The Associated Press (AP) faces backlash after the outlet fired a news associate, Emily Wilder, for allegedly violating the company’s social media policies. The move to fire Wilder follows her being targeted by right-wing media outlets for pro-Palestinian activism in college. Wilder, a graduate of Stanford University, began her job at the news outlet earlier this month. She confirmed with multiple outlets that she was “terminated for violating the company’s social media policies in their News Values and Principles sometime between my start date on May 3 and yesterday.” According to The Guardian, the AP did not detail which of her tweets broke its policies.
“There’s no question I was just canceled,” Wilder told SFGate on Thursday. She told the outlet that not only was her firing an example of right-wing cancel culture, but she was told by an editor Wednesday that social media posts prior to her hiring would not “get in any trouble because everyone had opinions in college.” While the editor assured her of this, the same editor also suggested removing “Black Lives Matter” from her Twitter bio, Wilder told BuzzFeed News.
Wilder made national headlines after Stanford College Republicans wrote a Twitter thread Monday detailing Wilder’s pro-Palestine activism in college as well as sharing some of her old Facebook posts. In one of the posts, Wilder described Sheldon Adelson, a Jewish billionaire, as a “naked mole rat,” language she said she wouldn’t use today.
“This is exactly the issue with the rhetoric around ‘cancel culture.’ To Republicans, cancel culture is usually seen as teens or young people online advocating that people be held accountable over accusations of racism or whatever it may be, but when it comes down to who actually has to deal with the lifelong ramifications of the selective enforcement of cancel culture — specifically over the issue of Israel and Palestine — it’s always the same side.”
After the Twitter thread went viral, right-wing and conservative media outlets, including the Washington Free Beacon, began publishing stories about Wilder, including tweets in which she was critical of Zionists. “The hire could fuel concerns about the AP’s objectivity amid revelations that the news outlet shared an office building with Hamas military intelligence in Gaza,” the article published Tuesday read.
A day later, two other conservative outlets—The Federalist and Fox News—published their own stories on Wilder. The stories were shared by conservatives like Tom Cotton, who tweeted about Wilder’s connection to the AP. “Not a surprise from a media organization that shared office space with Hamas.” The comments follow an Israeli airstrike that destroyed the AP offices in Gaza after Israeli government officials claimed that Hamas operated out of the same building. No evidence has been found to support this claim.
Alongside outlets targeting her, Wilder told SFGate that she received an “onslaught of absolutely vile messages” as the stories spread. However, the worst came on Thursday when she was fired. “They told me that I violated their social media policy and would be terminated immediately, but they never said which tweet or post violated the policy,” she said. “I asked them, ‘Please tell me what violated the policy,’ and they said, ‘No.'”
A spokesperson for the AP told The Guardian that while the organization “generally refrains from commenting on personnel matters, we can confirm Emily Wilder’s comments on Thursday that she was dismissed for violations of AP’s social media policy during her time at AP.” The spokesperson added that policies on social media exist so that “one person cannot create dangerous conditions for our journalists covering the story. Every AP journalist is responsible for safeguarding our ability to report on this conflict, or any other, with fairness and credibility, and cannot take sides in public forums.”
“This is clearly a case of selective enforcement,” Wilder told SFGate about the policy and enforcement that followed. “I don’t buy their convenient cover story at all because they never told me what specifically I did wrong, and in the termination letter, they said the harassment campaign prompted the review, and in that review they found supposed violations of their policy.
“That’s an admission this was prompted by the campaign against me, and it’s really unfortunate the Associated Press is abdicating their responsibility to not only me, but to all journalists just because a group of college students wanted to engage in a witch hunt,” Wilder said.
Following her termination, Wilder also shared a statement online on how she felt. It quickly went viral, with many showing her support.
In it, Wilder questioned what message her termination would give to others, specifically those looking to get into journalism.
“I have to ask what kind of message this sends to young people who are hoping to channel righteous indignation or passion for justice into impactful storytelling,” she wrote.
“What future does it promise to aspiring reporters that an institution like The Associated Press would sacrifice those with the least power to the cruel trolling of a group of anonymous bullies? What does it mean for this industry that even sharing the painful experiences of Palestinians or interrogating the language we use to describe them can be seen as irredeemably ‘biased?’”
Journalists responded with anger; many called for the AP to reverse their decision. Others noted the difference between the treatment of Wilder and other journalists who have been found to violate policies but face no disciplinary action.
Some even noted that the original thread was written by a group known for both sexist and racist views.
“Amazing how quickly a talented young reporter’s career can be snuffed out by a Twitter mob that decided to feign outrage over some college tweets,” The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler tweeted. “And if [Wilder] somehow violated @AP’s social-media rules, the solution is to offer guidance, not termination, to a new reporter.”
Wilder was not covering issues relevant to Israel or Palestine prior to her termination. While her work revolved around covering Arizona-specific news, she did tweet an opinion on objective reporting of the issue on May 16. The tweet also gained attention and was picked up by conservative outlets.
According to the AP Stylebook, references to “Palestine” are not recommended because it is not a fully independent, unified state. Instead, the AP suggests making references to Israeli occupation and has said that Gaza and Israel have been under siege during the latest attacks.
When asked about her termination and activism, Wilder said while upset she was fired for it, she does not regret her activism.
“It’s devastating of course,” she said. “I love journalism and part of what I think makes me such a capable, powerful journalist is how much I care about the people I write about, particularly the marginalized. That’s why I joined the Associated Press, and they saw me as capable. This is of course a really hard situation, and I’m not sure what’s going to happen next.”
Despite her experience, Wilder remains strong. She has gained the support of other staffers at the AP, who are demanding to know if the news outlet “would stand behind and provide resources to journalists who are the subject of smear campaigns and online harassment.” A letter has been drafted and signed by AP staffers globally following Wilder’s termination.
“While the last few days have been overwhelming, I will not be intimidated into silence,” Wilder said in her statement. “I will be back soon.”
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