Yesterday, the Las Vegas Raiders’ owner insisted that his social media team post “I can breathe” on their Twitter account, in an awkward and misguided attempt to echo the statements made by Floyd’s brother Philonise. To quote The Athletic’s Tashan Reed, Davis failed miserably in doing so:
The statement may seem innocuous to the less informed, but it’s not. In 2014, after the police killing of Eric Garner in New York, protesters gathered outside New York’s City Hall in support of the NYPD wearing “I can breathe” shirts. It was a play on Garner’s dying words, “I can’t breathe,” in support of the former officer, Daniel Pantaleo, who killed Garner, and police altogether.
The entire situation could have been avoided by simply making a statement similar to many other NFL teams like the Rams or Falcons that made direct, thoughtful statements that didn’t leave room for interpretation or, indeed, repeating a meme used to make light of the repeated murders of African-Americans at the hands of the police. By trying to make a pithy quote out of it versus making a real, thoughtful statement, the Raiders failed to commit to anything resembling social justice or even suggest they feel any sort of way other than “whoops! Didn’t mean it like that.”
And, echoing what I wrote yesterday, Mark Davis made the worst possible kind of reply:
“I think justice was served,” Davis said. “It’s rare I make statements about anything and if I thought it offended the [Floyd] family, I would feel very badly and apologize. Other than that, I’m not apologizing. I honesty believe after listening to Philonise, this is a day that we can all breathe. . . . I feel bad if what I wrote was misinterpreted. But I listened to what the family said and how it felt, not some talking heads. I hope people understand that.”
That’s right, Davis gave them the “I’m sorry you feel that way,” and specifically only half-apologized to Floyd’s family - not Garner’s family, not every African-American who read it - hell, I don’t think he really apologized for anything. It’s a non-apology, barely approaching the subject, and making the classic “I’m totally isolated from this situation!” statement of “we can now breathe,” as if the nightmare of police violence is over for African-Americans - despite a black teenager being murdered by the police when she called them to help her that afternoon.
Davis also continued speaking to the reporter for some reason, saying the following which, yes, is full of context, and depending on how you read it…is he making a metaphor out of how George Floyd died? What the fuck are you talking about, Mark?
“I believe it has a lot of context,” Davis said. “[Chauvin] was on his neck for more than nine minutes and was found guilty on all counts. And now, his knee is fully off his neck. Unfortunately, it’s a little too late.”
The Nexus Of Being Mad Online
Mark Davis is ultimately totally isolated from every single thing involved in this situation. He is a white guy with a net worth of half a billion dollars that uses a 2003 Nokia Phone, and I would wager that past demanding his social media team make this wrongheaded statement and giving a few interviews on the subject, he will likely never hear about it again. He doesn’t use a smartphone, he’s so rich that I doubt he walks around places where people could come up to him and yell at him (which they wouldn’t anyway). He is in no danger of being fired, in no danger of anything really - totally and utterly insulated from any and all consequences of everything and anything to do with this situation, and he certainly doesn’t have the socioeconomic knowledge of basic human empathy to understand why what he has said sucks.
In the wake of dunking on the vague idea of the “intern” running the Raiders account, a social media manager (who asked to remain anonymous) made a long post about how this vacuum of decisionmaking and consequences affects social media managers that oftentimes don’t get to decide what actually goes on the feed. They removed the post specifically (and I quote from a conversation with them) “because [they] didn't want to make yesterday about anything other than George Floyd and felt it was insensitive to bring up my struggles on a day like that for the BIPOC community,” which is an extremely valid reason to do so. I’d also argue their post was timely and relevant based on people’s responses to the tweet itself.
I’ve republished it with their permission:
I am absolutely guilty of dunking on the vague idea of the social media intern who just happily types away whatever stupid shit they think, and also guilty of insulting the vague idea of the “committee of brands” that post callously about things they don’t understand.
The truth is more brutal - the manager’s post lays out the reality of the situation, that oftentimes the actual thing being tweeted isn’t something that is in control of the person tweeting, going through layers of asinine approval from people who are disconnected from both the process and the actual thing they want to tweet about. Social media managers are in a position where they can only really give counsel - to quote the post, “no matter how much you prove yourself, it doesn’t matter if leadership thinks they know better.” They also are the ones that have to deal with the consequences - quite literally looking at the feed all day for their job that they are paid for - and dealing with the hatred and anger from anybody who’s mad for any reason.
It’s a no-win situation - one where the average social media manager has very little power over any of the decisions but all of the consequences. They are the ones that must sit there and silently read and at times respond to an endless flow of anger and ridicule - in the manager’s case, a week of evisceration over removing the hashtag #blacklivesmatter because management believed that it would “not appeal to equality for all minority groups.” It’s bad enough when you fuck up online and everyone makes fun of you - imagine that happening when you have hundreds of thousands or millions of followers and you are actually employed specifically to read what they say. You cannot look away - you must stare into this void of madness and report to higher ups that will, most likely, yell at you for the consequences of their actions.
Think about the average response to a dumb post by a brand - “that person should be fired!” “They’re an idiot!” “They should be ashamed!” - all things that I am sure I’ve posted versions of and feel like shit about doing so, because I have never really sat and thought about how exhausting a job it must be. Even if you’re not the person getting attacked directly, having to read again and again and again how stupid you are, how bad you are for posting something you didn’t choose to post - that sucks, and the damage to the manager in question’s mental and physical health is likely because of stuff they were made to say that they have little or no say in. Even the perfect post - one that echoes a truly perfect sentiment - likely has detractors from the right who, well, are huge racist pieces of shit. And as I’ve said…you gotta read every post, that’s your job. You get the firehose right into your eyeballs.
I think that it’s going to take a long time for anyone to really study and understand how social media affects us, in particular how it encourages us to gang up on supposedly “soulless” and empty brands that are run by real people. And I can only imagine - hence why the manager in question is anonymous here - that people go the lengths of finding the person in question and personally attacking them, kind of like when Glenn Greenwald decided to send a dogpile of horrible shitheads at a USAToday intern.
I myself referred to the Raiders social media team as spineless, but thinking about it I was totally wrong - what were they supposed to do? Throw up their hands and say “no, I won’t post this” and lose their job? What would most people do in that situation? What are they meant to do here, other than do what the literal owner of the team says, and likely what their directors and managers approved? Are they meant to delete the tweet, and then get fired for doing so? Throw up their hands and refuse, and at best (assuming they keep their jobs) have someone else post it and they’re still responsible?
I’d argue that social media managers have one of the more crushing knowledge worker jobs out there - a constant flume of people’s judgments in the mentions of an account they are forced to steward, with no real ability to respond, against a court of millions of the least forgiving people on the internet - those that respond to and judge brands.
It’s another way in which capitalism has found a way to burden the laborer with the real pain of a job while reaping the benefits themselves. It’s a way for them to get out what they perceive to be a feel-good message or align themselves with a particular cause without the actual sacrifice of time or mental/emotional energy that comes with standing up for anything, especially when you do so in the half-assed and self-serving manner in which most corporations operate.