The Associated Press released new Twitter guidelines for its reporters and staff today -- and the results show an embarrassing misunderstanding of how Twitter works.
The guidelines admonish reporters to give no hint of subjectivity to their tweets. Retweets, too, bring with them the potential pitfall of personal opinion.
“Retweets, like tweets, should not be written in a way that looks like you’re expressing a personal opinion on the issues of the day,” the guidelines read. “A retweet with no comment of your own can easily be seen as a sign of approval of what you’re relaying.”
So the news organization has invented some bizarre rules to make sure no one could possibly misinterpret a reporter’s tweets.
This is what the AP had to say about the subject:
RT @jonescampaign smith’s policies would destroy our schools
RT @dailyeuropean at last, a euro plan that works bit.ly/xxxxx.
These kinds of unadorned retweets must be avoided.
However, we can judiciously retweet opinionated material if we make clear we’re simply reporting it, much as we would quote it in a story. Colons and quote marks help make the distinction:
RT Jones campaign now denouncing smith on education: @jonescampaign smith’s policies would destroy our schools
RT big European paper praises euro plan: @dailyeuropean “at last, a euro plan that works” bit.ly/xxxxx.
Of course the convention for retweets, which has been established for years, has been to place the RT immediately before the user’s name. That shows you exactly whose tweet you’re repeating, and makes clear what they are saying.
More commonly, users simply click on a "retweet" button which inserts a copy of the tweet into the user's timeline, without modification—a scenario which the AP's guidelines completely ignore.
By insisting on manually editing tweets and on moving the “RT” around, the AP is showing a complete misunderstanding of how the system works. It's also confusing the Twitter masses who do understand how it works.
It’s also impractical—Twitter has a 140-character limit. You simply don’t have room to add an explanatory clause to every retweet.
Of course, we’re not the only ones to find this all a little hard to believe. As you’ll see in our Storify below, Twitter users were largely flummoxed by the AP’s new guidelines.