A week ago, we published Michael Roth’s “What do I do” tweet minutes after it was posted. We did so because it represents something that traveled rapidly around campus, and we found humor in the fact that something like this could happen. At that moment it felt crazy that we were seeing this on the public Twitter account of our president. All sorts of theories and ideas were flying around the room, was it an accident? Maybe it was on purpose? How do you accidentally send a tweet?
We watched Twitter very closely from the moment the tweet was posted, and with every new reply to Roth’s tweet, there was something new to chuckle at or think about. It took the better part of half an hour for the tweet to finally be deleted with an explanation from Roth himself.
Well, I made a post I didn’t intend to. I am sorry. I should take a break from Twitter.
— Michael S Roth (@mroth78) December 9, 2018
Since Sunday, the editors of Wesleying have thought deeply about our publication’s role in this situation. We don’t all agree, so we decided to publicly share some of our insights to offer a transparent view on why we did what we did, and what that means for Wesleying as a blog. Read on for these perspectives:
As a team of editors, we felt right in publishing the tweet. In our article we did not make fun of the tweet or its content, although we did note the absurdity of the situation. The tweet also made its own fair share of appearances on the Facebook meme group “Soggy We$ Memes.” Despite the tweet being deleted, the incident is part of Wesleyan’s online history now, and as far as we can tell it will remain that way. I personally have qualms with our decision to post what we did.
Wesleying is a really cool place because it enables a multitude of voices and opinions. As an editor, I want to share mine on the issue I have with writing the post, as well as talk about how I personally envision Wesleying as a media outlet.
At the moment when the original tweet was published it felt to me like the right decision to make a post about it. It was a moment of “Guys this is wild, we need to show people and talk about it.” The post was quickly drafted and we included along with it the screenshot of the tweet a few embedded replies. As I said before, this post records what was tweeted, and doesn’t make commentary.
However, by the time Roth had posted his tweet in which he wrote, “Well, I made a post I didn’t intend to. I am sorry. I should take a break from Twitter.” I couldn’t help but feel bad for what we had posted. To me the issue really comes down to content. The content of the tweet was not Wesleyan related at all. Now there is an argument to be made that if it’s Roth related then it is Wesleyan related, but what was published in this tweet is not the same as if Roth had accidentally published a conversation between him and another administrator bad mouthing each other.
What we found here is a part of Roth’s private life. A little snippet that was suddenly and accidentally cast into the spotlight for all to dissect. Is it our duty to current and future Wesleyan students to preserve that? This is not exactly clear.
The tweet quickly found a home on Soggy We$ Memes. To me, this was more acceptable because Soggy is a private community exclusive to Wesleyan. What we did instead at Wesleying was plaster this tweet to a public-facing side of the internet, where anyone can see it.
Everyone has private things going on behind the public image they portray of themselves. It doesn’t seem fair that because of an accident we’re allowed to give someone else’s private life a home on our website. This, however, is partially the thinking behind the reason we’re keeping the tweet on the website: if a public figure accidentally posts something private to a public forum, then the public is free to do what they want with it in terms of commentary.
Wesleying does not consider itself a gossip blog, and as one of its editors nor do I. However, a lot of our style rests on a lighthearted look at life at Wes. Our takes on campus happenings are something that set us apart from the Argus, which maintains a more journalistic/formal approach to what happens around us. I feel like this difference in style leads people to believe that we at Wesleying don’t take what we do here seriously, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. With every article we spend time and effort to making sure it meets a standard we’re proud to publish. I feel so conflicted, however, because by permanently publishing the content of Roth’s now-deleted tweet, we may have overstepped the line between relevant Wesleyan content and Wesleyan gossip.
On one hand, our post is relevant because it is something many students (and alumni) were discussing today. Yet, on the other hand, it exposes a deeply private part of Roth’s life. To me, the question became: “Will I be proud of this post in a year?” or “Is this really something people will look back on and be happy that we published for them?” Both have been incredibly difficult for me to answer, and I’m still not sure where I stand.
At Wesleying, it is our job to post, make commentary on, and also record what is happening at our school. In those terms, we are, and have been, one of the best-suited outlets to do so. We receive no funding from the WSA/SBC, and are therefore completely independent from Wesleyan itself. We are free to post whatever we like as long as it’s allowed by US law. It makes some sense then that we’d keep this tweet, it is part of Wesleyan history now.
In a week Roth’s tweet will be forgotten and it will remain on Wesleying for future people who are scrolling through our website can find it. The biggest problem I find is this: we have published this snippet of someone private life to be found forever. Yet at the same time, this is part of the history now. I think I can speak for everyone both at Wesleying and on Soggy in saying that we find humor in the accident of the post, not the content. [Note: I don’t think you should say you speak for everyone, there are definitely people who find humor in the content.]
As Managing Editor of Wesleying, I feel personally responsible for the content that gets published on the blog. We have a group of editors, and (especially for posts with sensitive content) we make sure to consult with multiple (if not all) editors about what and how to post in a conscientious way, while not shying away from tough subjects or censoring ourselves.
On Sunday, we were at an all-staff meeting, scrolling through our Twitter timeline to find Wesleyan-related tweets to retweet from our account. This is something we regularly do. A few minutes into this, we saw the (now deleted) Roth tweet. Since we had many editors in the room, we discussed what/how to post, and ended up writing the article (with screenshots of the original tweet, since we figured it would be deleted) and posting it just minutes after the tweet was made. The discourse around Wesleying’s and others’ decisions to post about this quickly flared up online and in person, and I felt that it would be useful to explain my personal thoughts about the situation and why we made the decision we did.
In my mind, Wesleying is a place to post about all things Wesleyan. If you look at our About Page, you’ll see the following description:
Wesleying is a 100% student-run and student-generated blog about all things Wesleyan—what goes on at Wes, what Wes students are doing, what Wes students care about.
We are neither sponsored by nor in any way affiliated with the administration of Wesleyan University.
We reserve the right to edit and moderate comments. Hateful or libelous speech, including malicious personal attacks, will be removed. While we are not responsible for the reader comments that appear on Wesleying, we invite you to contact us with any concerns at staff[at]wesleying[dot]org and we’ll do our best to respond.
In my opinion, Sunday’s events fully fall under the umbrella of “what goes on at Wes, what Wes students are doing, what Wes students care about.” Anyone who was online that day could see that Wes students cared about this from the sheer number of tweets, memes, and speculations flying around in the following hours.
Further, while I do agree that there is a difference between posting in a public-facing medium like our blog versus a private meme group, many students, alumni, and other campus publications engaged with and shared the tweet, screenshots, and commentary on their public-facing accounts, particularly on Twitter. Notably, Aural Wes posted a joking playlist referencing “michael roth’s most recent twitter scandal” and the Wesleyan Groundhog made two joking tweets about the situation, as well as retweeting student responses, like we did from the Wesleying Twitter account. While these publications did not make posts hosted on their websites about the tweets, they did amplify the situation to their followers in a similar way to Wesleying.
However, I’m not trying to say “We did a bad thing and they did it too, so it’s okay.” My real point is that what we posted is well within the realm of things that Wesleying can and should post about. Additionally, Wesleying is not the Argus. We receive zero funding from the university (individual donations and merch sales keep our servers up and running), and we are and have always been a blog, not a newspaper. This means we inherently have different goals and content than a traditional news outlet. As print media declines and digital media takes over, the line between blog and news site can certainly get blurred, but I think it’s important to acknowledge how Wesleying differs from news sources, which hold themselves to different style, reporting, and journalistic integrity standards than a blog.
While Wesleying doesn’t hold itself to a journalistic standard (nor do we purport to), I have always felt that editorial transparency and accountability is important. Every person who puts things on the internet (whether on a personal account or a communal platform) is accountable for what they share (certainly legally, but also ethically, in my opinion). From a very young age, I was taught that using the internet is a privilege, and it comes with responsibilities and consequences that you accept, just like you accept the terms and conditions of using a website or service (even if, like me, you never actually read them). Since I was old enough to use a computer, my parents have lectured me about the importance of internet safety and making sure I don’t post things that I’d be ashamed of on the internet. Because I have posting access to multiple accounts’ social media pages (including my personal account and Wesleying’s), I always make sure to double check which account I’m posting from before sending a tweet or sharing a photo. I am keenly aware that once something is on the internet, even if you later delete it, it’s on the internet and publicly available forever. Even if you didn’t intend to put it online. Even if it has negative consequences.
I understand that not everyone has this guidance about or access to technology. I also understand that people, especially older people who did not grow up as technological natives, may not understand how certain technologies work, and may be more apt to make mistakes. However, Michael Roth is the president of a prestigious university. He has ample resources (education, money, employees) to learn how to responsibly use things like Twitter. And it’s not like he doesn’t understand how Twitter works. He regularly uses the site to spread his own and others’ writing and thoughts on a variety of topics (many of which I disagree with, but that’s beside the point).
On the internet, as in life, we don’t get to negate the impact of our actions because they were unintended. I’m sure Roth is embarrassed (and his son Max likely is too). However, when one puts themself in the public eye (say, by becoming president of an elite university and using that position to vocally share opinions on social media and other platforms), one assents to a certain lack of privacy/increase in scrutiny of what they put out into the world. Maybe this is not the ideal case, but it is the way the world works, and personal embarrassment doesn’t provide a free pass to avoid this.
A former Wesleying writer messaged me and shared the following thought about Internet culture, which I think is a valid critique, even if I disagree:
“People have to deal with the consequences of their actions, I guess even if they delete their accidental posts, but given the platform you have, you guys also help to determine what the consequences are and shape what the response is from the students. It’s really a shame you’re using that responsibility to magnify people’s worst instincts to use the internet to be mean spirited and shit on people, especially in ways they never would to their face.”
I don’t think that Wesleying, or its editors, have the ability (or responsibility) to control how other people use the internet. We certainly have influence online (which we’ve built by posting content that is irreverent, silly, serious, helpful, and everything in between), which is why we are careful to be intentional about the ways in which we convey information, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t convey that information.
To me, this incident is very similar to the time when Senator Ted Cruz “liked” a tweet containing a pornographic image from his official, verified Twitter account (Twitter displays tweets users have liked in a tab on their profiles, so this is publicly available information). Publications and individuals didn’t post about this “scandal” because they disliked Cruz’s politics (or at least not all of them). People laughed about this because it was a funny faux pas, made publicly by a person in a position of power, who has no excuse for that kind of technological ineptitude. Cruz did not intentionally like the tweet (in fact, he repeatedly told people it was a staffer who liked it from his account on accident, not him), but that doesn’t negate the fact that it happened.
I don’t think it’s okay for Wesleying to document Roth’s mis-tweet because I disagree with his politics and actions as president of Wesleyan University. I just think that, as a publication which explicitly exists to cover stories of interest to the Wesleyan community, this falls under that category, even if it is personally embarrassing to Roth. You are welcome to disagree (we have differing opinions amongst our editors, hence this post), but at this point, it would be hypocritical to delete our post—-after all, what we post on the internet is there forever, and we all have to live with the consequences.
As always, if you want to share your thoughts about this or anything else about “what goes on at Wes, what Wes students are doing, what Wes students care about,” feel free to email us at staff[at]wesleying[dot]edu or drop us an anonymous tip. We have featured guest posts in the past, and welcome new writers or one-time posters to contribute to this weird, wacky website we call Wesleying!