In June, 2017, the Washingtonian reported on a new policy at the Washington Post that prohibits its employees from conduct on social media that “adversely affects The Post’s customers, advertisers, subscribers, vendors, suppliers or partners.” In such cases, according to the policy, Post management reserved the right to take disciplinary action “up to and including termination of employment,” Andrew Beaujon reported for the Washingtonian. According to the report, the Post’s policy went into effect on May 1 and applies to the entire company.
In addition to the restriction on criticism, the Post’s new policy encouraged employees to snitch on one another: “If you have any reason to believe that an employee may be in violation of The Post’s Social Media Policy … you should contact the Post’s Human Resources Department.”
The Post declined to comment on the policy to Washingtonian.
At the time of the news report, the Post’s guild, which represents newsroom and commercial employees at the newspaper, was protesting the company-wide action and was seeking to have the controversial parts of the policy removed in a new labor agreement.
As Whitney Webb noted in a report for MintPress News, “This new policy offers a simple loophole to corporations that wish to avoid criticism from the Post, as becoming a sponsor of the paper would quickly put an end to any unfavorable coverage.”
Webb’s report also addressed how the policy might affect the Post’s coverage of stories involving the CIA. Noting that four months after Jeff Bezos purchased the Post, Amazon Web Services signed a $600 million contract with the CIA for web hosting services that now serve “the entire U.S. intelligence community.” (Bezos is the CEO of Amazon.) According to Webb, “long before” the Post’s new policy restricting employees’ use of social media went into effect, “some had speculated that the connections between the CIA and the Post were already affecting its reporting. For example, last year, the Post openly called for the prosecution of Snowden, despite having previously used the whistleblower’s leaks for their Pulitzer Prize-winning report on illegal NSA spying.”
Former Post reporters suggested that, although criticism of the CIA would not technically be prohibited under the company’s new policy, doing so might jeopardize one’s career. In 2013, John Hanrahan, a former Post reporter, told AlterNet, “Post reporters and editors are aware that Bezos, as majority owner of Amazon, has a financial stake in maintaining good relations with the CIA — and this sends a clear message to even the hardest-nosed journalist that making the CIA look bad might not be a good career move.”
Andrew Beaujon, “The Washington Post’s New Social Media Policy Forbids Disparaging Advertisers,” Washingtonian, June 27, 2017, https://www.washingtonian.com/2017/06/27/the-washington-post-social-media-policy/.
Josh Delk, Washington Post Prohibits Social Media Criticism of Advertisers,” The Hill, June 28, 2017, http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/339930-washington-post-prohibits-social-media-criticism-of-advertisers.
Whitney Webb, “Bezos Bans WaPo Staff From Criticizing Corporate Advertisers On Social Media,” MintPress News, July 17, 2017, https://www.mintpressnews.com/washington-post-staff-banned-criticizing-advertisers/229821/.
Student Researcher: Bryan Sergel (Indian River State College)
Faculty Researcher: Elliot D. Cohen (Indian River State College)