Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t say it at work; don’t say it on social media. Easy enough, right? Not so much. We’ve seen time and time again, broadcasters behaving badly on social media. So, what’s the big deal? As journalists or representatives of large corporations, often personal opinions are not appropriate nor are they welcome, yet some broadcasters have bucked authority and sent out tweets landing them in hot water. The nature of social media makes this easy, but it doesn’t make it right.
In 2012, Huey Morgan, a radio host for the BBC, went on a not-so-nice Twitter rant against one of his colleagues. Fortunately, Morgan realized rather quickly (the next day) that his actions were not appropriate and soon apologized to his colleague. This probably helped quell the controversy, but it still happened. Management did talk with Morgan, but if I were head of the radio station, I would have suspended him. Mainly, to prove a point. Despite tweeting the inappropriate comments from his personal account, Morgan is a public figure and represents the BBC Radio division. Not only were his comments inappropriate, they were aimed at one of the company’s other talents. Talk about bad public relations. A company must be seen as a united front. In fighting, played out on Twitter, looks bad on many levels.
I don’t think a public figure can have total freedom on social media. They are hired as representatives of companies/organizations and therefore they have to uphold the standards of that company, even in their free time. One of my friends is a local news anchor in Roanoke, Va., and she often jokes that she is never “off the clock.” Even when she’s not working, she is a representative of the station, and people see her as such. If she’s having a bad day, and someone approaches her at the super market to complain about how her hair looks or a recent story, she has to be nice and respectful. She is a public figure 24/7. I think many broadcasters forget this. It’s the job they signed up for and they need to handle all the things that come along with it – good of bad.
Social media also poses challenges for broadcasters who believe strongly in certain causes. For instance, in 2013 BBC contributor Chris Packham was reprimanded after expressing his personal beliefs against the killing of badgers. The BBC claimed that Packham had violated their editorial guidelines, by expressing his personal views on the matter. They were right. It can be hard to manage an employee’s desire to use social media to speak freely, especially about causes they feel strongly about. That’s why, guidelines need to be set in place and made clear to all employees. Packham issued a statement regarding the controversial comments and stated he would no longer report on the issue. I think this is probably the best thing to do. Separating work assignments from personal beliefs is sometimes the easiest way to avoid impartial reporting. There shouldn’t be a conflict of interest, and the public shouldn’t question the impartiality of a story.
Celebrities are a whole other beast on social media. Clearly different from broadcasters, they don’t have to remain impartial (unless they work for a broadcasting company as a contributor). However, when they air their grievances on social media, it tends to come off as whining rather than being passionate. One example, Kayne West’s rant toward Jimmy Kimmel. Can I just say: no one feels bad for you Kayne! Being a public figure means you get made fun of my comedians. Suck it up. Use your social media presence to help a cause you believe in.
Bottom line: don’t say something on Twitter you wouldn’t say at work, or you wouldn’t say to your mom. That’s my rule of thumb. It can come back to bite you in a professional setting or it could jeopardize your reputation with the public. Think before you tweet people!