Don’t Steal Quotes from Social Networks, Says 2014 AP Stylebook

2014 AP StylebookBloggers are both writers and publishers. We write our stories and then publish them for our subscribers and social networks just like any other news organization. We are the new wave of journalists.

If follows, then, that bloggers will benefit from the AP Stylebook that covers in great detail in over 500 pages what makes for good journalism. The 2014 edition just arrived on my desk. Note that AP has changed its guidelines to allow use of over as well as more than to indicate greater numerical value.

Don’t Steal From Social Media

I was particularly interested in reading its advice regarding social media. This sentence stood out for me in the introduction to Social Media Guidelines: “If we as journalists can’t comfortably navigate the most popular areas of the Internet (note the capital I), why should our audience trust us with news at all?”

Credibility is a theme that is touched on throughout this chapter. AP states its social policies are built atop the foundation of its News Values and Principles.

Social media communication conceptIf you’re a blogger, have you repurposed information on social networks without checking if it’s accurate? AP states, “…you should never simply lift quotes, photos or video from social networking sites and attribute them to the name on the profile…”

AP advises that you contact the original source – whether it’s an official from a company, organization or government agency — to confirm identity and then pursue at least one additional source for confirmation that the information provided is accurate.

As AP points out, and as we all know, phony sites are rampant on social media.

To Retweet Or Not to Retweet

Now that we all know we should check the sources for the content we lift from social networks (that was written somewhat with tongue in cheek), should we just blindly retweet and repost content to our social networks?

How do we know the information is accurate? Twitter, in particular, has become the conduit of breaking news and misinformation that spreads with the speed of light.

Hurricane Sandy was a glaring example of social misinformation such as the rumor that the New York Stock Exchange was under three feet of water (not true) and that Mayor Bloomberg planned on barring passenger cars from entering Manhattan (wrong).

I often use Buffer when I find a story that I’d like to share with my social networks. With the click of a button, off it goes. But am I sure the information is correct? I only post from reliable sites but who knows where they got the information?

Go to the Source

As AP states, “Social networks should never be used as a reporting shortcut when another method, like picking up a phone or knocking on a door, would yield more reliable or comprehensive information.”

On the other hand, I’ve found that Twitter accounts of phone companies and utilities to be reliable sources of information about power outages and how to save on your electricity bill. A community newspaper in Brooklyn alerted Con Edison, the New York utility, that there was a “stray voltage warning” and the utility replied they were sending a crew.

Con Edison Twitter

I feel that if I retweeted that to my followers (some of who might live in Brooklyn) it would be legitimate and I’d be providing a real service.

Do you check the original source before you retweet information or post something to one of your other social media networks?

What’s New?

AP nicely summarizes what’s new in the 2014 edition. Here are just a few examples:

  • Religion. A new chapter brings together 208 entries, some of them new, with extensive revisions to others.
  • State names. Under the new guidelines, the names of all 50 U.S. states should be spelled out when used in the body of a story.
  • Food guidelines. There are a dozen new entries including aioli, Buffalo wings, caipirinha (what’s that!), demi-glace, kamut (huh?), mixologist, vegan and vegetarian.
  • Medical terms. New terms include death/die (AP is just getting around to that?), first aid, HPV, in vitro fertilization, Lyme disease, MERS and WHO.
  • Weather. The new entries include derecho (I just looked this up on Wikipedia and it means a widespread, long-lived, straight-line wind storm that can cause tornados, heavy rains, flash floods, and strong wind), monsoon, polar vortex and storm surge.

I’ll end this post with another new entry: “Auld Lang Syne” or farewell for now.

Leave a Reply


  1. Jeannette, you raise some very important and interesting issues. For me, “stealing quotes” implies not attributing them to the source. while crediting the source but failing to check the information they contain seems like a separate matter but equally concerning. I draw a distinction between clearly expressing that material is the original source’s opinion as opposed to passing it off as fact, particularly where wrong information can have negative consequences.. Certainly anything that could mislead in any way must be avoided and in every respect we must “consider the source”

    • Paul — possibly “stealing” was the wrong term, but certainly “lifting” information from sources without checking its accuracy is the troubling part for all of us. I often quote “trusted” sources like Social Media Examiner and respected bloggers like Copy Blogger. I feel fairly safe doing that but the AP Stylebook does give pause.

  2. I have come across this kind of misinformation and ironically it happens a lot with Quotes. The number of times I seen quotes attributed to people who never said them is astounding. Fact checking and reasonable doubt should be used always. If it cannot be verified why put your stamp on it.

    • Tim — people being misquoted is a big problem. Lots of time it’s because of the 140-character limitation of Twitter, for example. Part of a quote is used out of context and distorts the original intent of the person who is quoted.

  3. It comes and goes in waves, but I’ve been trying to be more diligent about only retweeting posts that I’ve read and commented on. Triberr especially presents issues with blindly sharing information for information’s sake.

    • Jeri — It’s a dilemma we all face. How much time can we spend reading content on the web? When I leave comments on posts I always read the content. How else can I make a thoughtful comment or repost it to my social media sites? That’s why it’s good to belong to a community of bloggers you know and trust.

  4. Agree completely that you have to be careful what you quote. Above all if you find the information on social media. A lot of people there frankly don’t know what they are talking about. Read somewhere that all Swedish woman are raped, for instance. An American insisted that was the case. Deplorable isn’t it:-)

    It’s like everything else when it comes to our online world. Don’t post anything that you are not happy that all human beings in this world read and do not wish to be associated with.

    • Catarina — terrible and ridiculous quote about Swedish women. You’re correct that our lives are an open book because of our presence on the Internet, whether we like it or not.

  5. Yes, we have to be careful to read the information that we share before reposting it, otherwise we will be passing along outlandish and insulting information like Catarina mentioned.

    • Susan — That’s why I rarely post personal information on social networks. Wouldn’t want to be misquoted.

  6. Hi Jeannette,
    That’s one of the problems with social media. People can say anything and a certain percentage will believe it, regardless of accuracy.

    I think Snopes is fairly reliable in checking our hoaxes, but may not be as dynamic as the example you gave with Hurricane Sandy. I think the takeaway from your post is for people to be careful with what they pass along. Social etiquette informs us to give credit where it is due.

    Kind Regards,

    • Bill — Yes, aside from potentially using inaccurate information taken from social media, many people don’t give proper attribution even when they “steal” accurate information. Not nice.

  7. Several social sites are being used as gossip platform and a few people like to spread false rumors or they think it is practical joke. I would’t use anything that comes from a reliable source. By the way, many tabloids are picking their news from social media as well. There is a running joke that if they use “allegedly” or similar terms in their wording they can get away with anything. In other words they are confirming that it is only gossip they heard. Is that reporting? Allegedly it is now.

    • Memtali — I agree that traditional media often pick up news from social media sites. They will even give Twitter or Facebook attribution. But that doesn’t mean the content is accurate.

  8. This lifting is getting more common. What I am doing is taking just 5 minutes, often not enough, to check it as a rumor. If I can’t find anything but decide to post it, I will often ask “Can someone verify this?” or something to that effect. Sometimes someone WILL point to something that proves it false.

    Thanks Jeannette for the “good behavior” reminder which can benefit all of us.

    • You’re welcome, Pat. I didn’t mention it, but a lot of us (including me) use Wikipedia as a source and it’s not always reliable either.