After Hill's 'White Supremacist' Tweet, ESPN Loosens Reins on Employees' Social Media

In hopes of finally getting it right, ESPN keeps revising its social media guidelines. This time the Worldwide Leader (in liberal sports) shows "the right instincts," says ESPN Public Editor Jim Brady. In the second such revision of 2017, ESPN is basically throwing off specific restraints and trusting its employees to do right by social media posts. This comes in the aftermath of horrible decisions by employees to behave responsibly on Twitter.

Brady reported:

In the wake of a two-month period in which a pair of controversies around SportsCenter anchor Jemele Hill created angst for the network, ESPN on Thursday released revised social media guidelines for its employees.

According to ESPN President John Skipper, the changes were not made specifically in response to the Hill incidents, but more because of what those controversies reflected.

“I think it’s prompted by the moment that we are having right now, and the political time and the polarization,” Skipper said. By tweeting that President Donald Trump and his supporters are "white supremacists" a few weeks ago, Hill directly contributed to the polarization Skipper speaks of. She was not merely reflecting the "political time."

ESPN first created social media guidelines in 2011 and revised them in 2012. Brady writes, "Now, the political and social issue elements are an unavoidable part of any social media platform, which has created challenges for ESPN." He said the main change in this revision is the additional of a preamble "that ties the policies to ESPN’s larger mission, something the previous policies did not."

Skipper said previous policies "were pretty sound," though "wonkish." “We wanted this to be more of a call to action and to sound like a human being actually wrote it.” The preamble was written by Kevin Merida, senior vice president and editor-in-chief of The Undefeated, ESPN's politically liberal and Black-themed blog. Merida's preamble starts out:

"ESPN has the greatest collection of sports journalists in the world, many of whom are influential on social media. We value the reputation you have helped us build, and preserving it is vital to our business. Our engagement on social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram should be civil, responsible, and without overt political or other biases that would threaten our or your credibility with the public. Do nothing that would undercut your colleagues’ work or embroil the company in unwanted controversy. Apply to social platforms the same high standards, sound logic and common sense you employ on ESPN’s platforms. We reserve the right to take action for violations of these principles. At ESPN, we have a shared responsibility to one another that accompanies the benefits we collectively and individually enjoy. We respect your intelligence, champion your creativity and trust your best judgment."

After what recently happened with Hill's ill-advised social media posts, that trust is not well placed.

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Brady rubber stamps Merida's work and writes that ESPN could have opted "for a long, imposing, very specific set of guidelines that would likely have been impossible to police, and could have prompted ESPN staffers to decide social media wasn’t worth the effort. ... The preamble echoes what Skipper told me: 'We really do trust people, and we want the standard to be: Be smart.'”

At a time when ESPN social media posters are less than civil and less than respectful, this would have been the perfect time to lay out stricter guidelines. It seems every time ESPN passes through these self-inflicted crises, its response is to loosen the rope for its public faces. Well at least for those who are liberal.

The public backlash to Hill doesn't faze Brady. He makes the excuse that if something embroils ESPN in "unwanted controversy," it's amazingly "still in the eye of the beholder." This level of denial is simply astonishing. And so is this suggestion: "But to me, acknowledging gray area is more honest and transparent than suggesting any set of rules can cover all the different scenarios that exist on social platforms."

Apparently ESPN reached the point of revising its guidelines yet again over gray areas and concluded no set of rules is needed! ESPN's policy talks a good game, but is in the end Nero-esque. Brady's adds to this running theme:

“Ultimately, we’re in the judgment business. Those who are active and prominent in social media need to use their judgment. That’s what journalism is: a series of judgments and discernments.”

Journalism should also be about editing and leadership, both of which are in short supply in Bristol. Skipper said he hopes the organization will behave like a journalism organization. Hoping isn't leadership.

Brady says the key changes to ESPN’s social media policy are these:

“Everything we post or comment on in social media is public. And everything we do in public is associated with ESPN.”

“ESPN is a journalistic organization (not a political or advocacy organization). We should do nothing to undermine that position. We are committed to inclusion, tolerance and that which makes us different. But we must remember that public comments on social platforms will reflect on ESPN and may affect your own credibility as a journalist.

The inclusion and not political claims are highly debatable. On social and political issues, ESPN is almost without exception an advocate for hard Left position. If there is any tolerance for alternative views, it is invisible. ESPN has never been more political.

Next, ESPN claims its "focus is sports." To which any reasonable person can assume "when its not" -- which is increasingly more often. "(I)t is essential that we not compromise our authority as the worldwide leader in sports coverage." ESPN compromised that authority long ago.

Skipper tries to justify ESPN's actions based on "uniquely partisan times in which we’re living." And ESPN is as partisan as any in the media.

Brady plants further doubt in this policy revision by admitting he did not understand what policy Hill violated to get herself suspended. He ends his post with the assertion that "trusting employees is better than a Byzantine web of policies matches the reality of the day-to-day digital world."

So despite all the furor about an undisciplined employee tweeting inappropriately, the bigwigs at ESPN are now telling their people to have at it. Use good judgment and have fun!

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