When the Daily Press got on the social media train more than a decade ago, it began developing a series of policies to address problems the staff anticipated coming up. Over time, those problems have come to fruition – and even more have surfaced. Anyone who’s on social media can understand and sympathize.
The basis for everything TDP does is in keeping with the fact that it is a newspaper, and its Twitter and Facebook accounts must reflect that. So what followers will see are links to legitimate news stories that appear in one of TDP’s standard formats, or all three: the print edition, e-edition, or on its website. This means TDP doesn’t print or otherwise circulate rumor or innuendo, and the staff tries its best to prevent threads from descending into utter chaos – a mixture of lies and attacks on other followers that serve no purpose other than to generate angst and hate across the spectrum.
Unfortunately, those in the media have learned most people have little to no grasp of the freedoms the Constitution guarantees them. Anyone keeping up with current events regarding the COVID-19 pandemic will understand this. Far too many Americans are convinced the First Amendment affords them the right to say anything they please, whenever and wherever they please, with no constraints whatsoever. Since they may not have to exercise restraint on their own Facebook timelines, they assume they can do the same on a media outlet’s page. But they’re wrong.
Media outlets try to adhere to the same standards they are obliged to uphold in their reporting. That means journalists aren’t supposed to libel, defame, or invade the privacy of anyone, as the law defines these infractions; those granted the privilege of commenting on social media pages of media entities are expected to do the same. And when someone continually causes trouble on a media outlet’s timeline by attacking other followers, or spewing lies or disinformation, that outlet is exercising its right – some would argue, its obligation – to curtail the troublemaker, even if that means banning him or her.
That’s not “censorship,” in the truest sense of the word; censorship refers to a government’s attempt to control content, or silence the “press” altogether. In America, most media are private businesses, and therefore can and should prevent their platforms from being misused by those who have no respect for truth or civility. This not only protects the media outlet from legal action taken by those who are maligned; it also offers all people of goodwill a place to discuss issues and events in a rational manner, regardless of gender, race, religion, creed, orientation, political affiliation, or any other category used by those of ill will to divide their communities.
Over the next few weeks, exclusively in its Friday e-editions, TDP will explain some of its social media policies and the reasons for their existence. It is hoped that actual readers will share this information with those whose only contact with the newspaper is through social media – and who may have no clear understanding of the media’s role in modern society, as well as the challenges newspapers, TV and radio stations, and online publications face today. Those who have related questions they’d like addressed may email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.