Citing Facebook. Really?

 
 
 

 

3 March 2015

Resources change. Habits change. Venues change. Societies change. So we adapt.

“How do I cite a Facebook post?” is a question we hear frequently. When we answer it online we also see the inevitable “Why would we cite anything from there?!” This means we have dual issues to consider, today: source identification and source analysis.

 

Source Identification

This is easy. All we have to do is remember two things:

  1. Online sources are publications, so we cite them like a publication.
  2. A website is the equivalent of a book. An individual landing page (or database) at a website is the equivalent of a chapter in a book.

The "Basic Book" format is also simple:

BOOK:

Creator, Title (Place of publication: publisher, Date), specific place.

 

WEBSITE:

Creator of Website, Title of Website (Place of publication = URL :  *Date of creation or access), specific item.

 

Adding a chapter to a book citation or a database or page to a web citation means we have two fields for creators and two fields for titles. The only rules here are to put them in proper order and use the appropriate emphasis for the titles. (After all, how we dress a title tells people what that title represents.)

BOOK CHAPTER:

Creator of Chapter, “Title of Chapter,” Creator of Book, Title of Book (Place of publication; publisher, date), specific page or inclusive pages for the chapter.

INDIVIDUAL PAGE OR DATABASE AT WEBSITE:

Creator of Page or Database, “Title of Page or Database,” Creator of Website, Title of Website (URL : Date of creation or access), specific item.

 

Adapting this pattern to a Facebook posting that is typically untitled would create a template such as this:

PROFILE DATA AT A PERSONAL PAGE

"Personal Name," Facebook (URL : access date), personal profile.

 

INDIVIDUAL AUTHOR AT A GROUP PAGE

Name of Individual Poster, at "Title of Group Page,"Facebook (URL : Date of posting), [identification of item posted].

 

 

Source Evaluation

There is no source we can simply accept as Gospel. There is no source we should automatically reject as tripe. Sources come in all shapes and colors, but reconstructing history is not a paint-by-numbers project. We have to think about what it is we're using, what it says, what it can be used for, and how much value we can place on not just the source but the individual assertion.

With every source we use, we evaluate the reliability of whatever it proclaims—critically, in the good sense of the word. We pick it apart for clues that lead to other sources, independently created. Eventually, if our research is thorough, if our analyses are wise, and if we carefully correlate the details they all provide, we may be able to reach a reliable conclusion about an event or person in the past.

In the end—certainly often enough to keep us on our toes—a source that we consider dubious might prove to be the most correct one, while a source that people tend to trust might be totally wrong. In the meanwhile, whatever clue we find, no matter how questionable it or the source might seem, needs a good citation.

For those who would like to pursue the ifs, ands, and buts of citing Facebook material a bit more deeply, this thread https://www.evidenceexplained.com/content/facebook-pages in EE’s Citation Issues Forum might be a good start.

 


*Publisher is usually not cited for a website because the creator of the website is usually the publisher.

  PHOTO CREDIT: "Cloud Shelf with App Icons," Presenter Media (http://www.presentermedia.com/index.php?target=closeup&id=9230&categoryid=116&maincat=clipart : 3 March 2015), item 9230.