By: Mark Hollander
Mainstream news outlets have established large followings on sites like Twitter or Facebook, and even journalists themselves have amassed thousands of followers.
While social media makes disseminating the news easier, it can also create problems. One sticky spot for journalists is the practice of retweeting current events as a way of informing their followers of the news. Retweeting on Twitter is when a user forwards the tweet of someone they follow, so that his or her followers can read what another account has previously posted.
While this makes “spreading the word” very easy, it can sometimes be misinterpreted as an action of endorsement rather than one of neutrality.
For instance, in the recent election, if a candidate were to have said something along the lines of, “I will lower taxes for the middle class” and a journalist retweeted this statement, Twitter followers may have assumed the journalist supports that candidate, when in reality they may just have intended on informing Americans. This confusion could potentially result in people thinking that a journalist is expressing biased news to the public, when that may not be his or her intention.
As many bloggers have suggested, adding a disclaimer to a Twitter bio is a popular solution, yet this isn’t enough to solve this dilemma. Often, Twitter users don’t check journalists’ bios, nor does a disclaimer clarify if the journalist endorses the particular statement or not. So how can journalists address this problem while still being able to take advantage of Twitter’s features?
Rather than shying away from retweeting altogether, journalists should either solely retweet neutral posts or add their own opinions to each one by editing a retweeted post before sharing it. Sticking with the previous example, if a given journalist wanted to share the candidate’s post about lowering taxes, he or she could say something like, “I don’t think this will work”, or “This is a great policy”, and then continue with the retweeted statement. Furthermore, an edited retweet will be presented with the profile picture of the person who retweeted the statement, whereas a simple retweet is the original Twitter account’s picture – this fact could complicate things as well, so editing retweets can be beneficial in this way additionally.
The important idea to take away from this problem is that journalists should never shy away from spreading important news to their followers. While many times people may misconstrue a retweet and assume that someone is endorsing a statement, there are ways of preventing this. In addition, we can all learn from the mistakes of others and be sure to give the benefit of the doubt to people on our own Twitter feeds as well.