC is conscious of its position as a media powerhouse. In the advice on joining social sites:
We should “go with the grain” and not alienate existing users by giving the impression of seeking to impose ourselves on them and their space.
This is a tacit acknowledgement that different social media sites and services have their own rules and patterns of behaviour. The BBC is essentially a guest in these spaces.
Overall, the guidelines strike a balance between BBC concerns about impartiality and fairness, and the participatory and collaborative ethos of social media.