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On forced toleration of racism: Rhonda Lee and corporate social media policies December 25, 2012

Posted by rmshepard in Uncategorized.
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Rhonda Lee was a news anchor for television station KTBS in Shreveport, Louisiana. As a black woman, she wore her hair short – a style that’s fairly traditional among African American women. One day, a viewer expressed his dislike for Lee’s hair style, and wrote on KTBS’s Facebook page:

“the black lady that does the news is a very nice lady. the onlt [sic] thing is she needs to wear a wig or grow some more hair. im not sure if she is a cancer patient. but still its not something myself that i think looks good on tv.”

The comment sat on KTBS’s Facebook page for several days, until Lee responded herself. Lee stated:

“Hello Emmitt—I am the “black lady” to which you are referring. My name is Rhonda Lee. Nice to meet you. I am sorry you don’t like my ethnic hair. And no I don’t have cancer. I am very proud of my African-American ancestry which includes my hair. For your edification: traditionally our hair doesn’t grow downward. It grows upward. Many Black women use strong straightening agents in order to achieve a more European grade of hair and that is their choice. However in my case I don’t find it necessary. I’m very proud of who I am and the standard of beauty I display. Women come in all shapes, sizes, nationalities, and levels of beauty. Showing little girls that being comfortable in the skin and HAIR God gave me is my contribution to society. Little girls (and boys for that matter) need to see that what you look like isn’t a reason to not achieve their goals. Conforming to one standard isn’t what being American is about and I hope you can embrace that. Thank you for your comment and have a great weekend and thank for watching.”

For responding to her critic on Facebook, Lee was fired by KTBS, which claimed that she violated the company’s unofficial policy regarding social media. Thousands of people have risen to her defense and demanded that she be offered her job again, but the damage has clearly been done. The clear lesson: employees for many corporations must be careful how they respond to online criticism, even if it’s directed to them individually.

For more on this incident, see the following video:

Discussion Questions:

1.  Why do some company’s have policies determining how employees should handle criticism via social media?

2.  Was Rhonda Lee wrong to respond to her critic the way she did? Was KTBS wrong for firing her? Why, or why not?

3.  What does this case study demonstrate about the challenges of self-managed public relations?

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