Commentary

Twitter Needs A 'Check Yourself' Warning For Journalists

Twitter this month banned former President Donald Trump from its social network after months of putting warning labels on tweets that allegedly violated its rules against glorifying violence or spreading false information about the election. The app would be more useful if it would warn people -- especially journalists -- before they tweet potentially life-altering remarks.
With this "check yourself before you wreck yourself" system, a Twitter algorithm would delay any tweet about a public official or hot-button issue, and ask the author: "Are you sure you want to broadcast this to 187 million people? Maybe ask for a second opinion."
I'm suggesting this feature not because Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey called me for advice as I sat down to dinner, but because writers and editors keep getting fired for their remarks on Twitter.
Among the recent examples, The New York Times was said to terminate its contract with editor Lauren Wolfe after she tweeted having “chills” seeing Joe Biden’s plane land as he traveled to the inauguration ceremony, The Wrap reported. In a separate tweet, she chided the Trump administration for being "childish" in not sending a military plane to pick up Biden. That tweet was deleted after Wolfe acknowledged the information was incorrect, as Biden had opted for his own plane.
Her tweets put the NYT's management in an awkward position as some Twitter users complained about Wolfe's political bias. After the news broke of her termination, Wolfe's supporters decried the newspaper as punitive and inconsistent in enforcing its social-media policies. Others called for boycotting the NYT and canceling their subscriptions.
“For privacy reasons, we don’t get into the details of personnel matters, but we can say that we didn’t end someone’s employment over a single tweet,” an NYT spokesperson said in a statement cited by several news outlets.

The newspaper also is weighing how to respond to a tweet by Will Wilkinson, an op-ed columnist who tweeted the morbid joke: "If Biden really wanted unity, he'd lynch Mike Pence." The tweet was a reference to the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, when a group of Trump supporters expressed a similar sentiment.
Despite his profuse apology, Wilkinson was subsequently fired from his job as a vice president of the Niskanen Center, a left-leaning think tank. His status as an NYT contributor is still uncertain.
"Advocating violence of any form, even in jest, is unacceptable and against the standards of The New York Times. We're reassessing our relationship with Will Wilkinson," a newspaper spokesperson told Fox News.
Wilkinson clearly wasn't pushing Biden to hang Pence, but the sordid joke is a reminder of the rule that you're not supposed to joke about having a bomb in your luggage when going through airport security. Humorless guards don't take kindly to such smirking remarks. In the aftermath of the Capitol riot, joking about political violence is no way to "read the room."
Until Twitter develops a more proactive "pre-tweet filter," it's better to take a few moments to consider the potential blowback from sending tweets in a politically charged atmosphere.

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