NEW YORK (NYTIMES) – The Associated Press has started a review of its social media policy after more than 150 staff members publicly condemned the firing of a young journalist for violating that policy.
In a memo to its global newsrooms on Monday (May 24), The AP’s top editors said they had heard the concerns from many journalists over the weekend and were “committed to expanding the conversation taking place about AP’s approach to social media”.
The news agency faced a backlash after Ms Emily Wilder, a 22-year-old news associate who had joined the company in Arizona, was dismissed on May 19, three weeks after she was hired.
Ms Wilder, who graduated from Stanford University in 2020 and had worked at The Arizona Republic, said in a statement on Friday that she had been the subject of a campaign by Stanford College Republicans, whose social media posts drew attention to her pro-Palestinian activism at the university. She added that her editors had reassured her she would not be fired for her past advocacy work.
“Less than 48 hours later, The AP fired me,” she said.
“The reason given was my supposed violations of The AP’s social media policy sometime between my first day and Wednesday. In that interim, powerful conservatives like Senator Tom Cotton, Ben Shapiro and Robert Spencer repeatedly lambasted me online. When I asked my managers which exact tweets were in violation of policy or how, they refused to tell me.”
Ms Wilder, who is Jewish, had tweeted during her time at The AP about the conflict involving Israelis and Palestinians.
In one tweet, she said that “using ‘israel’ but never ‘palestine,’ or ‘war’ but not ‘siege and occupation’ are political choices – yet media make those exact choices all the time without being flagged as biased.”
Dozens of AP journalists signed an open letter after Wilder’s firing, criticising the news agency and asking for clarification on how she had violated the company’s social media policy.
“The lack of clarity on the violations of the social media policy has made AP journalists afraid to engage on social media – often critical to our jobs – in any capacity,” the letter said.
Ten newsroom leaders responded on Monday in a memo to the staff announcing a plan to review its guidelines. They said that formal groups would discuss ideas and make recommendations, and a committee of staff members would review the recommendations by Sept 1.
Any changes to the policy would then be raised in the next round of contract negotiations with the union that represents AP employees, the News Media Guild.
“One of the issues brought forward in recent days is the belief that restrictions on social media prevent you from being your true self, and that this disproportionately harms journalists of colour, LGBTQ journalists and others who often feel attacked online,” the memo said.
The editors said in the note that “much of the coverage” of Ms Wilder’s dismissal “does not accurately portray a difficult decision that we did not make lightly.”
Ms Lauren Easton, a spokeswoman for The AP, said the company generally refrained from commenting on personnel, but confirmed that Ms Wilder was dismissed for violating the social media policy.
“We understand that other news organisations may not have made the same decision,” she said. “While many news organisations offer points of view, opinion columnists and editorials, AP does not. We don’t express opinion. Our bedrock is fact-based, unbiased reporting.”