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Social Media Rules on Capitol Hill: What Not To Do

Schock. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Schock. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)


Benjamin Cole, spokesperson for Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., has resigned after his racially charged Facebook comments surfaced on the ThinkProgress website. From Roll Call’s Heard on the Hill :

In the screenshots highlighted by TP Senior Investigative Reporter Josh Israel, the 38-year-old senior adviser for policy and communications … categorizes a pair of African Americans outside his window as “animals,” advocates for speedier gentrification efforts, nonchalantly describes a neighborhood incident (“one of the hood rats on my street just got shot by another hood rat,” he scribbled online) and vents about an altercation he had on the street.

“You white people need to learn,” Cole said a black woman chided him after the two bumped into one another while walking.

Cole is not the first flack to meet an untimely job ending after social media comments went awry. A similar flare-up recently cost Elizabeth Lauten her job as communications director for Tennessee Republican Stephen Fincher after her disparaging comments on the first daughters and their clothing went viral.  

What did Cole and Lauten have in common? A lack of understanding of the rules of social media.  

The first rule of social media: There is no expectation of privacy on social media.  

The second rule of social media: There is no expectation of privacy on social media.  

Yes, social media is excellent for baby pictures, wedding photos, late-night group selfies or #tbt puppy tweets . But for political comments, or off-color language, even overly judgmental critiques of friends (or whole groups of people), keep in mind that what you’re writing will be viewed by many, many more people than your immediate group of Facebook friends.  

Cole removed his inflammatory Facebook posts, but screenshots remained, long after the posts were taken down. And while social media rules may be common sense to some, staffers on Capitol Hill — particularly those handling communications — are held to a higher standard.  

Not sure if your statement on social media is worth posting? Ask how you’d feel if a reporter writes it up, particularly one right here at Roll Call. Still not sure? Don’t post it, that hesitation is usually for the best.  

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