Navigating the troll line
History seemed to repeat itself this week. After the New York Times announced Sarah Jeong, currently a senior writer with The Verge, was joining its editorial board.
You may remember that the last woman to be named for this role, Quinn Norton, had her appointment swiftly cancelled
after unsavoury tweets from her past were uncovered by Twitter users unhappy with the news.
The same happened to Jeong as old tweets in which she reacted to racist abuse by satirising ‘anti-white’ racism were highlighted
by a group of largely far-right trolls.
Now, some may argue that the circumstances behind the two cases were different – I’m not going to pass judgment on that – but the fact remains that ‘dredging up old tweets to undermine prominent (especially female) hires’ is something employers seem likely to have to deal with in the future, so it’s worth looking at the reaction to this case.
The New York Times and Jeong both swiftly addressed the criticism, rightfully brushing it off. The Verge went further
, supporting their team member (Jeong is still working her notice period there) and pointing out the strategy behind the attacks:
”Online trolls and harassers want us, the Times, and other newsrooms to waste our time by debating their malicious agenda. They take tweets and other statements out of context because they want to disrupt us and harm individual reporters. The strategy is to divide and conquer by forcing newsrooms to disavow their colleagues one at a time. This is not a good-faith conversation; it’s intimidation.”
Over at Splinter News, Libby Watson went further, arguing
that the New York Times shouldn’t have even acknowledged the campaign against their new hire, and that to do so legitimised it.
There is no right way to handle this (yet), but as a society we’ll gradually get better at navigating the line between rightful protest against someone’s past statements, and kowtowing to trolls acting in bad faith. At least employers seem to be starting to spot the difference rather than immediately terminating a contract out of fear of bad press.