AP sticks their nose in reporters’ Facebook profiles

Wired.com’s Threat Level reports on a new Associated Press policy aimed at reporters. The intent of the policy is “to make sure material posted by others doesn’t violate AP standards.”

That would be all well and good. Except this is for employees’ personal Facebook profiles–and that is where I think this policy goes over the line. The policy is also vague, quoting from further down in the article:

It’s a good idea to monitor your profile page to make sure material posted by others doesn’t violate AP standards: any such material should be deleted.

This is in addition to these ominous and censorious directives:

[E]mployees 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.

Further down, in the Twitter-specific section:

Also, when tweeting, remember that’s there a big difference between providing an observation (“I nearly bumped into Chris Matthews outside Penn Station”) and an opinion (“I nearly bumped into the loudmouthed and obnoxious Chris Matthews”).

And it gets even worse:

Do these guidelines apply just to AP employees who are journalists?

They apply to all employees, just as the Statement of News Values and Principles does. We cannot expect people outside the AP to know whether a posting on Facebook was made by someone who takes pictures, processes payroll checks or fixes satellite dishes. We all represent the AP, and we all must protect its reputation.

This edict is most troubling when combined with the fact that the Facebook terms of service only allow one account per user. If you maintain two identities, you run the risk of losing both of them. So it’s not like AP employees can make a “work account” and a “non-work account.” Facebook has this as a term of service for several reasons, the first being that it provides one easy way to clamp down on flagrant dishonesty.

I can see an issue if one heavily advertises that one works for the AP right before launching into a heavily political tirade, but this is different than expressing one’s political views outside of working hours under one’s own name.

To draw an analog, I avoid wearing my work uniform outside of work; I made it a point to bring a change of clothes when I played in my bar poker league after work, and would change out long before the game began. (I will concede that comfort was a contributing factor, but I probably would still have changed clothes even if it were not.)

It’s the same with the AP. There’s a difference between “on the clock” and “off the clock.” Within reason, “off the clock” conduct should be “off-limits” for company policies.