On War and Speech
Who gets to speak, and what do we actually hear?
Hey everyone, Parker here. This is a bit of a long, rambling one, so I hope you’re in the mood for that! (One of my goals for the new year is to be less wordy, so I’m hoping these sorts of freewheeling newsletters will become a bit less common.)
I hope you all had a good weekend. But first, there’s one important thing I wanted to ask:
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Last week,ofasked a very simple and very important question, and one I’ve thought about for years: Who is allowed to have an opinion online?
The gist of the Embedded piece (it’s not that long; go check it out) is news organizations’ social media policies are often so vague and prohibitive that they essentially require employees to publicly hide significant portions of themselves. As such, things can very quickly get out of hand.
Hearst, a massive publisher, recently required employees to sign on to an especially wide-ranging policy. From the Washington Post’s reporting on it:
Although many media companies have social media policies for staffers, Hearst’s rules seem to go unusually far. The policies apply to personal accounts in addition to professional ones, and they give managers the right to tell employees to delete “objectionable” content. The document also says that “liking” or reposting such content also qualifies as breaking the rules. “Just because you didn’t say something on social media and instead only ‘liked’ it or reposted it, it still may suggest to our audience that you approve of a particular statement or view,” the policy reads.
While violations could result in “termination,” according to the document, the policy doesn’t include examples of what qualifies as rule-breaking material. However, it does warn that posts about even seemingly “apolitical” or local topics could be contentious enough to be a problem.
“Many social movements are politically charged, and apolitical events and movements can quickly become controversial and political,” the policy reads. “Even local community organizations can become politicized.”
In its statement, the Hearst union expressed concern that the vagueness of the policy could help Hearst create pretexts to fire employees or “police” how LGBTQ+ staffers express themselves online.
At Embedded, Lindsay calls out the expansion of what is considered a “controversial topic” to include “apolitical events,” with “likes” being enough to count as an infraction.
“I worry about the precedent these kinds of policies can set,” she writes. “They’re at best a severe overreach, and at worst a tool to use social media as a scapegoat for any kind of termination.”
Are gay employees allowed to post a photo of themselves attending Pride events? Or, for that matter, to even like an Instagram post of one of their friends at a Pride parade? These are questions left unanswered.
I think it’s more than understandable if companies (in and out of the world of media) have some sort of reasonable restrictions on what employees can or can’t post online. Few companies, for instance, would want to be associated with someone who spends their off-time tweeting pro-Nazi content. Similarly, I understand that news organizations might have even more restrictive policies when it comes to reporters on some beats.
As Lindsay writes:
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.
She’s right, and it should be noted that both Cosmo and Esquire are Hearst properties. Based on the timing of this new and expansive policy, it’s pretty safe to say that the catalyst for it wasn’t abortion or Trump (though those are undeniably “controversial” topics). It was the war in the Middle East.
I will put this out there: I believe good, reasonable people can disagree about aspects of the conflict in the Middle East.
On October 7, thousands of Hamas militants carried out a deadly attack against Israel and its people. They killed more than 1,200 Israelis and took more than 200 as hostages. Men, women, children, babies. All victims. I think most people can acknowledge that terrorist attack as the horror that it was. I hope so, at least.
Israel responded to this with a wide-ranging aerial bombing campaign and a blockade of the Gaza Strip. From an October 9 BBC report:
The Gaza Strip could be on the brink of a new humanitarian crisis if supplies are not allowed in, authorities say, as Israel responds to the Hamas attacks.
On Monday, Israel declared a "complete siege" on the territory, saying electricity, food, fuel and water would be cut off.
According to residents, aid has not reached the enclave since Saturday.
BBC footage shows deserted streets covered with rubble from collapsed buildings following Israeli airstrikes.
Nearly 700 people have died in these attacks and thousands more are reported to have been injured.
The area is home to about 2.3 million people in total - 80% of whom rely on humanitarian aid mainly due to the ongoing hostilities with Israel.
It is ruled by Hamas militants but Israel controls the airspace and its shoreline. It also restricts who and what goods can cross its borders.
Neighbouring Egypt strictly controls what or who can pass through its border with Gaza too.
In response to the decision to cut off utilities, Harper’s Bazaar editor-in-chief Samira Nasr posted to her Instagram stories on October 10th, “Cutting off water and electricity to 2.2 million civilians…This is the most inhuman thing I’ve seen in my life.”
She received massive backlash for the post. She apologized two days later, writing, “I want to apologize to my friends, colleagues, and the entire Jewish community for my deeply insensitive and hurtful comments. I have no hate in my heart for any people, and I am not in any way sympathetic to a terrorist group that just murdered thousands of innocent Israeli civilians. I’m a firm believer that words matter, and I was careless with mine. My most sincere apologies.”
And look, I’ll be the first to say that I’m about as much of an outside observer as possible, and I’m certainly not an expert on Israeli-Palestinian relations. Still, I can definitely see why someone would be offended by her comment. It didn’t center on victims of the attack from just days earlier and could certainly be viewed as insensitive.
At the same time, I’m a bit surprised that there wasn’t at least a bit more sympathy for the more than two million people who live in Gaza who, through no fault of their own, suddenly had no access to life-sustaining utilities like water and electricity. And before someone jumps into the comments to accuse me of being a terrorist sympathizer, I will clarify that I have no sympathy for the people who planned or participated in the attack; my sympathy is for everyone else there.1
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