What do you do if an employee responds to a controversial external commenter on Twitter with what you consider to be the wrong answer? If you’re The Washington Post, you send out a memo to your employees asking them to stop tweeting back to readers.
The memo followed a negative reaction to a Washington Post article “Christian compassion requires the truth about harms of homosexuality”. The article argued that homosexuality is a mental health issue. GLAAD, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, complained about the piece on their and the GLAAD website.
Unfortunately, a member of The Washington Post took to Twitter to defend the feature, and suggest that every story has “both sides”. This reaction only fuelled the fire, with GLAAD taking to Twitter to argue the case further “@WashingtonPost There are not “both sides” to this issue. Teen suicide isn’t a debate-it’s a tragedy. http://bit.ly/crX6q5 #LGBT”
The Washington Post’s next move was to send a memo out to all their employees, requesting that they refrain from using social media accounts, whether personal or business, to speak on behalf of the Post.
The following part of the memo was particularly interesting:
“When we write a story, our readers are free to respond and we provide them a venue to do so. We sometimes engage them in a private verbal conversation, but once we enter a debate personally through social media, this would be equivalent to allowing a reader to write a letter to the editor–and then publishing a rebuttal by the reporter. It’s something we don’t do.”
While it’s important to make sure all ‘official’ social media activity is “on-message”, banning employees from commenting at all seems extreme. As The Guardian website pointed out “To ban journalists from entering into discussion with critics is a denial of freedom for both journalists and citizens.” By refusing to give personal opinions, they’re missing the point of social media; they’re basically broadcasting and not listening. Further, it’s unclear whether this blanket ban also applies to the journalist who writes the post. Are they discouraged from responding as well?