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Who is allowed to have an opinion online?
Social media policies aim to silence employees.
Embedded is your essential guide to what’s good on the internet, written by Kate Lindsay and edited by Nick Catucci.
I am reminded of this great Ashley Feinberg post. —Kate
Embedded’s social media policy is “wherever we can remember to post.”
A staggering number of people in the media lost their jobs last week, thanks in large part to layoffs across Vice and G/O. That number is all but certain to grow—not just because of downsizing, but now also because of social media.
According to a letter obtained by The Washington Post on November 8, Hearst has asked its employees to sign a broad new social media policy prohibiting them from using their personal accounts to express opinions on controversial topics. “Many social movements are politically charged, and apolitical events and movements can quickly become controversial and political,” it reads. “Even local community organizations can become politicized.”
By broadening the definition of a controversial topic to include even “apolitical events,” and defining something as minor as a “like” as an infraction, I worry about the precedent these kinds of policies can set. They’re at best a severe overreach, and at worst a tool to use social media as a scapegoat for any kind of termination.
While this latest policy makes no mention of current events, there’s little question of why it’s being implemented now. Samira Nasr, the editor-in-chief of Hearst-owned fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar, received backlash when she spoke out in support of Gaza on Instagram Stories. Artforum editor-in-chief David Velasco was fired after publishing an open letter about the war. New York Times Magazine staffer Jazmine Hughes resigned under pressure after signing an open letter in support of Gaza, violating the Times’s policy.
Media company social media policies are there to enforce balanced coverage and prevent biases, and they make sense in certain scenarios: In order to maintain objectivity, a political reporter shouldn’t outwardly support a specific candidate. But as social media grows, so do attempts to control it. By applying these rules to all topics and all employees, they suggest someone who posts in support of Palestine is unable to credibly write, say, horoscopes.
Plus, most media outlets are not apolitical. Is abortion a “controversial” topic? Because Cosmopolitan runs exclusively pro-choice coverage. What about Trump? Because Esquire seems to be against him—or at least, they’ve centered their coverage on Charles Pierce’s anti-Trump column. If employees exclusively post opinions that align with those published by their employer, is that okay? Because then these policies are not “employees can’t share controversial opinions” but “employees can only share our magazine’s opinions”—which would put these companies in charge of deciding which opinions are right, and which ones are wrong.
I don’t think people should be allowed to say abhorrent things online without consequences, but that’s not a distinction these policies make. They’re entirely too broad, and termination is not a threat to throw about lightly. This is a country where affordable access to healthcare is tied to employment. When social media was something you logged onto for an hour of your day as a supplement to “real life,” it was more reasonable to have an expectation of how your employees used it. But now online is real life, and to silence someone on social media is to silence them, point blank.