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One of our assigned readings this week outlines the social media guidelines for students in Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. These are based on “A Newsroom Guide for Using Social Networks” by Kelly McBride of The Poynter Institute.

Maybe I read it wrong, but one thing in ASU’s version concerned me. “Aggressively manage ‘friends’ and followers and their comments. Delete comments that call into question your ability to act independently as a journalist and, if necessary, remove ‘friends’ or followers who make such comments.”

McBride’s version puts it differently: “Manage your friends and their comments. Delete comments and de-friend people who damage your reputation.”

My concern with the “aggressive” management advised by ASU lies in interpretation. Let’s face it — the thickness of journalist skin varies widely. Some people can take a lot of criticism and even thrive on it, using it as a means to spur dialogue about the subject. Others, however, take offense at the slightest hint of negativity. So, in those cases, “aggressive” management of friends and comments could shut down valuable discussion. And it could result in accusations of censorship.

I would want my students to consider this very carefully as they craft editorial guidelines for managing website comments and social media.

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