The AP, the social media policies they apply to their people…kind of surprising.

Armed service, military….major wire news service. Which do you think would be really restrictive on social media outlets? If just asked randomly I think most people would expect that the Coast Guard  as an armed service would probably have more strict rules than any media agency when it comes to regulating it’s personnel in the realm of social media. Yet from what I am reading and hearing, it looks like the AP wins on the strict social media rules. This kind of surprised me since, well, it is the AP…you know media? freedom of speech?

Before I go into this let me make something clear…I took an oath when I joined the Coast Guard. In taking that oath I knew that I would not be voicing my opinions about political parties in a public forum, and I knew that I would become a representative of my organization any time I put my name to something. This means that even though what I am saying here is NOT the official opinion of the Coast Guard, if I were to go off on whatever…I am Coast Guard the uniform doesn’t go away just because I change clothes. I agreed to be a part of something bigger than my personal opinions. Anyway…back to the post at hand.

Wired has a story about the AP and their policy on social media here. They even have a link where you can download the policy and read it for yourself. There is a bit of a grumble fest going on about the policies set into place by the AP when it comes to their employees and how they interact in social media.

The News Media Guild, which represents 1,520 AP employees here in the U.S., brought up the issue that one policy requires Facebook users who are AP employees to delete material posted by others that violates AP standards. Basically what that means is this, if AP standards say you can’t post about a rhino in a pink dress doing tap dance, then if someone on your friend’s list posts something about that rhino on your wall…you must remove it.

There is actually a part of their policy that states: Posting material about the AP’s internal operations is prohibited on employees’ personal pages, and employees also should avoid including political affiliations in their profiles and steer clear of making any postings that express political views or take stands on contentious issues.

QuestionMarkMan, that is a pretty broad statement in general, and kind of neuters any of their employees in social media at all. I can understand not having any political affiliation (non-biased reporting and all that) but steering clear of making any postings that take a stand on contentious issues? Does that mean the draft picks on a football team, that chocolate cupcakes are better than vanilla, that who won the Oscar last year was ridiculous, or just the major stuff like Iran, or the fact that the traditional news media is being beaten to a pulp by the internet? The memo is pretty ambiguous on this and I guess it would be up to interpretation on a day to day basis? I mean think about it right now you and I could probably agree on a bunch of contentious issues, but we would also have differences on others.

Beyond that the whole idea about don’t talk about your work?? Really AP? Heck the Coast Guard lets people do that! I mean, no we are not allowed to post anything that violates security…but we are allowed to talk about what we do, what makes us tick, etc…and I quote from the message that went out to Coast Guard service members on the subject:

COAST GUARD PERSONNEL WHILE IN AN OFF-DUTY STATUS (OR AS SPECIFIED BY PARAGRAPHS 3.B. AND 3.C.
BELOW) ARE AUTHORIZED TO MAKE INTERNET POSTS ON COAST GUARD RELATED TOPICS AS OUTLINED IN THIS ALCOAST. THE COAST GUARD PERFORMS VALUABLE SERVICES AROUND THE WORLD EVERY DAY AND THERE IS NOBODY IN A BETTER POSITION TO TELL THIS STORY THAN EACH OF YOU.

If you are curious to see what else the message says you can read the whole thing here.

One point the AP and the Coast Guard agree on is remembering that (to quote Admiral Allen, Commandant of the Coast Guard very loosely) social media is like the linguistic version of non-biodegradable plastic…once you put it out there it is out there for good. In AP’s letter to their staff they say: “Employees should be mindful that any personal information they disclose about themselves or colleagues may be linked to the AP’s name.” The Coast Guard message to their personnel agrees with this concept and reads: COAST GUARD PERSONNEL SHOULD KEEP IN MIND HOW THEIR POSTS WILL REFLECT UPON THEMSELVES, THEIR UNIT, AND OUR SERVICE.

I can kind of see where AP is coming from in that they don’t want their reporters breaking the news stories before the AP does…it is a competition thing in a sense, but it seems like their new policies are causing some indigestion for being a bit of overkill. Like I said earlier think what has me scratching my head is how vague the memo appears to be.

Trust me, I understand maintaining impartiality, and protecting your interests. Coast Guard members as members of the military shouldn’t be campaigning in a public forum for a political party, they have an honor code, we have security concerns, privacy act all of that…so I really can understand what AP is trying for… but being held responsible because your cousin might say something stupid on your site? Or your friend from overseas posts and asks you to support Iran? I ask my friends to remember what I do for a living and be respectful of that, but man I might have to ditch half my friends list on Facebook for the goofy things they say if I worked for AP!

So while I can see why they have the policies they do, I have to chuckle when it looks (from what I have been reading mind you)  like my armed service of choice is more permissive and open-minded  in how its people to participate in social media than the AP appears to be.

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