Guidance: Social media

Editorial Guidelines issues

This guidance note should be considered in conjunction with the following Editorial Guidelines:

Key points

  • All BBC activity on social media, whether it is ‘official’ BBC use or the personal use by BBC staff is subject to the Editorial Guidelines and editorial oversight in the same way that our on platform content is.
  • We should take particular care about maintaining our impartiality on social media, both in our professional and personal activities
  • BBC spaces on social media should reflect the same values and audience expectations as their on-platform brands.
  • We have editorial responsibility for all BBC branded channels on social media regardless of the reporting functions or moderation services of the individual platforms
  • Our duty of care, particularly towards children and vulnerable contributors on social media requires careful consideration
  • BBC staff should avoid bringing the BBC into disrepute through their actions on social media

Guidance in full

Introduction

Social media platforms provide an invaluable opportunity for both BBC output and staff to share content and engage with others in an informal environment. But just as everything we do on our own platforms is informed by the Editorial Guidelines, so is all our activity on social media platforms – whether it is in a ‘professional’ or ‘personal’ or capacity.

We should maintain a clear distinction between BBC spaces which are run by the BBC for BBC purposes and personal spaces which are run by staff or BBC talent for their personal purposes.

This guidance note is intended to help BBC staff operate appropriately in every aspect of their activities on social media

BBC Activity

Editorial Oversight

There should be editorial oversight and responsibility for all our activity in BBC spaces. 

Social media platforms differ widely in the functionality they offer, the audiences they appeal to and risks inherent in the BBC’s activity on them. Before deciding to start any BBC activity on a third party platform we should consider carefully what the editorial purpose is behind that activity. We should consider whether it is the right platform or channel for the audience we are trying to engage and whether we have the resources to manage the account appropriately.

This should be the case whether we are considering a platform that the BBC is already active on or one that we have not previously used.

Where we want to use a new platform we should also take into account the terms and conditions of the platform, any contractual, legal, data protection or information security issues.

We should also consider whether the platform is an appropriate site for the BBC to operate on - our choice of third party sites must not bring the BBC into disrepute, or pose significant risks to children and young people.

We should communicate clearly with our audiences when we decide to close an account, informing them that the account will no longer be updated or moderated and pointing them to an alternative source. We should be aware that content on our social channels is still part of the BBC archive, so the presumption should be that the account is not deleted and remains accessible, even if it is not updated.

We should also be transparent about errors, corrections and apologies as a result of any mistakes we make on our branded social media accounts. We should ensure we connect the correction or apology clearly with original error. If in doubt consult social media leads or Editorial Policy.

Impartiality

Maintaining due impartiality in our content and activity on social media is as important as on our own platforms. We need to consider carefully the specific challenges posed by each platform in achieving due impartiality.

We must ensure that our use of hashtags to aggregate our content and join in social conversations doesn’t support or allow us to appear to be supporting a cause, promoting a brand or point of view.

While it is possible to publish personal view content or a range of opinion on controversial subjects, the serendipitous nature of social feeds means that our audiences may not always come across the full range of content we have produced on these subjects. We must ensure that we link connected content and signpost to each piece of content that might reflect a range of views on the same subject. Just as with our own platforms, each social account should take responsibility for ensuring due impartiality across its output.

We should be aware of the importance of ensuring our social media posts – whether text or video - contain appropriate context. Each atomised piece of content should be judged on its own merit, unless the posts are threaded or similarly linked. We should be aware of the risks that short headlines, tweets or the pressure to create shareable content pose to publishing impartial or inaccurate content.

Where our official accounts follow others, we should ensure that we reflect due impartiality in our choice of accounts to follow - similarly if our official accounts share or like content originally published by others.

We should remember that social media platforms and even the accounts that we build reflect particular demographics. Opinion gathered from these accounts either through functionality offered by each platform, or anecdotally can never be statistically robust or genuinely representative and should only be used as vox pops.

Similarly, functionality that social media platforms describe as ‘polling’ – where users can chose from a range of options – have no statistical credibility and should only ever be used as a tool for audience engagement. Results should not normally generate any significant outcomes or be used beyond the platform itself without referring to ITACU or editorial policy.  

Calls to action or appeals for contributors through social media will reflect the same issues – that they will be dependent on the particular demographic of the platforms and accounts used. We should therefore subject any responses to careful editorial scrutiny before deciding to use them in our output.

Audience Expectations

Our audiences will expect BBC run spaces on third party platforms to reflect similar values to our on platform activity within the context of the tone and style of the particular social media site in question.

Although each platform has its own terms and conditions governing user behaviour we should not rely entirely on the platforms themselves to manage communities on BBC spaces. We need to take overall responsibility.

BBC brands will have their own identity, familiar to their audiences, which they should be able to express through the content they share and the conversations they have. They should use the same G for Guidance warnings on content that we use on our sites.

Any intervention should be light touch, but we should not tolerate behaviour likely to cause offence to the intended audience. We should be aware of any potential legal risks posed by any comments sparked by content we post to specific platforms – we might consider for example turning off comments on sites where we can; not posting risky content on sites where comments can’t be blocked; or ensuring we have additional moderation resources for potentially difficult content.

In the comment and conversation associated with content on our social media channels, we should aim to accommodate the widest possible range of opinions consistent with our duty of care, appropriate language and behaviour, and the law. We should include, where it is offered, comment that is critical of the BBC, talent, programmes or policies.

Duty of Care

We should consider whether we should post particular content to our social media accounts where we think it could put contributors at risk of significant harm – particularly when they are young or vulnerable.

We should take account of the potential impact of harmful comment, of content being widely shared or of the possibility of individuals being identified even where we have taken steps to anonymise them.

When we do decide to post such content we should provide them with the necessary support and ensure that we are using appropriate key word filters and moderation where possible to minimise the potential harm. It is always advisable to seek advice from the Moderation Services Team in such cases.

Just as with our on platform interactive spaces, escalation strategies should also be in place for suspected child grooming, threat to life, serious sexual assault or to avoid serious harm in our social channels. We should also be prepared to respond to continued harassment of individuals – including stalking.

Whenever our content requires pointing our audience to support lines we should include that on each piece of content even if it is part of an extended series. Links to helplines should normally be included on any video rather than in the supporting text.

Children and young people

Children and young people have a right to a voice on the BBC’s social media channels, but we should ensure that they are able to operate in a safe and appropriate environment. If we can’t be sure publication is not in the best interests of such contributors, even with the consent of parents or guardians, we may chose not to publish that content on social media.

We should abide by the terms and conditions of third party platforms – especially in relation to the minimum age for use. If we create spaces aimed at a young teenage audience, for example 13-16, we should take particular care to ensure the platform we use and the behaviour in the BBC space remains appropriate so that it remains a safe environment.  Our networks, programmes and channels have a distinct tone of voice but we should communicate using these channels, rather than as individuals

Personal Activity

Social media is now part of everyday life whether we use it personally, professionally or both. All BBC staff should be able to engage in social media activities if they wish.

However, when someone is clearly identified with the BBC and/or discusses their work, they are expected to behave appropriately and in ways that are consistent with the BBC's editorial values and policies.

Even where staff don’t identify themselves as working for the BBC, they should be aware of the risk of being identified by others or by activities they may have undertaken elsewhere online or offline.

Expressions of Opinion on Social Media

Where individuals identify themselves as being linked with the BBC, or are programme makers, editorial staff, reporters or presenters primarily associated with the BBC, their activities on social media have the potential to compromise the BBC’s impartiality and to damage its reputation. 

Our audiences must be able to trust the integrity of BBC programmes and services and be confident that the outside activities of our presenters, programme makers and other staff do not undermine the BBC's impartiality or reputation or that their editorial decisions are not perceived to be influenced by any commercial or personal interests.

Disclaimers written in biographies such as ‘my views not the BBC’s’ provide no defence against personal expressions of opinion on social media that may conflict with BBC guidelines.

Individuals involved in the production or presentation of any output in News or other factual areas that regularly deal with a range of public policy issues have a particular responsibility to avoid damaging the BBC’s impartiality.

Nothing should appear on their social media accounts which undermines the integrity or impartiality of the BBC.

They should not:

  • state or reveal publicly how they vote or express support for any political party
  • express a view for or against any policy which is a matter of current party political debate
  • advocate any particular position on a matter of public policy, political or industrial controversy, or any other ‘controversial subject’
  • exhort a change in high-profile public policy
  • speak or write publicly about the BBC without specific, prior approval from the relevant head of department.

Rare exceptions, for example, when an individual is personally affected by a specific matter, must be declared as a conflict so that mitigating action can be taken.

Factual content teams regularly dealing with a range of public policy issues, may refer to Editorial Policy.

Individuals who don’t deal with these issues may not be bound by the same restrictions, but must still avoid bringing the BBC into disrepute through their activities on social media.  If in doubt they should consult their line managers or Editorial Policy

Expressions of opinion on social media can take many forms – from straightforward tweets or updates, sharing or liking content, following particular accounts or using campaigning or political hashtags.

If for example a member of staff repeatedly likes or shares, without comment, content reflecting a particular point of view on a matter of public controversy it might create the impression that individual agrees with that view.

Likewise if a member of staff only follows social media accounts reflecting one point of view on a matter of public controversy that might create a similar impression. 

Bringing the BBC into disrepute

When individuals are identified as being members of staff they should not engage in activities on social media which might bring the BBC into disrepute.

They should act with courtesy and consideration towards their colleagues, they should not attack or abuse them or their work on social media, they should respect their privacy in the workplace and the commercial sensitivity of announcements made to staff.

Staff should also not post offensive or derogatory comments or content on social media and avoid abusing their position as a BBC employee in personal interactions.

Using Personal Accounts in a Professional Capacity

BBC staff may choose to use their personal social media accounts in the course of their work – for example in finding contributors or sourcing user generated content.

Where they choose to do so, with the agreement of their line manager, they should be transparent about who they are and that they are acting on behalf of the BBC.

However they should not be obliged to use their personal accounts and may choose to use a BBC branded account to undertake this activity.

Personal Activity on Official BBC Accounts

BBC staff with ‘official’ BBC accounts will use these accounts primarily in a professional capacity, although they may choose to include some personal detail where they and their line managers are in agreement.

They may use these accounts to promote content they have created for BBC platforms but they should seek advice from their line manager and Editorial Policy before using these accounts to promote books or any other activity such as an event that may or may not be directly related to their BBC role.

Guidance for Managers on Social Media

Managers in each area will decide what is appropriate for individuals in their team based on this guidance note and section 15 of the Editorial Guidelines on Conflicts of Interest.

They should not adopt an unnecessarily restrictive approach. But they should bear in mind concerns about impartiality, confidentiality, conflicts of interest or commercial sensitivity.

Last updated July 2019


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