Avoid lying, avoiding or minimizing the controversy, or playing it off as a joke
Character counts — especially on the internet.
MSNBC host Joy Reid apologized Sunday after a Twitter user’s Internet Archive search revealed decade-old blog posts, authored during her time covering Florida politics, referring to then-Gov. Charlie Crist as “Miss Charlie” and speculating he was gay — comments many decried as homophobic.
“In addition to friends and coworkers and viewers, I deeply apologize to Congressman Crist, who was the target of my thoughtlessness. My critique of anti-LGBT positions he once held but has since abandoned was legitimate in my view. My means of critiquing were not,” she wrote. “Re-reading those old blog posts, I am disappointed in myself. I apologize to those who also are disappointed in me. Life can be humbling. It often is. But I hope that you know where my heart is, and that I will always strive to use my words for good. I know better and I will do better.”
1/x From 2007 to 2009 @joyannreid authored a dozen homophobic posts not only attempting to out Charlie Crist as gay, she attacked & mocked him for being so.
She repeatedly referred to him as "Miss Charlie" and tagged posts about him under "gay politicians." (thread) pic.twitter.com/tRYvJ3lTc8
— Jamie M (@Jamie_Maz) November 30, 2017
Crist, now a congressman representing Florida’s 13th district, accepted Reid’s apology in a tweet: “Long forgotten, but thank you, Joy. I appreciate you.” But will you be so fortunate when it happens to you? Here’s what to do if your embarrassing or offensive posts make an unwelcome return in 2017:
Assess the damage and apologize. Ask: “Have I hurt someone? Is this potentially damaging to my family, friends (or) career? Is this something that is going to change the way that the public perceives me?” social media entrepreneur Natalie Zfat told Moneyish. If necessary, extend an apology to the person or group you offended, said digital media consultant Amy Vernon.
It may even help to schedule a one-on-one talk with an organization that represents the target group of your comments — think the Anti-Defamation League or GLAAD — and ask how you can aid their efforts, she added. “You’re showing that you are truly sorry and you’re trying to do something to make things better,” Vernon said. “It’s not going to please everybody, but it at least shows an attempt to do something other than just lip service.”
Tell the truth. With any apology, Zfat said, “strive for honesty on every level. It not only will make you feel better, but will be the authentic response that I think will hopefully make the best of a poor situation.” Avoid lying, avoiding or minimizing the controversy, or playing it off as a joke, Vernon said: “It doesn’t really matter what you meant. The words are still there — and most of the time when people say, ‘Oh, I didn’t really mean that’ or ‘Oh, it was a joke,’ that doesn’t cut it anymore.”
Don’t rely on deleting. The ease of the screenshot renders deletion largely useless — plus, Vernon pointed out, cherrypicking old tweets to purge “makes you seem like you’re hiding something.” “I don’t think you’re going to get away with it by deleting it, if that’s the intention,” Zfat said. “You’re much better off admitting it, apologizing and taking responsibility.”
Don’t beat yourself up. Embarrassing social media blunders typically aren’t career-ending, Zfat said, and our followings and communities tend to move on from them quickly. “We’re human beings and we all make mistakes, whether it’s online or offline,” she said. “You want to take responsibility but you also want to make sure that the … punishment fits the crime, speaking generally.”
Consider getting out in front. Depending on a variety of factors — the topic at hand, your own personal judgment or potential scrutiny of your industry or colleagues’ social media, to name a few — you may decide it’s best to preemptively acknowledge and address a problematic post, Vernon said. (It helps to export your Twitter, Facebook or old blog archives to sift for potential keywords.) “I think most people are more forgiving when they hear it from you first,” she said, “as opposed to someone else.”
Think before you tweet, obviously. “Think about how other people will read what you’re writing,” Vernon said. “Do they know you? Do they know your sense of humor? Do they know when you’re being satirical or humorous and when you’re being serious?” Consider the range of people who might see your posts, Zfat added. “The keys to the castle of social media are really restraint and judgment,” she said. “The best prevention is really just being extremely thoughtful.”
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