by Chelsea Lee
Thanks to developments in technology and feedback from our users, the APA Style team has updated the formats for citing social media, including content from Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. These guidelines are the same as you’ll find in our APA Style Guide to Electronic References, Sixth Edition (available in PDF and Kindle formats).
Three Ways to Cite Social Media
There are three main ways to cite social media content in an APA Style paper:
- generally with a URL,
- as a personal communication, and
- with a typical APA Style in-text citation and reference list entry.
We'll look at each of these along with examples.
General Mentions With a URL
If you discuss any website or page in general in a paper (including but not limited to social media), it is sufficient to give the URL in the text the first time it is mentioned. No reference list entry is needed. Here is an example:
|News agencies like CNN provide breaking news coverage to millions of people every day on their website (http://www.cnn.com) and Twitter account (http://twitter.com/CNN). In our first investigation, we analyzed the content of CNN’s Twitter feed during the year 2012.|
If you paraphrase or quote specific information from social media but your readership will be unable to access the content (e.g., because of friends-only privacy settings or because the exchange occurred in a private message), cite the content as a personal communication (see Publication Manual § 6.20). A personal communication citation should be used because there is no direct, reliable path for all readers to retrieve the source. Here is an example:
|K. M. Ingraham (personal communication, October 5, 2013) stated that she found her career as an educational psychologist intellectually stimulating as well as emotionally fulfilling.|
In-Text Citations and Reference List Entries
Finally, if you paraphrase or quote specific, retrievable information from social media, provide an in-text citation (with the author and date) and a reference list entry (with the author, date, title, and source URL). The guidelines below explain how to format each of these elements for any social media citation, and examples follow.
- First, provide either an individual author’s real last name and initials in inverted format (Author, A. A.) or the full name of a group. This allows the reference to be associated with and alphabetized alongside any other works by that author.
- Second, provide social media identity information. On Twitter, provide the author’s screen name in square brackets (if only the screen name is known, provide it without brackets). On Facebook and Google+, when the author is an individual, spell out his or her given name in square brackets.
- The author reflects who posted the content, not necessarily who created it. Credit additional individuals in the narrative if necessary.
- Provide the year, month, and day for items that have a specific date associated with them, such as status updates, tweets, photos, and videos; otherwise, provide only the year.
- If the date is unknown, use “n.d.” (for no date) instead.
- If the date is unknown but can be reasonably approximated, use “ca.” (for circa) followed by the approximated year, in square brackets.
- For multiple citations from the same author in the same year (regardless of the month or day), alphabetize the entries by title and add a lowercase letter after the year (e.g., 2013a, 2013b; n.d.-a, n.d.-b; or [ca. 2013a], [ca. 2013b]). Ignore nonletter characters such as the at sign (@) and pound sign (#) when alphabetizing.
- Provide the name of the page or the content or caption of the post (up to the first40 words) as the title.
- Do not italicize the titles of status updates, tweets, pages, or photographs; do italicize the titles of items that stand alone, such as videos and photo albums.
- If the item contains no words (e.g., a photograph without a caption), provide a description of the item in square brackets.
- Describe the content form (e.g., tweet, Facebook status update, photograph, timeline, video file) after the title in square brackets.
- Provide a retrieval URL that leads as directly and reliably to the cited content as possible (click a post’s date stamp to access its archived URL).
- Provide a retrieval date if the content may change (e.g., whole feeds or pages). Do not provide a retrieval date if the post has a specific date associated with it already (e.g., status updates, tweets, photos, and videos).
Tweet, Individual Author
|Gates, B. [BillGates]. (2013, February 26). #Polio is 99% eradicated. Join me & @FCBarcelona as we work to finish the job and #EndPolio. VIDEO: http://b-gat.es/X75Lvy [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/BillGates/status/306195345845665792|
- In-text citation: (Gates, 2013).
Tweet, Group Author
|Stanford Medicine [SUMedicine]. (2012, October 9). Animal study shows sleeping brain behaves as if it's remembering: http://stan.md/RrqyEt #sleep #neuroscience #research [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/SUMedicine/status/255644688630046720|
- In-text citation: (Stanford Medicine, 2012).
Facebook Status Update, Individual Author
|Gaiman, N. [Neil]. (2012, February 29). Please celebrate Leap Year Day in the traditional manner by taking a writer out for dinner. It’s been four years since many authors had a good dinner. We are waiting. Many of us have our forks or chopsticks at the [Facebook status update]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/neilgaiman/posts/10150574185041016|
- In-text citation: (Gaiman, 2012).
Facebook Status Update, Group Author
|APA Style. (2011, March 10). How do you spell success in APA Style? Easy! Consult Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary or APA’s Dictionary of Psychology. Read more over at the APA Style Blog [Facebook status update]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/APAStyle/posts/206877529328877|
- In-text citation: (APA Style, 2011).
|Cornell University. (2012, October 11). Having a cup of coffee before closing your eyes is the most effective way to combat daytime drowsiness, according to research. Sounds counterintuitive, but it takes 20 minutes for the caffeine to get into your bloodstream. So if you take [Google+ post]. Retrieved from https://plus.google.com/116871314286286422580/posts/NqCFGr4eveT|
- In-text citation: (Cornell University, 2012).
Social Media Video
|American Psychological Association. (2011, September 19). This is psychology: Family caregivers [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10150303396563992&set=vb.290103137578|
- In-text citation: (American Psychological Association, 2011).
Social Media Photo or Graphic, With Caption
|National Geographic. (2012, November 20). A supertelephoto lens allowed Colleen Pinski to capture this image of an annual solar eclipse. See more top shots: http://on.natgeo.com/UasjJH [Photograph]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151148294503951&set=pb.23497828950.-2207520000.1357225190|
- In-text citation: (National Geographic, 2012).
- The photographer can be credited in the narrative, for example, “Colleen Pinski photographed a solar eclipse using a telephoto lens (National Geographic, 2012).”
Social Media Photo or Graphic, Without Caption
|U.S. Census Bureau. (2012, October 10). [Pathways after a bachelor’s degree in psychology: Educational attainment, common occupations, and synthetic work-life earnings and estimates] [Infographic]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151027855527364&set=a.10151027848052364.407698.202626512363|
- In-text citation: (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012).
Social Media Photo Album
|Red Bull Stratos. (2012, October 15). Mission to the edge of space, accomplished [Photo album]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.507275739283434.122701.122924687718543|
- In-text citation: (Red Bull Stratos, 2012).
- Include other details in the narrative, for example, "Felix Baumgartner broke the speed of sound in freefall during his jump from the edge of space (for photos from mission day, see Red Bull Stratos, 2012)."
Social Media Page
|American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Timeline [Facebook page]. Retrieved September 27, 2013, from https://www.facebook.com/AmericanPsychologicalAssociation/info|
- In-text citation: (American Psychological Association, n.d.).
|Day, F. [Felicia]. [ca. 2013]. Posts [Google+ page]. Retrieved July 8, 2013, from https://plus.google.com/+FeliciaDay/posts|
- In-text citation: (Day, [ca. 2013]).
|National Institute of Mental Health [NIMHgov]. (n.d.). Tweets [Twitter page]. Retrieved October 17, 2013, from https://twitter.com/NIMHgov|
- In-text citation: (National Institute of Mental Health, n.d.).
For more information on all kinds of electronic references, see the APA Style Guide to Electronic References, Sixth Edition (available in PDF and Kindle formats), as well as the APA Publication Manual. To cite social media items not covered here, follow the format that is most similar, and also see our post on what to do if your reference isn’t in the manual.
Thank you to all our readers who helped us develop these formats. Your feedback is always appreciated.
Behind the Styletitles of works
The Italicization of Names like FacebookBy Eric Wirth
In our editorial policy, we treat the Web as a publication medium like others. We don’t give it special treatment unless something inherent in the medium calls for doing so.
Titles of free-standing works in print are italicized, and so are such works on the Web. This policy is clear-cut for online works with a single author like People of Color in European Art History. Other sites, like Wikipedia, have a collective authorship but are unified works all the same. Further out on the spectrum, a site like Facebook has no unifying authorial mission: it’s a template filled by independent authors. Yet all authorship there takes place under a heading, Facebook, and the constraints of the template give a character to the content, however minimal.
A good editorial policy should be simple and not demand hairsplitting by writers, editors, or readers. Typography offers few tools for conveying conceptual distinctions. We think that the least vexed approach is to use a single format for all three titles above (and the titles of all other Web sites). To argue that Facebook is fundamentally unlike the other two would require a definition establishing the difference—a definition that can clearly divide all other sites into one of the two categories. The definition would be endlessly debatable, given all the variations in online publication.
There are also practical benefits to italicizing Facebook, Google+, and so on. The italicization results in more readable prose in a tech-heavy discussion that includes many unitalicized capped terms (acronyms, trademarks, names of companies). Further, the style allows for typographic distinction between titles of sites and similar names of companies. Just as italics helpfully mark the difference between The New York Times (the newspaper) and the New York Times Company, so they allow a useful distinction in “a posting on Facebook” versus “the CEO of Facebook.”
Published 24 February 2016
Until his retirement in 2016, Eric Wirth was the head of editorial services at the MLA, where for twenty-seven years he prepared scholarly writing for publication. Previously, he produced reference books at other publishers, after studying French literature in college.