He did what? Facebook post leads to protest, apology, resignation

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Social Media Risk Management

Commentary by Grant Rampy, Firestorm Expert Council Member

Mr. Rampy is director of public relations at Abilene Christian University. He was White House Correspondent for Tribune Broadcasting in Washington, D.C., from 1999 to 2009.

Facebook post leads to protest, apology, resignation

Jason Vincent should have known better.

As a former television news guy, I can tell you: Most TV people know implicitly that they’re being watched. If you’ve been given the privilege to come into people’s homes to share word of the day’s event, you can bet the people watching have certain reasonable expectations about who you are and who you aren’t.

They assume you behave in a certain way – that you, for instance, are not going to pull a Randy Travis (driving while buck naked and allegedly 99% lit); that you aren’t robbing banks on the side; and that, as a matter of course, you don’t say rude things about segments of your audience.

Mr. Vincent isn’t just a TV guy (or rather “was” – more about that in a minute); he was a TV station news director.

The individual in that position stands up in front of the team every morning, delivers the marching orders and, ideally, sets a positive example for his reporting and producing crews to follow. In a perfect world, the news director, not favorite main anchor, is the department’s standard-bearer.

But enough about the news business.

Suffice to say, Mr. Vincent had no business posting the following comment to his Facebook page a few days ago:

“Add drunk, homeless, Native American man to the list of animals that have wandered into my yard.”

We can save time belaboring the point about what makes that statement highly inflammatory. What’s truly shocking is what it says about the author’s shortsightedness.

Mr. Vincent should have realized, as should anyone else who has moved beyond:

Social media posts are a megaphone.

As you know to think before you speak, then pause before you press ‘send’ on any message typed out on your laptop or phone. You may as well be standing on top of a ladder in the middle of a crowded mall.

Now multiply the impact of your shout because your words can be shared and saved. They don’t go away… as Mr. Vincent’s job did on Thursday. (To be clear, his boss at the FOX affiliate in Duluth, Minnesota, accepted Mr. Vincent’s “resignation”.)

Not only did the now-former news director reveal his incompetence in an area central to his business [the authoritative dissemination of information]; he also betrayed a stunning lack of sensitivity for his station’s constituencies.

Use of the terms “animals” and “Native American” in such close proximity could reasonably lead his station’s viewers to ask: Do Mr. Vincent’s biases affect his newsroom decision-making? What do they say about his perceptions of the community he covers? How does all this affect the stories his station produces?

Broadening the discussion beyond the specifics of thick-headed former newsroom managers, this is yet another example of how leaders of all stripes need to know:

You don’t get to have two lives – your professional social media, out-on-the-town self and your personal no-holds-barred social media self.

You may not want to mix them, but the marketplace doesn’t split hairs. It’s all one big soup, and, as Mr. Vincent just found out the hard way, it’s awfully hot.

 

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