Now Is Not The Time To Be Neutral

Now Is Not The Time To Be Neutral

By Jillian Stacia

On Friday, the New York Times released its new Social Media Guidelines for its newsroom.

The guidelines covered a variety of topics, but the one that has everyone talking is its first and most vital point: “In social media posts, our journalists must not express partisan opinions, promote political views, endorse candidates, make offensive comments or do anything else that undercuts The Times’s journalistic reputation.”

And while the intention behind these guidelines is clear: The Times wants to remain a nonbiased organization – it seems impractical and frankly inadvisable to require employees to follow these guidelines in today’s society.

Because frankly, this isn’t the time for neutrality.

We’ve got a President that won this election by using social media to spread lies, denounce accurate reporting, and using “Fake News” as a scapegoat to cover up his negative behavior. We’ve got a President who criticizes and bullies people on social media for sheer sport. We’ve got a President who could potentially cause nuclear war on Twitter.

These are not normal times. This is not the time to remain impartial.

We don’t need objectivity, especially not on social media. We need guidance. We need truth. We need individuals strong enough to speak up about what is really going on. Social media is a grass roots network, and we need it to help mobilize our forces.

As a communications major, I studied social media and business. Of course, this was five years ago, back when social media was a radically different machine. The guiding premise back then was much like what the New York Times is asking for now: be neutral on social media, don’t say anything to cause a stir, beware of backlash.

And yet, even five years ago, it was always the companies that pushed the line that reaped the biggest reward. Companies that would post something funny, something unique. Companies that let their personalities shine through. Authenticity always wins, especially on social media.

It’s still evident today, especially in journalism. Look at Lauren Duca and Teen Vogue. Lauren is perhaps the most outspoken and brilliant political writer of the millennial generation, and her passion and honesty is only benefiting Teen Vogue. Imagine if it decided Lauren had to remain impartial on social media. Imagine if her voice was lost.

And yet, we still hear this advice all the time, even on a personal level. We’re all warned to not post anything on social media that could come back to haunt us. And that’s transformed from drunken pictures on Facebook to political views on Twitter. Do you want future employers to see this? Is this something that can come back to bite you?

As a writer I encounter this question all the time: should I be writing this so publicly? Will this forever be attached to my name? Is it beneficial to pick a side so strongly?

And obviously no, I’m not a Times employee, and I’m not trying to imply that I have the same impact or readership. But I do have friends, colleagues, and strangers that read my work and know very intimately how I feel about politics. And that is still a risk.

I decided awhile back that I would rather write, tweet, and post about this election, this Presidency, this crazy, crazy time we live in, than to avoid the topic altogether. I’m not going to stay quiet just because I might rock the boat.

This comes with very real consequences. As a freelancer, I might not get jobs because of my public opinions.  I know and understand this.  But I weighed the pros and cons, and I’ve decided that it’s more important for me to write and share my opinions than it is to stay quiet. My ideas might be flawed and even flat out wrong, but as long as I am writing from a place of authenticity and honesty, I will not be ashamed of my opinion and my words. I will not shy away from speaking my truth, even if it makes others uncomfortable.

More importantly, I don’t want to look back on this transformational time in history and think I should’ve done more. I don’t want to wonder if I did my part. I don’t want to say that I played small for fear of the consequences.

This is something that everyone in media has to consider. What do they want to say? How do they want to say it? What will the consequences be? But if we keep making up guidelines and suspending people like Jemele Hill simply for expressing an opinion, we are only hurting ourselves and our readers.

More than ever, we need media right now. We need media to be the fourth branch of government, to let us know what the hell is actually going on. Like it or not, social media is part of that package. Personal opinions of reporters and journalists and TV personalities are an essential part of our media consumption. I encourage companies not to fight this, not to act like it isn’t happening, and not to punish employees for engaging in a cultural dialogue that is unfolding right in front of them. This is probably why they wanted to work in media in the first place – to be on the forefront of these conversations.

Don’t fight the social media tide, find a way to roll with it. Because it’s not going away. And we need your voices.

Jillian is part of the Contributing Writer Network at Thirty on Tap. To apply to become a Contributing Writer, please click here.

{featured image via The New York Times}

2 thoughts on “Now Is Not The Time To Be Neutral

  1. MichaelStephenWills says:

    I disagree….when a journalist is representing and organization it is important to be balanced and on fact. If they are not comfortable with this, by all means find other work that allows free form propagandizing.


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