Dear Free Beacon: Twitter Follows Are Not Endorsements

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For your daily dose of reportorial overreach: The Washington Free Beacon has an article criticizing an Obama campaign staffer for blasting Mitt Romney's record on women's issues while herself ... following woman-beaters on Twitter. Scandal! The Free Beacon is a semi-new site that sees itself as sort of a Think Progress for the political Right, and Wednesday its staff presented this little piece of muckraking:

An Obama campaign staffer who accused Mitt Romney of not appealing to women is following several notorious misogynists and beaters of women on Twitter...

... On Twitter, [Lis Smith, team Obama’s director of rapid response] follows the disgraced boxer and convicted rapist Mike Tyson, as well as the woman-beating singer Chris Brown. She also seems to be a fan of the coke-sniffing, prostitute pugilist, Charlie Sheen.

While we normally wouldn't bother pointing out the Free Beacon's flawed argument, this one so massively misunderstands (or misrepresents, anyway) the workings of Twitter as a social network, and it's attracting enough attention on social media, (mostly on Twitter, of course), that we felt it worth a weigh-in. For what it's worth, the accusation apparently didn't really get under Smith's skin. She tweeted, "the secret is out!" And followed up with, "I also follo @MittRomney & disagree w/his support 4 giving bosses rt 2 deny women contraception coverage based on pol beliefs cc @freebeacon." 

Smith wisely brings it back to the debate on the candidates' records for women, all while pointing out the ever-so-obvious flaw in the Free Beacon's "take down." Smith has been trading jabs with Mitt Romney's campaign press secretary on Twitter over women's issues, and by all means we encourage debate between candidates on their records of helping/hurting women. The Free Beacon should totally weigh in on that debate, too. But let's just leave Mike Tyson out of this, lest everyone have to further clutter their Twitter biographies with suddenly-obligatory statements of the obvious like "My following list does not reflect my views or those of my employer" or something equally obvious. Free Beacon seems unclear on the concept, but to make it explicit, one need not be a fan of a celebrity to follow that celebrity on Twitter. If following Charlie Sheen is some kind of sin, 7 million people have a lot of explaining to do.

And in the interest of full disclosure, we should note that this very blogger does follow Snooki on Twitter, but does not necessarily endorse a daily "gym, tanning, laundry" regimen. We regret misleading any of our followers into thinking otherwise. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.