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Antisocial Media: The Washington Post Cracks Down on Twitter Use to Respond to Critics

The Washington Post is taking the social out of social media, responding to a Twitter battle with GLAAD (The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) by banning the use of the newspaper’s official Twitter account or staffers’ professional or personal accounts to respond to critics or speak out on behalf of the Post, TBD.com reported.

An opinion piece by Tony Perkins sparked the controversy, as Perkins discussed his views on why gay teens become depressed, prompting a response from GLAAD and some back-and-forth on Twitter, according to TBD.com, and ending with GLAAD Tweeting, “@WashingtonPost There are not “both sides” to this issue. Teen suicide isn’t a debate-it’s a tragedy. http://bit.ly/crX6q5 #LGBT.”

The email to staff from Washington Post managing editor Raju Narisetti, via TBD.com:

Subject: Responding to readers via social media

This week, some Post staffers responded to outside critics via our main Twitter account. At issue was a controversial piece we’d published online. The intent in replying was to defend the decision to publish the piece, but it was misguided both in describing our rationale for publishing the piece and as a matter of practice. It shouldn’t have been sent.

Even as we encourage everyone in the newsroom to embrace social media and relevant tools, it is absolutely vital to remember that the purpose of these Post-branded accounts is to use them as a platform to promote news, bring in user-generated content, and increase audience engagement with Post content. No branded Post accounts should be used to answer critics and speak on behalf of the Post, just as you should follow our normal journalistic guidelines in not using your personal social-media accounts to speak on behalf of the Post.

Perhaps it would be useful to think of the issue this way: When we write a story, our readers are free to respond, and we provide them a venue to do so. We sometimes engage them in a private verbal conversation, but once we enter a debate personally through social media, this would be equivalent to allowing a reader to write a letter to the editor — and then publishing a rebuttal by the reporter. It’s something we don’t do.

Please feel free to flag (executive editor Marcus Brauchli, managing editor Liz Spayd) and me when you see something out there that you think deserves a response from the Post. As we routinely do, we will work with (director of communications) Kris Coratti and her team to respond when appropriate.

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