As details surfaced around last week’s requested resignation of Tony Spence, the director and editor in chief of Catholic News Service, a scene from, “The Music Man,” came to mind.
In the 1962 musical, Professor Harold Hill starts a frenzy so the town’s people will be motivated to buy marching band uniforms and instruments from him for their boys. Hill’s plan is to take the money, leave town and never return. “We must create a desperate need in your town,” Hill tells his associate, Marcellus Washburn. Hill sees people looking at a new pool table in the billiards hall. (It takes place in 1912.) He immediately concocts a narrative where boys will irreparably harmed by playing pool. He gathers the town’s people by singing the song, “Ya Got Trouble,” and whips them into a fervor:
“Well, either you’re closing your eyes
To a situation you do not wish to acknowledge
Or you are not aware of the caliber of disaster indicated
By the presence of a pool table in your community.
Well, ya got trouble, my friend, right here,
I say, trouble right here in River City.”
Think of the chaos Professor Harold Hill might have created if he had Twitter:
Ya got trouble, folks, right here in River City.
Trouble with a capital “T”
And that stands for Twitter!
Twitter continues to alter the digital communications landscape. Individuals and organizations must become more informed and aware that anything published on a digital channel can be linked to one’s occupation, their employer or the organization they serve. It doesn’t take much substance to enable a declared opponent or a self-appointed watchdog to wage a campaign against an individual or an organization based on interpretations of—or opinions on—social media posts.
In Tony Spence’s (@TonySpence) case, he added some editorial comments to links of news stories in some Twitter updates. At least three websites pulled screen shots of his Twitter account and each wrote similar posts: the Lepanto Institute (@), LifeSite News @, and the Church Militant (@). The collective criticism was enough for the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops to ask him to leave a position held since 2004 and one that earned him the St. Francis de Sales Award, the highest recognition presented by the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada.
Here’s an excerpt from the April 14, 2016, report on Spence’s resignation from the America Magazine website:
An emotional Spence said this afternoon that critics went after him “full-court on the blogosphere” over the past few days. Spence was told yesterday during a meeting with Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield, the general secretary of the bishops’ conference, that he had “lost the confidence of the conference” and was asked to submit a letter of resignation.
The web-based publications, which in the past have frequently targeted Catholic Relief Services and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, began a drumbeat for Spence’s removal after he posted a series of tweets commenting on impending laws related to bathroom access and other rights for lesbian, gay and transgender people. The Lepanto Institute accused Spence of issuing “public statements decrying proposed legislation in several states that would protect religious freedom and deny men pretending to be women the ‘right’ to enter women’s bathrooms.”
(Another report on the Spence’s resignation can be found on the National Catholic Reporter website.)
Here are the current truths about Twitter and applicable to other social media platforms:
- Professional communicators who have Twitter accounts—especially those serving charitable and religious institutions—will have their updates continuously monitored and, possibly, publicly critiqued by self-appointed watchdogs or opponents of the mission of the organization.
- Your Twitter updates and other information pertaining to the account will be reviewed and archived by anyone you or your organization opposes or those desiring to wage a campaign against you or your organization.
- It doesn’t matter how many people follow your Twitter account or how often you send updates. Any search engine will quickly and easily retrieve your updates and other elements of your account.
- If a person or group wants to attack you for any reason, the first place they will go for evidence or ammunition will be your Twitter account.
The America article continued:
Spence said that the web campaign provoked hate mail to his e-mail account, with messages urging his excommunication and calling him a traitor to the faith. Spence said he did not believe his Twitter comments would provoke such a backlash—“obviously”—but that he had been to his mind merely commenting on developing news on a subject frequently covered by CNS staff.
A Twitter Splitter
The editor of the St. Louis Review, the Catholic newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, wrote a column, “Is it worth being a Twitter splitter?” in the April 18-24, 2016 issue. Teak Phillips (@teakphillips), a friend and well-respected journalist who formerly worked at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, wrote about creating a new Twitter account (@stlrevieweditor) for updates pertaining to Catholic journalism. His personal account, going forward, wouldn’t contain information pertaining to Catholic journalism.
Creating separate accounts for personal and professional business can be appropriate. “I figured discreet Twitter presence for each is logical,” Phillips wrote. However, Phillips and others know anything one publishes through digital channels can be linked to one’s occupation and the organization they serve or work for.
Institutional Expectations, Conversations
Institutional leaders must use discretion and common sense when dealing with the social media accounts of the organization’s communications professionals and all employees. Employees must embrace the mission of their organization and know employee behavior and comments can reflect positively or negatively on the organization. Employers must create and maintain a culture and a climate where dialogue and free expression can contribute to the overall good of an organization and society.
Twitter can be an effective communications tool. The Pope has a Twitter account (@Pontifex). He visited with Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders over the weekend, who is pro-choice and on record for increasing federal funding for the abortion provider, Planned Parenthood. Sanders also believes LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) political causes are more important than religious liberty concerns.
“I gave a greeting and nothing more,” Pope Francis said, according to a Catholic News Agency report. “… If someone thinks that to give a greeting means to get mixed up in politics, I think he needs a psychiatrist.”
Good thing he didn’t Tweet that.
Does your organization need help with social media?
Joe Mueller assists organizations with all phases of social media and digital communications strategy. Contact him by email or by phone (636-232-7730) to schedule a free 45-minute consultation and learn how your organization could use powerful communications channels to further your mission.
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