‘WaPo’ Scoop: Social Media Is a Nightmare

Thom Weidlich 06.23.22


Now that the storm has calmed a bit, here’s a look at the Washington Post scandal earlier this month that proves what a nightmare social media can be for organizations, especially when employees are involved. The virtual slugfest among the newspaper’s reporters was unseemly and shows the importance of both crisis planning and social-media policies.

On June 3, Post political reporter David Weigel retweeted a sexist joke. In response, a Post colleague, political reporter Felicia Sonmez, tweeted, “Fantastic to work at a news outlet where retweets like this are allowed!” Weigel apologized for, and deleted, his transgression. It apparently wasn’t enough. On June 6, he was suspended for one month without pay.

Sonmez then got into a Twitter back-and-forth with fellow reporter Jose A. Del Real, who said that, while Weigel’s retweet was “unacceptable,” so was Sonmez’s beating up on colleagues on social media. Sonmez dug in, engaging in dayslong online fights with other co-workers. By June 9, she was tweeting, “Right now, the Post is a place where many of us fear our trauma will be used against us, based on the company’s past actions.”

‘Collegiality, Inclusivity’

Post Executive Editor Sally Buzbee (pictured) reportedly wrote two memos to staff during the fracas asking them to be more civil. But Sonmez wouldn’t stop. On June 9, the paper fired her “for misconduct that includes insubordination, maligning your co-workers online and violating The Post’s standards on workplace collegiality and inclusivity,” according to The New York Times.

It was a situation that spiraled so much out of control, and was so public, that on June 17 Bill Maher did eight minutes about it on his Real Time show. On June 19, Daniel W. Drezner mentioned it in his final Post column. Granted, it’s also a unique situation in that journalists’ motto is “I tweet, therefore I am.” But the sad saga shows the dangers of not having a clear social-media policy — it can lead to a crisis.

On June 14, Buzbee met with editors about the crisis. The next day, the Post distributed to staff a draft of social-media guidelines that it plans to hold meetings about and to get feedback on, according to The New York Times.

Good idea. If only they had thought of it earlier.

Photo Credit: The Washington Post

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