To protect public media's reputation, consider pausing and taking a deep breath before sending controversial or politically-charged social media posts.
PBS encourages its staff and producers to engage with the audience on social media platforms while also using reasonable discretion and carefully considering whether their interactions have the potential to compromise PBS’s nonpartisan reputation and the public’s trust.
Producers and staff who are communicating with the public on behalf of PBS by using official social media channels or specific program channels have a heightened responsibility to ensure that they consistently adhere to the PBS Editorial Standards six core principles — Independence, Accuracy, Fairness, Transparency, Inclusiveness, and Accountability.
Here is additional guidance for applying these principles to social media and other emerging technologies:
Prevent Conflicts of Interest
While producers and their editorial staff may wish to publicly share certain beliefs or opinions on social media, producers must ensure that those views do not create real or perceived conflicts of interest with projects that they are actively developing for PBS. Producers must avoid engaging in public expression that could reasonably be perceived as undermining their ability to produce impartial content. Producers also must be cognizant that when they or their staff hold themselves out as affiliated with PBS, any beliefs or opinions shared on social media will inevitably reflect back on PBS. For this reason, producers should evaluate the social media accounts of their editorial staff to ensure that the independence and credibility of the content and the reputation of PBS is maintained.
Treat Errors Just as Seriously as on Other Platforms
Despite the informal and fast-paced nature of social media, producers and PBS staff should strive to avoid distributing factual errors or misleading information. Mistakes should be treated as seriously as when they occur on other distribution platforms. In the event of an error, it is PBS practice to promptly put out a new social media post with the correct information and to clearly explain what was wrong with the prior post. In the interest of transparency, the audience also should be able to view the edit history of the post whenever possible, depending on the capabilities of the social media platform where the post occurred. It is generally not appropriate to simply delete the erroneous content without maintaining a public record in some manner, such as a screenshot or other acknowledgment.
Social media can be a useful platform for conversation and debate about content. PBS encourages robust digital engagement with the audience to solicit and encourage diverse views and perspectives, particularly when the content at issue involves opinion or commentary. When engaging with the public on social media, however, producers and PBS staff need to avoid getting drawn into personal attacks or other angry exchanges. They should instead strive to facilitate a civil exchange of ideas and learning.
Vet Third-Party Content
When sharing information from third parties, producers and PBS staff should be transparent about where the information came from and judicious about what information is appropriate to share. Every effort must be made to prevent the transmission of false information. News generally should only be reported from legitimate, bona fide sources (e.g., other news organizations such as the Associated Press) after exercising due diligence to verify that the information originated from an authentic account. Care also should be taken to ensure that the sharing of opinions and commentary is not viewed as an endorsement by PBS. When using a video or photograph from a third party, producers and PBS staff should strive to ensure that it has not been manipulated — for example, by checking the metadata.
Provide Adequate Context
When posting information, particularly information that is sensitive or controversial, producers and PBS staff should pause to consider whether particular social networks allow for proper context. For example, multiple tweets might be needed to accurately and fairly convey information or to adequately answer questions about complex subjects.
Avoid Sensationalizing to Generate Clicks
While producers and PBS staff are encouraged to write clever and engaging social media posts, they must avoid sensationalizing content or providing misleading headlines in an effort to artificially generate interest.
This memo provides guidance on how to transparently craft a correction.
Community Guidelines on social media platforms like Facebook can help establish, and encourage, thoughtful audience discussion.
More on Avoid Sensationalizing to Generate Clicks: Defining 'Clickbait'
Tory Starr, the director of digital and social content innovation at PBS member station GBH, discusses the term 'clickbait.'