TODAY'S world of online lives and social media networking throws up new challenges in the context of journalistic ethics, credibility and the manner in which an individual's behaviour reflects upon that of the organisation with which they are employed. Increasing numbers of media organisations have accordingly crafted policies codifying employees' use of the social media and the internet. Given the mass outreach of the internet and the fact that anything expressed online can become part of public discourse, news organisations must ensure that employees use the social media thoughtfully and not do anything that would undermine their news organisation's credibility. Nevertheless, the social media offers remarkable opportunities that must be mined to the benefit of organisation and employee.
Accordingly, the following constitutes the social media policy applicable to all employees of the Dawn Group of Newspapers.
Use the social media to promote your work, and that of your organisation.
The internet offers remarkable opportunities to directly engage with readers and commentators. Always use appropriate language, tone and delivery, and resist the temptation to get into protracted exchanges.
The rules of ethics, balance, and objectivity are the same online as they are in print or offline.
Dawn staffers must operate online the same way as they would offline. Do not post — even on a private site or in a private exchange — anything you would not want attributed to you in print, or that would embarrass you professionally or personally, or would reflect badly upon your employer. Always be mindful of fact and objectivity, and appropriate language and tone. Do not post anything — photographs or video included — that could be perceived as reflecting political, racial, sexist, religious or other bias or favouritism.
Operate on the assumption that anything you write online can and will at any time become public.
This should be the rule even on accounts that that aren't directly linked to Dawn, and on personal pages such as that of Facebook or Twitter because the electronic trail we leave, unlike verbal conversations, can become subject to public scrutiny at any time. Privacy settings change constantly, hackers exist, and what you write (or may have written a long time ago) can be used against you or your organisation. Employees should be able to defend publicly an opinion or other comment made even on a private page. Always delineate clearly between the accounts you hold in a professional and private capacity, in the latter specifying that you are not representing your media group; however, even then, always follow the rules of appropriate behaviour.
Furthermore, monitor what other people post on your page, in which context you are being tagged and keep an eye on what is being said about you.
Give the scoop or the breaking news to your organisation first; not to Facebook or Twitter.
If you have a new story, a different angle, follow procedure. The editorial pipelines are slower than your smartphone but never forget that any news you gather is rightly owed to Dawn first. Once the news item has been published on Dawn and Dawn.com, while commenting include links to Dawn.com.
Beware of perceptions and how your story or comment will be received by different segments of society, home and abroad.
Offer clear disclaimers to avoid suspicions of conflict of interest. Make it clear when you are endorsing something or whether you're just passing the news along. You might, for instance, retweet something a politician has said in order to spread the news, but a reader may take it as support for that politician above others. Such issues can be taken care of by modifying the tweet or adding a disclaimer such as ‘RT's don't = endorsements'.
You may follow online groups that lean in just one ideological direction and groups that espouse obscurantist and/or violent ideologies to obtain information but avoid indulging in debates with these groups.
Verify everything independently, in particular anything seen on a social media website, especially before reporting it elsewhere.
Anyone can put up anything on the internet. Recently, Facebook and other sites were flooded with photos of Buddhist monks standing amidst scores of dead bodies, apparently Burmese Rohingya Muslims. Actually, those pictures were from an earthquake in China, and the monks had been there for rescue work.
Always double check and get consent if using material from other people's pages, especially where they'd have a reasonable expectation of privacy. When Neda Agha Soltan was shot on the streets of Tehran in 2009, someone pulled a photograph from a Facebook page and that image went viral. But the photograph was actually of another woman, Neda Soltani, a university English teacher. She and the slain girl's family tried to rectify the error, but it had gone too far. Ms Soltani ended up becoming a person of interest for Iran's secret police and had to flee to Germany as a refugee. She says that error ruined her life.
Always make sure you're identified as a journalist, and always reference the original source while passing something along.
Without that, you risk misleading readers. Never pretend to be someone else, whether to obtain information or for any other reason. Wherever possible, identify yourself as Dawn staffers. And never, ever, assume that something you intend to stay private or anonymous will remain that way.
Keep internal deliberations confidential.
The internet is as public as shouting something out on a street. Be aware that you can compromise the credibility of the editorial process. Never comment on how copy or sources were handled, or what was said about them, etc. Ensure that while talking to people outside the organisation, you don't pass on any information. That can set off damaging rumours or controversies, or simply embarrass the organisation.
Must uphold the highest professional and ethical standards and ensure that the information/editorial content being provided by him/her is fair, unbiased, and accurate.
Dawn staffers are encouraged to put up on social media websites such as Facebook or Twitter their reports as published by the newspaper, as well as re-plug the work of their colleagues. This will help raise the organisation's profile and visibility in the online world.