This is not a tale about the pitfalls of social media.
John Paton‘s “JRC Employee Rules for Using Social Media” are blank for a reason. There are no special journalistic rules for social media, just as there are no special journalistic rules for using a phone or email to pursue a story or engage with readers.
But ignorance and stupidity is ignorance and stupidity, whether on newsprint, a website or social media. If it happens in the process of “engaging readers,” though, expect the readers to point it out.
Last night, like many media outlets, NBC Connecticut asked readers for their take on the controversy around Rush Limbaugh’s offensive statements about a Georgetown law student. Except this is how they asked:
It got lots of “engagement,” more than 300 comments so far. But here’s what many had to say about it:
There are two possible explanations for the question: 1) An extreme Rush Limbaugh supporter works for NBC Connecticut, feels that calling a law student a “slut” and “prostitute” for using birth control is OK, and let that shape the question. 2) It was a ridiculously ham-handed attempt to appear “unbiased.”
But perhaps the real lesson as we learn how to use Facebook and other social media is that NBC Connecticut asked this question and then “left the room.” No participation in the discussion that followed, no further engagement. Maybe they don’t even know how ridiculous the question was because they’re not listening to the answers? If they are listening, why haven’t they responded with acknowledgement, apology, clarification, more questions?
Mistakes will happen. Another example from the realm of mainstream media misogyny on Facebook, also from last night:
It appears to be a case of an employee accidentally posting a personal status update to the brand page. (And in case you missed it, check out Steve Buttry’s post on guidelines for when and how to use an individual account vs. a brand account for the job.) It received many puzzled and angry comments before being pulled down about a half an hour later (when I called the Press Herald newsroom to give them the heads up).
Stupid mistakes will happen.
But if we’re in the habit of starting conversations and then leaving them, they can be magnified.