ESPN Joins List Of Companies Enforcing Stringent Social Media Policies, Which Is Both Bad And Stupid

from the everything-is-politics dept

In these times in which I have spent many words and more calories lamenting the hyper-partisan uber-politicization of, well, pretty much everything, I have tended to focus on the primary effects of that silliness. It makes for bad elections, and therefore bad democracy. It grinds any kind of progress in government to a halt. It results in too many people making too little time to actualy listen to those that might not think as they do, instead devolving entirely too many conversations into soundbite name-calling, as though we were all participating on some national cable news roundtable.  

But the secondary effects of all of this are both important and terrible as well. An example of this can be found in major media companies responding to this partisanship, and particularly the silly amount of noise being made about how media itself is partisan, by instituting social media policies that are both draconian and stupid on the business side. And, if this sort of thing makes you feel any better, it happens on both sides of the political aisle. In recent weeks, for instance, both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have rolled out social media policies disallowing their respective journalists from publishing anything partisan.

The New York Times waded back into this particular swamp when it introduced an update to its social-media guidelines earlier this month, and reinforced the fact that its journalists are not to express any “partisan opinion” on social. The Times also noted that while reporters might be using these accounts on their personal time, anything said on them is the purview of the paper because of their association with it.

Not to be outdone, The Wall Street Journal this week released an update to its social-media policy. It reiterated the existing prohibition against “posting partisan comments on social networking sites,” and added that the paper’s management believes some reporters and editors “are spending too much time tweeting.”

This is silly for a number of reasons, chief among them that it will not have the desired effect. The New York Times will still be the dirty liberal communist left for those of a certain lean, while the Wall Street Journal won’t be suddenly seen as the bastion of the middle ground for those of another. Stifling the social media presence of your media personalities to cultivate some non-partisan moniker is laughable. But it’s also bad for business. People follow those media personalities, many of them that do opinion-based work, because they want to know what those personalities think. Slapping duct tape over the mouths of those that are the magnet for a media company’s audience is the exact opposite of what they should be doing. For those more on the journalistic side than opinion side of things, it’s slightly more understandable for a media property to want to appear politically even, except that we already said that wasn’t going to happen.

And if you thought this was only going on in the arena of traditional news media, you’re wrong. ESPN too, in the wake of the Jemele Hill vs. the White House episode, has gone further and required that their personalities not do things that draw any attention to ESPN that it doesn’t want. And if you think that sounds vague, that’s how the actual policy is written.

ESPN distributed new social media guidelines to its employees Thursday, which reinforced some existing rules about not breaking news exclusively on social media, respecting colleagues, and—oh wait, here’s a new thing: “Do nothing that would undercut your colleagues’ work or embroil the company in unwanted controversy.”

How is the average sports commentator or journalist supposed to know which types of controversy the company might want and which it doesn’t? It’s worth remembering that ESPN is essentially a marketing company more than it is in the journalism business. It wants attention, generally speaking. More attention, more eyeballs, more money. At least the New York Times and Wall Street Journal had the common decency to list an actual offense to avoid: partisanship. ESPN’s guidelines instead puts its employees’ employment at the pleasure of whether or not enough of the public will be upset at what they say on social media to warrant “controversy.” That’s crazy.

And even more so than with straight news media outlets, sports journalism and ESPN are almost entirely opinion-based. So ESPN wants to take people that follow its personalities for their opinions…and tell them not to be opinionated on social media? That doesn’t make any sense. And, again, it won’t achieve its goal. ESPN is the land of the socialists. We know so because Rush Limbaugh told us as much. No social media policy is going to change that.

The ultimate cure for this is, of course, the normalization of our political discourse, moving it back to the more reasoned discussions we at least think we remember having. These social media policies are a symptom of the problem, not a cure to it.

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Companies: espn

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Comments on “ESPN Joins List Of Companies Enforcing Stringent Social Media Policies, Which Is Both Bad And Stupid”

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Roger Strong (profile) says:

In recent weeks, for instance, both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have rolled out social media policies disallowing their respective journalists from publishing anything partisan.

That rules out pretty much everything. Politics. Foreign policy. Domestic policy. Civil rights. Mass shootings. Immigration. Healthcare. And of course their own industry.

They’d have to stick to the weather or thier favorite restaurant. No, wait, those topics are partisan now too.

Seriously, how would they predict what’ll be partisan by the next election cycle? Study Ted Nugent’s lyrics?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

They’d have to stick to the weather or thier favorite restaurant. No, wait, those topics are partisan now too.

The commentary around them is often partisan, but the topics themselves aren’t (in that they don’t refer to political parties). Maybe they intended their policy to prevent such things too, but as written all the journalists need to do is avoid endorsing a party.

Anonymous Coward says:

Way off base

I usually agree with most things I read here, but I actually agree with ESPN on this. I do want to hear opinions from their personalities. But I only want to hear sports-related opinions. I want to know about whether my team’s adoption of the 3-4 defense is going to help or hurt. Whether or not Lavar Ball is good for the game. I DO NOT want to hear someones opinion on foreign policy or if they think Trump is a tool. I turn to ESPN to escape that crap, and nothing will make me turn the channel faster than having real life impede on my sports.


Re: Re: Way off base

Why are they not allowed to have opinions,

That’s not what they’re being paid for.

Although this is more about their nonsense on screen than what they do on Twitter.

I can certainly see why entertainment companies might want their visible talent to avoid antagonizing the customers. It’s a shame they don’t seem to understand this.

nerd bert (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Way off base

Actually, they are paid to say things, and often on social media to promote their work and the company they work for. That’s why so much of this whole thing is problematic: these folks are the public face of their companies, and if they’re out there speaking it can be difficult to decide if they’re speaking as a representative of their employer or as themselves.

Look at Trump. When he tweets is it personal opinion or the policy of the US government? If it’s policy, Hillary would be under investigation or locked away, so it’s probably some mixture of both. But in any case, he’s creating a very confusing situation with his social media interaction, one that anyone interacting with the public would be wise to avoid and that’s what these companies want.

So I don’t disfavor these policies much as a general rule. Think of this as a career protection mechanism for these folks. They say something stupid enough and they’ll hurt the company and they’re essentially unemployable anywhere because they’re so often facing the public.

Koby (profile) says:

Re: Re: Way off base

News media companies are losing large audience shares because they are no longer trusted. Once upon a time, anyone who was biased was kicked off the news floor. News presenters were preferred because they had no perceived bias. If a reporter wanted the job, they needed to have no stake in the news that they were covering.

John85851 (profile) says:

Re: Way off base

I agree with you.

When I watch ESPN, I want to hear opinions about sports and such, not opinions about Trump and Clinton.
On the opposite side, if I’m watching Inside Edition or Entertainment Tonight, I don’t want to hear their opinions on whether the Dallas Cowboys have a good 3-4 defense.

In other words, it’s okay to have opinions, but keep it relevant to the topics that the show or network covers.
The execs could have worded their policy statement a little better.

dcfusor (profile) says:

Tired of polarization/divide and conquer/identity politics

Which has even crept into and taken over a few tech sites I used to inhabit frequently. I just quit going to a couple of them, even ones slanted in “my direction” as it got so tiresome – and anyone who “knows it all” via oversimplified stereotyping of “the other guy” doesn’t know diddly. No truth to be found in that, and heck, I just wanted tech news, which last I heard is not particularly political (though politics does affect tech as displayed here, often enough from ignorance of the pols).

When some tech development is in the news and the comments are all “this red/blue teams fault” about OT stuff – I’m gone. If I try to say something *about tech* and it gets modded down because someone perceived it as political and not their flavor, I’m gone. No eyeballs from me if you can’t keep to your mission. It’s especially moronic to blame the current crowd for things that have been going on for decades in my 64 or so years of observations. Yeah, we have some problems, but gheesh…

Instead of trying to fix blame, why not try to fix the problems?

Anonymous Coward says:

National Labor Relations Board

Do a general search, and search in the news:

“national labor relations board” “social media” political

For example, here is one:

Federal and state laws do prohibit employers from terminating workers for reasons having to do with race, religion and gender, but there is no prohibition for political speech.

So, yes, political posts on social media may lead to termination.

02/04/2016 05:56 pm ET | Updated Feb 04, 2017
Can You Be Fired For Your Political Beliefs Or Activities? Maybe
By Donna Ballman

Every election year, I see and hear about people being fired for what candidates they support and for political discussions at work. And every election year, I’m asked: is this legal? The answer is maybe. Mostly, it depends on what state you work in.

Concerted activity: While employers can certainly prohibit general political discussions and political campaigning at work, the National Labor Relations Act says that private employers cannot prohibit discussions about workplace conditions. Therefore, if employees discuss why a candidate is better for them as workers, then the employer can’t fire them for that discussion. On the other hand, employers can force you, as a captive audience, to attend meetings and listen to one-sided political pitches on behalf of candidates unless you live in Oregon, which has the Worker Freedom Act. New Jersey has a similar law.

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