This is part of a reminder email sent to New York Times staff after what shall hence be referred to as “The Andrew Goldman Affair”:
First, we should always treat Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms as public activities. Regardless of your privacy controls or the size of your follower list, anything you post online can easily be shared with a wider audience.
And second, you are a Times journalist, and your online behavior should be appropriate for a Times journalist. Readers will inevitably associate anything you post on social media with The Times.
What’s the first rule of social media policies? That they adhere to ask ask for some basic common sense? Yeah, this passes that test easily.
At a previous employer the rule of thumb I tried to impress on people was this: If you’re going out somewhere and you’re wearing a shirt of jacket with the name of your employer your behavior better be top-notch. If you get drunk and start a fist-fight then people are, as a result, going to have a negative impression of the company you work for. You are representing that company when you are out in public and you should act like it.
The same goes for social media behavior. Even if you don’t have “Employed by X” as part of your Facebook or Twitter bio you are easily traced back to the company that has hired you. And you can put as many “My opinion is my own and not necessarily that of…” disclaimers around and about as you want but there will still be a certain number of lines drawn that can put either that company or one of its clients/contractors/partners in what could potentially be a seriously awkward situation very quickly. So watch what you say, how you’re saying it and who you’re saying it to.
Back to the Goldman situation: What’s heartening to see is that there were actual consequences to his actions. We can talk about what is or isn’t common sense and what should or shouldn’t be included in a conduct policy all we want, but unless there are some teeth – a stick to punish at the same time there’s a carrot to reward those who adhere to it – behind it there won’t be much serious attention paid to that policy. So the fact that the Times has suspended Goldman for four weeks is good. It gives him some time to realize what a second infringement of trust placed in him by the Times might entail and lead to.