By Robb Murray

Have you ever looked at someone’s social media posts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) and thought to yourself, “Hmmm … They may regret that some day”?

Yeah. Me too.

Which is why the recent kerfuffle over one of Joe Biden’s cabinet nominees, Neera Tanden — sorry,  former cabinet nominee — had me shaking my head and saying, “Well, duh.”

Let me explain.

To people on the left, such as myself, Neera Tanden is kind of a rock star. Brave and unafraid to speak her mind about inequities and morally corrupt public policy, Tanden is a fighter for the downtrodden and anyone left behind. She’s the CEO for the Center for American Progress. Its website calls itself, “an independent nonpartisan policy institute that is dedicated to improving the lives of all Americans through bold, progressive ideas, as well as strong leadership and concerted action. Our aim is not just to change the conversation, but to change the country.”

The things you say on social media matter. When you insult people or call them out for something they’ve done (even if you’re right) the words you choose matter.

Tanden isn’t afraid to speak her mind. People familiar with her work love that about her.

But even people who are political rock stars can still learn a thing or two, especially, it seems, when it comes to social media. When you use social media, you have to remember one very important thing: The things you say on social media last forever, especially when you’re famous. People remember. And if your enemies ever get a chance to use the things you’ve said on social media against you, they absolutely will.

The day Tanden was announced as Biden’s pick to lead the Office of Management and Budget, anyone who follows her on Twitter probably said, “Oh, she’ll be great, but if they start reading some of her tweets during the confirmation hearing, she’ll never get confirmed.”

Which is exactly what happened. And now, as of last week, Tanden removed herself from consideration for the cabinet post.

She tried to walk it all back, of course.

“I do think the last several years have been very polarizing and I apologize for my language that has contributed to that,” she told members of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. “I know it’s on me to demonstrate to this committee and to Republican members and Democratic members I can work with anyone.”

Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio asked: “You wrote that Susan Collins is, quote, ‘the worst.’ That Tom Cotton is a fraud. That vampires have more heart than Ted Cruz. You called leader McConnell ‘Moscow Mitch’ and ‘Voldemort.’ How do you plan to mend fences and build relationships with members of Congress you have attacked through your public statements?”

“For those concerned about my rhetoric and my language, I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m sorry for any hurt that they’ve caused.”

Odd as it seems, some senators — including Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — hadn’t been aware of tweets Tanden had authored about them until the actual hearing.

Why do I bring up all this political stuff? Not because I want to. Trust me, I’ve got no business being a political columnist, and this issue has nothing to do with right or left.

I bring this up because words matter. The things you say on social media matter. When you insult people or call them out for something they’ve done (even if you’re right) the words you choose matter.

We’ve all gotten a tad desensitized to the amount of garbage that goes around on social media. I wrote on MankatoLIFE a few months ago about the need for civility in online discourse. As much as I wish all discourse would return to face to face, the fact is online communication is here to stay.

We shouldn’t say anything to, or about, anyone on social media that we wouldn’t say to their face. Full stop. If that makes me old fashioned, so be it.

Let’s return for a moment to our embattled friend Neera Tanden. If she were here today I’d ask her this: “If Ted Cruz were sitting across the table from you, would you still have said to him that vampires have more heart than he does? If you were having a drink with Mitch McConnell, would you still have called him ‘Moscow Mitch’? And if you ran into Susan Collins at the Washington Monument, would you say to her face that she’s ‘the worst’?”

“But wait!” you may say, “Donald Trump said WAY worse things than Neera Tanden. So did Jeff Sessions and Mike Pompeo. What about them?”

(I’m not here to defend Trump or anyone else. And I don’t think what’s happening to Tanden is fair. She’s brilliant and belongs on Biden’s cabinet. Also, the hypocrisy over certain House and Senate members taking umbrage with her and looking the other way with Trump is, to say the least, rich.)

I’m focusing on Tanden because it seems she’s among the first whose social media rhetoric is about to disqualify her from a primo, high-level government post, and it could have been avoided with a touch of tact. And if she’s not the very first (I haven’t exactly gone deep into the research on this topic), she’s certainly the first whose tweets have caused her to crash and burn on such a national, grand and embarrassing scale.

Look, I’m certainly not the first to say this, but it bears repeating: We shouldn’t say anything to, or about, anyone on social media that we wouldn’t say to their face. Full stop. If that makes me old fashioned, so be it.

I know it’s hard. Politeness and civility don’t get shares and retweets. Hyperbole, vitriol, zingers, witty comebacks … those are what get attention. And that’s what drives someone like Tanden to say, “Trump just called a black woman a dog and about 80% of the GOP don’t think he’s racist. The whole party needs to be defeated.”

So remember: words matter. Choose them as if you’ll one day be nominated for a presidential cabinet position. And be kind, folks.

Author


  • has been a journalist for 25 years. A 1995 graduate of Minnesota State University, Mankato, Robb lives in North Mankato.