Hearst Asks Staff to Report Colleagues’ Controversial Posts to Management

From a Washington Post story by Will Sommer headlined “Hearst asks staff to report colleagues’ ‘controversial’ posts to management”:

A new social media policy at publishing giant Hearst Magazines warns staffers that even “liking” controversial content could result in their termination, and encourages telling on colleagues who post content that could violate the rules.

Hearst — whose magazine titles include Esquire, Cosmopolitan and Town & Country — sent staffers an email announcing the new restrictions, which were detailed in an internal document that employees were encouraged to sign.

“We should be careful to consider the impact that a controversial statement on a hot-button issue may have on Hearst’s reputation,” the policy reads, according to a copy of the text of the document shared with The Washington Post.

The new policy comes as divisions over the Israel-Gaza war roil the media industry. Last month, Samira Nasr, the editor in chief of Hearst-owned fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar, sparked controversy over an Instagram story where she called the Israeli decision to cut water and power to the Gaza Strip “the most inhuman thing I’ve seen in my life.” Nasr later apologized, calling the remarks “deeply insensitive,” and Hearst pledged to donate $300,000 to charities in the region.

Although the rules don’t explicitly mention the war, they warn employees that social media posts that wouldn’t meet Hearst’s own editorial standards “should not be posted on social media, whether on a Hearst account or a personal one.”

On Wednesday, the union that represents Hearst editorial staffers — the Writers Guild of America, East — filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, saying the policy should have been negotiated with the union first. The union urged employees not to sign the document consenting to the new policy.

“Hearst is declaring that our channels for personal expression are company property, even when we’re off the clock,” the union said.

Although many media companies have social media policies for staffers, Hearst’s rules seem to go unusually far. The policies apply to personal accounts in addition to professional ones, and they give managers the right to tell employees to delete “objectionable” content. The document also says that “liking” or reposting such content also qualifies as breaking the rules. “Just because you didn’t say something on social media and instead only ‘liked’ it or reposted it, it still may suggest to our audience that you approve of a particular statement or view,” the policy reads.

While violations could result in “termination,” according to the document, the policy doesn’t include examples of what qualifies as rule-breaking material. However, it does warn that posts about even seemingly “apolitical” or local topics could be contentious enough to be a problem.

“Many social movements are politically charged, and apolitical events and movements can quickly become controversial and political,” the policy reads. “Even local community organizations can become politicized.”

The Hearst union expressed concern that the vagueness of the policy could help Hearst create pretexts to fire employees or “police” how LGBTQ+ staffers express themselves online.

The policy also urges Hearst staffers to report co-workers’ social media rule-breaking or anything that could “impact the reputation or objectivity of Hearst Magazines” to management, in what the union statement dubbed “a frighteningly authoritarian flourish.”

“It feels like a drastic overreach on the part of our parent company,” said Lizz Schumer, a senior editor and union shop steward at Good Housekeeping, a Hearst magazine.

Hearst isn’t the only media outlet whose internal politics have been roiled by the Israel-Gaza war. The editor of the magazine Artforum was fired in October after his magazine published an open letter in support of Palestinians, sparking resignations from the magazine’s staff and calls from writers and artists to boycott the publication. And award-winning New York Times Magazine writer Jazmine Hughes last week resigned after she violated Times policy by signing an open letter about the war.

Will Sommer is a media reporter for the Post’s Style section, specializing in covering conservative media and conspiracy theories. He’s the author of “Trust the Plan: The Rise of QAnon and the Conspiracy That Unhinged America,” a book covering the QAnon movement.

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