Journalists’ “likes,” “friends,” “retweets,” etc. on social media don’t reflect favoritism or bias

On his profile on his Facebook page, Denver Post Politics Editor Chuck Plunkett writes:

Please note. As a journalist using social media, my following or friending or liking — and in some cases even retweeting or reposting — is not always meant as an endorsement.

This is a shorter version of a post Plunkett wrote shortly before the election on Facebook:

Friends. I’ve been asked about this a couple of times in recent days, as we are now fully in the final throes of the Election season. The question is whether as a journalist who covers politics it is correct for me to “like” the Obama page or the Romney page. (And I “like” them both.) The problem is that is how Facebook defines what you have to do to follow a page. That’s not — in most cases — how I would describe my interest. I might genuinely “like” a band, for example. But a politician? It’s not the same thing. I’d like to expand on what I have long indicated on my Facebook profile — which probably not everyone reads. For years now, since my earliest origins with Facebook, I have contained in my profile the disclaimer that as a journalist using social media I “friend” and “follow” and “subscribe” and “like” and “retweet” and etc. all manner of people, groups, media, politicians, movements, companies, nonprofits, etc. But my doing so is NOT meant as an endorsement. Rather, I do so in order to see their posts in order to watch for news and whatnot. Increasingly, politicians use social media in the place of the old-school press release or statement. To not follow risks missing something — not that I don’t miss things even when I follow, given what has become the enormous success of these kinds of sites. I hope this makes sense. Bottom line: I do not endorse any politician or political party and do not advocate for any of them either. I have much better things to do with my time.

To me, that’s common sense, but it’s good Plunkett spells it out for us.

You say, still, what if a guy like Plunkett “likes” or “friends” 100 right-wing groups and 25 lefty ones? What if he re-tweets Scott Gessler (as if Gessler doesn’t tweet his own horn often enough)? Does it mean he favors the right?

It means little or nothing. You don’t know what Plunkett is up to or where he’s getting information, unless you’re a mind reader, and mind readers are the worst kind of media critics–though they are a common kind.

Re-posting, retweeting, even “likes,” by other public figures, like politicians, invites questions, however.

The bottom line is, for journalists, if you think they lean one way or the other, evaluate their actual factual work. Is it fair? Is it accurate?

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