Hurling insults. How to cope with social media attacks.

When a morning anchor in Wisconsin delivered an editorial as a response to a Facebook comment about her weight, I watched journalists speak overwhelmingly in support of her and her station’s decision.  Now, a meteorologist in Louisiana has been fired for her responses to Facebook comments about her hairstyle.  Once again journalists started buzzing on Twitter about how hard it is to take viewer insults, especially on social media.

No doubt this is a very difficult part of the job.  During the shootings in Aurora, I read a local reporter’s Twitter feed daily for updates.  I noticed a viewer scold the reporter for sending out tweets asking for hook ups with families of someone in the theater at the time of the shooting.  The viewer said the timing seemed harsh (this was during the first day after the shooting).  The reporter replied, that he/she was just doing their job and the viewer did not have to follow the feed.  I also saw a viewer call out a morning anchor for too many inside jokes on Twitter with other morning anchors.  This anchor replied, too bad, if you don’t like it don’t read and stop trying to ruin the fun.  And that there are other options in town, take one.

I understand that viewers can sometimes be out of line.  I also understand you may get insults by the dozens at times.  But I have to say, reading these responses can really undermine people’s view of you.  The burden is on the journalist to take the high road.  Keep in mind, by virtue of simply being on TV, you are a local celebrity and are held to a different standard than someone who is not.

So what do you do?   The simple answer, thank the viewer for the input and decide if there is any merit to their comments.  If there isn’t, let it go.  If there is, be grateful someone made you aware.  But remember the viewer is the customer, and attacking a customer, in any kind of public setting, is just bad business.  If the insult is very personal and offensive, let management know.  You should have a running dialogue with your ND on how the station handles these things.  In some cases, the station takes care of the response.

The fact that these insults happened on social media, takes the discussion to another level.  It is one thing to call a person back, on the phone, and have a moment of weakness by saying something you should not.  It is quite another to do it in a social media forum where it is public and you cannot take it back.  That response, even if you delete it, is essentially forever findable.  Bottom line it is in writing and therefore more permanent.  Not the place for a moment of weakness.  That’s why you need to communicate regularly with a manager about these responses.  If your management team will not discuss options with you, send only “Thanks for the suggestion.” then let it go online.  Viewers and potential employers can only take the comments at face value.  Make sure whatever yoiur response is, it’s the representation you want to follow you throughout your career.