My Employer Asked Me to Delete This Tweet
Were they wrong??? No.
In early 2022, when there was much online chatter about who Joe Biden would nominate to the Supreme Court to replace Stephen Breyer, conservatives latched on to Biden’s campaign pledge to nominate a Black woman as proof of woke tokenism. In their telling, it was actually condescending to overtly balance the makeup of the Supreme Court rather than focusing blindly on merit and letting the chips fall where they may. Of course, “merit” historically meant white men in the vast majority of cases, but we’re all much too enlightened to worry about that anymore.
Biden went on to nominate Ketanji Brown Jackson, who endured more of this reverse-reverse racism in her confirmation hearing, then made it to the Court anyway. But before that happened, I posted the below tweet:
As a conservative who believes in a pure meritocracy, whenever I see a person of color earn an opportunity, I simply must point out that there’s probably a better candidate who just happens to be a white man, statistically speaking
I can’t embed, link to, or post a screenshot of the tweet here because I deleted it at the request of my employer at the time. (Though I did copy/paste the text for my own archives, obviously.) My tweet was brought to the attention of the company’s head of DEI by another staffer. The DEI head framed the deletion request as a recommendation—not a demand.
The DEI head also assured me they were sure the tweet was satirical, and they had told the staffer so, but they were nevertheless concerned about people not getting the satire, and/or assuming untoward things about me and the company (since I had the name of my workplace in my Twitter bio at the time).
I don’t know the staffer’s specific objection or comment about the tweet. But it doesn’t really matter, because they were absolutely within their rights to speak up. They were perfectly justified in raising their concerns with our mutual employer, and the company handled a rather fraught interaction very deftly and sensitively (at least from my perspective).
I’ve used the moldy old “As a [x] …” joke format on Twitter dozens of times, calling myself a strict constructionist, contrarian online journalist, a Silicon Valley tech VC, and a billionaire among other things. It’s a low-effort diss on straw men I dislike, and usually worth a few sensible chuckles. Plus I get to play a character! Now maybe the tweet I deleted was a little too deadpan, a little too believable without context or knowing me personally as not in fact a conservative racist weirdo. The joke there is pretty dry, even for this format.
But all this stuff also doesn’t matter. I don’t care at all about defending the right to make jokes, or objecting that my employer was somehow abrogating my freedom of speech, or how my colleague was being oversensitive or unschooled in the majestic folkways of online humor. That’s because I have a perhaps old-fashioned belief in accommodating work colleagues in the sense of not making them feel bad!
I fully recognize my personal sentiments would be hard to codify into official HR policy, but they’ve worked for me as guiding principles. Not that I’m 100% on that score, any more than anyone else. But the idea that I would refuse to delete the tweet, or get mad about the request, is bizarre to me. The stakes were low to nonexistent on my side, after all. Even if you roll your eyes at the corporate kumbayas that DEI programs can sometimes become, this situation—in my view—is an example of good DEI working as designed.
I won’t pretend the experience didn’t make me occasionally pause when composing future joke tweets while at that employer. The free speech absolutist view would say I now had a cop in my head put there by the company, policing my very thoughts! How dire! I can’t recall deleting any particular tweets just because of my brain cop though. If anything, I might have deleted a few more drafts just because, after pausing, I decided they kind of sucked generally. I think that’s likely a net positive for the world.
Sure, sometimes it’s funny to see people go ballistic in replies when they miss a joke. I might enjoy that when it happens, even if I consider it virtuous not to abuse them for the misperception. But one can easily extend a courtesy to one’s fellow worker to reassure them you’re not a jerk, and that your employer isn’t turning a blind eye to your jerkitude. A very small concession for a little esprit de corps.