Skip to content

Does a naked retweet carry an endorsement by a lawyer or law firm?

December 7, 2011

Does a retweet mean an endorsement of something that was tweeted by someone else or a simple “check this out?”

That’s a question journalists are trying to answer that also applies to some law firms.

A retweet, for those of you not using Twitter, means to share with your Twitter followers something that has been tweeted (shared) by someone you’re following on Twitter.

Retweets have become part of the fabric of how news, information, and insight are circulated online. In that tweets often link to articles, blog posts, pictures, and videos, retweets move these articles, posts, etc. along to others.

Last month the Associated Press released modified guidelines for social media (pdf), including a specific section on retweeting.

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. A retweet with no comment of your own can easily

be seen as a sign of approval of what you’re relaying.


RT@jonescampaign smith’s policies would destroy our schools

RT@dailyeuropean at last, a euro plan that works

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



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”

These cautions apply even if you say on your Twitter profile that retweets do not constitute endorsements.

Talking with Caitlin Johnston (@DMNcjohnston), writing for the American Journalism Review, the AP’s standard’s editor, Tom Kent, explained his fear on retweets.

…[A] “naked” retweet; that is, an automatic retweet without any lead-in or context to the material provided. By simply retweeting the information the journalist could be suggesting that he or she endorses it. Ethics 101 teaches reporters to avoid bias, real or perceived. For Kent and the AP, the potential for a reader to view a retweet as a reporter’s personal view is a risk they’re not willing to take.

Other journalists believe such restrictive rules are counterproductive. Dan Gillmor, founding director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, who also spoke with Johnston explained:

I think we all need to be experimenting with different kinds of tools, and the more you put something in a box, the less you can experiment. While it’s important to have discussions about social media developments like the one about naked retweeting, in general [I believe] the fewer rules, the better.

I’m not in favor of elaborate sets of rules for the use of social media. It constrains the ability of the journalists to engage with their audiences.

At least one large law firm client of LexBlog’s would be concerned about the naked retweet. When speaking with a group of their lawyers and business development people in the Bay Area, at first I thought they we were overacting, but when they explained how problems could arise, I became more sympathetic.

Their head of International communications showed me an article in that day’s Wall Street Journal. The article’s title and the article itself seemed pretty innocuous. But he pointed out that near the end of the article their was reference to a Middle East based company the law firm represented.

He asked what happens if an associate in the law firm’s New York City office tweets (shares) the article. The overly sensitive client, not feeling the article casts them in good light, upon seeing the tweet then contacts a partner in the firm’s Middle East office. An unneeded wake ensues.

The same thing could happen with the associate retweeting a reference to the article in another’s tweet.

I am with Gillmor on this one. I share on Twitter, with little or no comment, 8 or 10 stories or blog posts I read a day. I also retweet items I think my followers might be interested in seeing. I view tweeting and retweeting as “Hey, check this out,” not an endorsement of something written or tweeted by someone else.

Using twitter like this, I am able to engage my audience, network, and build business relationships. I couldn’t imagine doing business development without this type of tweeting.

I see the thousands of lawyers on Twitter following my practice. But those would of course be the type of lawyers I would see on Twitter. So it may be a self-selective group.

Many law firms using Twitter do so to tweet their own content under a firm or practice group twitter avatar and do little, if any retweeting. Their retweeting would be limited to items that others tweeted about their law firm or the firm’s content.

Such firms engagement, networking, and business development through Twitter would be pretty limited, if anything at all.

At the other extreme from me you’re going to have firms such as the large law firm I mentioned. Such firms are going to have social media policies playing it pretty close to the vest.

They may not allow individual lawyer tweeting (though that’s going to need to change over time as twitter is used more and more), only allow tweets by their communications department, or allow individuals to tweet or retweet items after doing a conflicts check to see if the item/article/post being shared references a client.

Whether a naked retweet carries an endorsement seems like a silly question on the face of it. But I can see the challenges in larger law firms.

Posted in: