Kobe Bryant tweet turns into trouble for the Washington Post
That’s the tough paraphrase coming at me immediately from my colleagues and from Twitter. Everyone needs to know why the Post has punished considered one of its reporters for tweeting about Kobe Bryant after his dying Sunday.
My reply: It’s 2020, and Twitter — actually, all of social media — stays one thing that media firms of all stripes can and can screw up. Because people are messy, and social media, amongst different issues, is constructed to take advantage of that mess. The scenario received’t get higher until media firms ban their staff from utilizing social media. Which they’re not going to do.
You can get a full tick-tock on the Post/Bryant/Twitter story from my colleague Emily Stewart, however the tl;dr is that the Post put reporter Felicia Sonmez on “administrative leave” after she tweeted in the wake of Bryant’s dying on Sunday.
A barely longer account contains the element that Sonmez’s output included a hyperlink to a 2016 Daily Beast article about sexual assault expenses Bryant confronted in 2003. (The legal expenses had been dropped in 2004, and Bryant and his accuser reached an out-of-court settlement in 2005.) One of Sonmez’s tweets additionally included a screenshot of her e-mail inbox, which was taken after sending out the tweet with the hyperlink about Bryant’s assault expenses. The tweets garnered hundreds of replies, lots of which had been destructive, earlier than Sonmez deleted them. As Stewart factors out on Vox, considered one of the missives learn, “Piece of fucking shit. Go fuck yourself. Cunt.”
Sonmez additionally bought an e-mail from Marty Baron, the Post’s govt editor, on Sunday night. “Felicia,” Mr. Baron wrote, in keeping with an e-mail obtained by the New York Times. “A real lack of judgment to tweet this. Please stop. You’re hurting this institution by doing this.”
The Post has since mentioned that Sonmez’s output might have violated the Post’s social media insurance policies, so it’s investigating that risk. You can discover these insurance policies right here, however you received’t discover directions forbidding Post reporters from linking to different publications’ tales or from posting proof of individuals on the web behaving badly. The Post’s Erik Wemple stories that Sonmez, who checked into a lodge Sunday evening after receiving dying threats, says she was informed that the preliminary downside together with her tweets was that they didn’t concern her “coverage area.”
Following her suspension, Sonmez informed the New York Times, “Because The Post does have policies governing these things, all I did was tweet out a link to the story,” she mentioned. “I didn’t think it was my place to provide any further commentary.”
Like different media organizations which have posted social media insurance policies, the Washington Post does inform its staff that once they tweet or Insta or no matter, these messages shall be handled as Official Washington Post tweets or Instas or no matter, regardless of their authentic intent. As with many different shops, there may be additionally this instruction: Don’t put up something that would “objectively be perceived as reflecting political, racial, sexist, religious or other bias or favoritism.”
This is a type of directions that appears each apparent and unimaginable to implement. I hope I can keep away from posting racist commentary. But I most definitely have bias, and I undoubtedly have favorites. So do you.
More to the level — and your view of the world could also be the identical as mine — it’s ridiculous that the Post penalized its reporter for acknowledging that Bryant, along with being beloved by many individuals, was credibly accused of rape. (In a 2004 assertion, Bryant in the end apologized to his accuser “for my behavior that night,” including that whereas “I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did.”)
You can also see the world the means many different folks do: You assume the hours after somebody’s dying are usually not the time to talk critically of that particular person.
But the indisputable fact that the Post says that Sonmez might have violated the firm’s social media coverage — however can’t say for positive if she has, a day after the tweets — is telling. The Post’s tips, like these revealed by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and different shops, together with Vox Media — quantity to “don’t screw up.”
Screwing up is the entire level of social media. It’s a function, not a bug. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and each different service providing the alternative to transmit your unmoderated, instantaneous ideas to the world need you to screw up at the very least a few of the time. Social media invitations you to say one thing you may not have mentioned to somebody’s face, or at the very least not with out some foresight.
And whereas piling on the Post might really feel good — once more, I feel a newspaper that may stand as much as President Donald Trump may also shield a reporter who hasn’t revealed one thing defamatory — the Post definitely isn’t the solely publication that has discovered itself disciplining considered one of its staff for a tweet or apologizing for considered one of their tweets.
We can begin near house: Vox, for occasion, suspended an editor in 2016 for tweeting that individuals ought to “start a riot” if Trump arrives of their city. Last summer season, the New York Times demoted an editor for displaying “serious lapses in judgment” when he tweeted about politics and race. And in 2017, the Wall Street Journal mentioned it was sorry for a tweet about Venus Williams — which started with “Something’s not white!” — as a result of it “was seen by some as insensitive.”
Let’s not overlook about publications which have needed to apologize for what their staff did on social media earlier than they got here to work there. The Times, specifically, stumbles on this one rather a lot. In 2018, it unhired an opinion author as soon as her outdated tweets surfaced and attracted destructive consideration. Last yr, a Times editor needed to apologize for tweets he made in school.
The means for the Times and different shops to keep away from worrying about journalists screwing up on Twitter is to ban them from Twitter and each different public discussion board. These firms would additionally must drive all of their journalists to retroactively delete the whole lot they’ve ever posted — perhaps somebody tweeted one thing unkind about Bryant again when he was scoring 81 factors in a single recreation, or no matter.
Or they may require the identical sort of attorney-assisted vetting that the SEC has now compelled Tesla’s Elon Musk to undergo each time he needs to tweet.
That received’t occur, in fact, as a result of each firm that hires journalists needs its journalists to make use of these platforms, at a minimal as a method to promote their work. Perhaps additionally they assume it’s essential to “maintain a vibrant presence on social media,” as the Times coverage suggests. And it’s true: Times reporters do nice work on Twitter.
But as quickly as folks choose up the telephone and begin tapping, they’re a few faucets away from a screw-up. Media firms ought to be capable of stay with that prospect — and, crucially, with the concept that not all screw-ups are equal, and that simply because somebody is indignant a few tweet doesn’t make it a Bad Tweet, and you’ll let folks complain about Bad Tweets with out having to Do Something About The Bad Tweet.
Or they’ll bail out and go away Twitter to the remainder of us.
Update, January 27, 2020, 7:15 pm ET: This put up has been up to date to incorporate an e-mail from Washington Post govt editor Marty Baron in addition to a quote from Felicia Sonmez.