• 3-minute read
  • 23rd September 2019

How to Cite Social Media in Harvard Referencing

Not that long ago, academics would have laughed at the idea of citing social media in an essay. But platforms like Facebook and Twitter are now so prominent, most referencing systems have rules for how to cite them.

You can't escape it any more... (Photo: mkhmarketing/wikimedia)
You can’t escape it any more…

Here, for example, we look at citing social media with Harvard referencing.

When Should I Cite Social Media?

In case you weren’t sure, a Twitter rant isn’t an academic source. If you’re looking to back up a point you’re making, then, you should always try to find a published text first (e.g., a book, a journal, or newspaper article).

However, you can cite sources such as Facebook and Twitter if you’re analyzing public responses to an event, or even writing about social media as the topic of an essay. But if you do, you should always give a full citation.

In-Text Citations for Social Media in Harvard Referencing

In the main text, a citation for a social media post should include the author’s last name (or organizational name) and the year of publication:

Speaking on Twitter, the prime minister said that constitutional change must be respectful (Turnbull, 2016).

If you name the author in the text, cite the year immediately afterwards:

Turnbull (2016) wrote that change should be approached with “humility & respect,” which was received well by his followers.

Twitter and Facebook posts don’t have page numbers, so you can leave these out of citations. However, if you’re quoting from a long passage of text, you could include a paragraph number for the part you’ve cited.

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Social Media in a Harvard Reference List

Make sure to add any social media posts cited in your work to a reference list at the end of your document. The format to use here is:

Last Name, Initial(s). (Year) Title of Post/Excerpt, Month and Day [Social Media Platform]. Available at URL [Accessed date].

The title may be the trickiest bit here as most social media posts don’t have one. In this case, though, you can use an excerpt instead. For example, for the tweet cited above, we could use the full text from the tweet:

Turnbull, M (2016) The Constitution belongs to the people. Those who propose change must approach the task with humility & respect http://aus.pm/iyho, 18 December [Twitter]. Available at https://twitter.com/TurnbullMalcolm/status/808940364048449540 [10 January 2017].

Be sure to include a URL here that links directly to the post cited in your writing, not just a link for the account from which it was sent.

A Note on Harvard Referencing

Harvard referencing can vary between institutions, especially when it comes to non-standard sources such as social media. As such, you should always check your style guide when using this system, as the conventions your university uses might differ from those described here.

And if you’re ever unsure about how to use Harvard referencing, we can help. Simply send us a sample document to find out what we can do.

Comments (2)
Maria Porzio, Haymarket Medical Education
30th September 2019 at 14:36
This is quite helpful; thank you! Though we'd have to adapt the citation format to American Medical Association style for our purposes (we do medical education/communications), the current (10th) ed. of the "AMA Manual of Style" does not specifically address how to cite a social media post. So if I ever needed to do so, I'd likely be making something up based on analogies of how other "electronic" sources are styled/formatted.
    30th September 2019 at 15:15
    Hi, Maria. Thanks for the comment. We do plan to write more on AMA referencing on this blog soon, so we'll cover AMA's approach to social media at some point. For now, though, it's worth noting that the AMA's official advice is to cite a social media post as if it were a website. Thus, if I understand correctly, the format in AMA would be: Social Media Username. Text of tweet/excerpt from post. URL of Tweet/post. Date posted. Hopefully we'll get some more definite information next time the AMA Manual of Style is updated, though!

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