out they can be
[excerpt, see original URL for embedded links]
So how can news organizations guard against libelous tweets? It's important,
Ardia said, for staffers to have a basic understanding of the legal
implications of tweeting.
Under section 230 of the Communications Decency
news organizations are protected from defamation liability for content
that's created by a third party. The law protects YouTube from libel
lawsuits, and it protects bloggers and news organizations from defamatory
comments that users may post. The law also protects retweets. So if a
journalist or news organization were to retweet a defamatory statement, they
would not be held accountable. If, however, they added a defamatory remark
as part of the retweet, they could be.
Generally speaking, Ardia said, a news organization would only be
responsible for an employee's defamatory tweets if the employee's use of
Twitter was part of their job or otherwise related to their line of work. If
the defamatory tweet wasn't work-related, the employee would be the only one
responsible for it.
Having social media guidelines that lay out the legal pitfalls can help. A
few months after the AP was sued, the organization updated its social media
(When asked whether the lawsuit Spooner filed prompted the AP to update its
social media guidelines, AP Deputy Managing Editor for Standards and
Production Tom Kent said, "Not that I recall.")
The new guidelines, which were issued a week after the AP warned staffers
didn't specifically mention the legal implications of tweeting.
Some organizations, such as
have been criticized for creating "strict" social media guidelines that
limit journalists' ability to develop their voice and skills on social
networking sites. I tend to favor guidelines that encourage experimentation
rather than those that limit it. But given that tweets can be libelous, I
can see the value in setting stricter parameters.
When updating its guidelines recently, the BBC instituted a rule saying "two
pairs of eyes" need to look over news updates for Twitter and
The extra set of eyes could prevent the BBC from tweeting something
potentially defamatory, but that's not why the BBC made the update. Kevin
Marsh, a longtime BBC editor who played an advisory role in creating
the guidelines, explained that the update is an extension of the more
general rules and practices that the BBC follows.
"Recorded content has to go through a lengthy and comprehensive process of
compliance," said Marsh, who recently left the BBC after working there for
33 years. "Live content [anything published on social networks] has to go
through a different process, for obvious reasons, with the warranty from the
editor in charge of the output that there are at least 'two pairs of eyes or
ears' across the content, one more senior to the other, able to take action
— apology, taking down, correction — if necessary."
At The Guardian, journalists who identify themselves as Guardian employees
in their Twitter bios are advised to include a disclaimer such as, "These
are my personal views and not those of my employer."
This can be helpful, Ardia said, but it's not a complete shield to
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