Campus Life Editor
To say that social media plays a huge role in our lives would be an understatement. We have come a long way since the days of cat videos, top-and-bottom text memes, and rage comics. Whether for better or for worse, social media has become woven tightly into the very way we live our lives. Lives are changed overnight as people become famous “influencers” just for the content they post on social media, and younger people are steering away from local news stations in favor of easily digestible twitter threads explaining the gist of what they need to know. There was even a “TikTok musical” adaptation of Ratatouille that raised three million dollars for the actors fund.
By far the biggest example of how powerful social media is, was when former President Donald Trump was banned from most social media sites for spreading false information and “incit[ing] violence,” according to a statement from Twitter. There is also a sense of solidarity with social media. People and groups who would normally be silenced have the chance to raise their voice and speak up about atrocities to make change. However, there is a semi-unspoken rule in journalism that journalists cannot post opinions to their own social media accounts, whether they are private or not.
In November of 2019, I attended a student journalism conference. I attended as many panels as I could and eagerly ate up every word the panelists — mostly Editors-in-Chief of newspapers I could only dream of someday working for — said. However, almost every single one inevitably said something along the lines of “do not post any opinions to social media. Journalists cannot be open about their opinions. The public deserves to see you as unbiased on every level, even your personal life.” I respectfully understand that they have much more experience than I do, and their sentiments are not meant to be discouraging; it is important to remain professional, especially when people are looking to you to give them honest and well-researched information. I also think there is a line, and some things should not be posted by professionals. For example, cussing out politicians or making crude jokes should not be tolerated. However, I believe that, on some level, this is an outdated way to view social media and the future of journalism.
Newspapers are rarely unbiased, and, while facts are more important than opinions when it comes to reporting, newspapers usually align with a political party, and the news they report on reflects this. As unbiased as we may try to be, there is almost no way to report on issues of gun violence, hate crimes, elections, and specific things a politician did without having a level of bias. Your political opinions and ideologies shape the way you view the world and share information. Being apolitical does not truly exist, and, deep down, we know this as journalists, and the public knows it, too. The difference in someone choosing to read a New York Times article or a Fox News article about the same event is based on their own politics and which newspaper they believe will explain the event inline with their ideology. As journalists, we seek the truth and report it, but oftentimes truth is not black and white, and what we view as the truth often depends on our world view.
We are journalists, not because we want to hide from the public and cover things up, but because we see things that need to be shared, atrocities that need to be talked about, give voices to the voiceless. As a journalist, you don’t write about something unless you think it is important, and even that inherently comes down to opinion. Even if you were somehow completely unbiased, the articles you choose to write reflect your opinion of what deserves to be discussed and what the public needs to know. So then, why would it be wrong to write an article about a rise in hate crimes against a marginalized group, for example, and then make a tweet about the same hate crimes you wrote about?
This past January, the New York Times fired Journalist Lauren Wolfe after public backlash over her tweet, stating “Biden landing at Joint Base Andrews now. I have chills,” and a since-deleted tweet calling the Trump administration “childish.” Wolfe’s journalism has mainly focused on reporting womens rights, sexual violence, and so forth. Why is anyone surprised that a journalist working for the New York Times — a newspaper well known for having left-wing political views that has heavily criticized the Trump administration — who has heavily condemned sexual violence, would criticize Donald Trump? During his term, Trump ended the Violence Against Women Act. As a result, other journalists, like Felicia Sonmez of the Washington Post, and Jeremy Scahill of the Intercept, took to Twitter to defend Wolfe and call out the New York Times for terminating her employment.
This rule is especially absurd when you consider journalists who cover things other than news, like arts and entertainment, sports, opinions, and so forth. Why should a film critic not be able to express their opinions about film? Their reviews should be about more than if they enjoyed the movie or not, but why shouldn’t they be allowed to express their opinions about the movie on social media? Liking or disliking a film does not mean you cannot accurately review it, in the same way that agreeing or disagreeing with politicians does not mean you cannot accurately report on their decisions.
This also separates us from our humanity. Why should someone bring attention to injustice or bigotry and then pretend to feel detached in their personal life? A large part of identity is having opinions. I know I am, personally, more likely to listen to someone who speaks up about important issues and carries that in all aspects of their lives. I am less likely to trust someone who speaks out once and then never mentions it again. Journalists are humans, and it is unfair and impractical to expect us to repress our voices for the rest of our lives just so we can express our voices at work.
Again, I do not think it should be a ‘free for all, tweet whatever you want’ situation. There should be some professionalism on social media. We should not just tweet thoughtless, uninformed statements. There should definitely be lines and guidelines. However, if a journalist puts as much thought, research, and tact into their opinions on social media as they do into their articles about similar topics, then what is the problem? Speaking the truth should not come at a cost to being true to yourself.
Social media is such a powerful tool in building engagement. Again, younger generations are looking to places like Twitter and TikTok for news, while older generations are looking to places like Facebook. Having an informed journalist express their opinions on issues from politics to pop culture can cut through misinformation, raise even more awareness for the situation, and reach new people compelling them to want to check out the journalists actual articles, creating a new loyal reader for the newspaper. “Silence is violence” is a phrase often used to explain that being silent and remaining unbiased about issues is not a neutral stance, but actually damages those who need others to amplify their voices. As journalists, our job is to raise awareness about what is happening locally and around the world, so why should we be silent on some of the most effective platforms to spread information? By pretending to be detached, we disappoint those who look to the news to share their stories. A silent journalist creates much more harm than good.
Featured Image: Sage Amdahl / Quaker Campus