On August 13, 2019, Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy’s antagonistic, bosses-first mentality came to a head when journalist Rafi Letzler encouraged Barstool employees to reach out to him about the unionization process. Portnoy threatened to fire anyone who works for Barstool “on the spot” if they messaged Letzler. Portnoy continued in this vein, attempting to troll for hate-clicks while very genuinely standing in opposition to his workers’ rights. Seeking to drive home the point, a fake union Twitter account, “@BSSUNION,” was created and Barstool Sports ran an anti-unionization video titled “Professor Nate Explains Unions” the next day.
The Industrial Workers of the World Freelance Journalists Union immediately responded to Portnoy’s man-child antics by filing a formal complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. While Portnoy attempted to play his behavior off as snark, journalists, media workers, and the world saw Portnoy’s tweets as a clear indicator that Barstool Sports is a dangerous place for any worker seeking to organize.
While Portnoy has attempted to use the “it’s just a joke” defense—and will likely continue to do so in lieu of learning how to actually be funny—his behavior indicates a clear effort to establish an anti-union atmosphere at Barstool Sports at a time when media workers are increasingly finding unionization to be their only source of defense against bosses like Portnoy: bosses who are only interested in the false sense of superiority and power that comes from being massive dicks.
In an agreement announced on January 21, 2020, Barstool Sports formally settled the complaint filed by the IWW FJU against Portnoy’s anti-union tactics. Barstool Sports agreed to remove Portnoy’s hostile tweets, delete the fake union Twitter account, and remove the anti-union video the site published.
It is the hope of the IWW FJU that workers see the action taken by this union and know that protections against bosses like Portnoy exist. It is additionally our hope that employers and managers like Portnoy realize and learn to respect the unmitigated power of collective action. Media workers everywhere are always welcome to reach out to the IWW FJU for information about organizing.
The Industrial Workers of the World Freelance Journalists Union
On November 20, freelance journalist Zachary Kamel’s Twitter account, @ZacharyKamel, was locked for a post they made back in June. The post thread identified a handful of anonymous accounts, which had been harassing journalists and activists, as being run by Michael Ber. Kamel posted images of Ber, sourced from Ber’s own Instagram and Twitter accounts.
Months later, Twitter locked Kamel’s account, citing Canadian privacy laws about publishing media of an individual. This is not only a misinterpretation of those laws, but also has a chilling effect on journalists who report on the far-right. Kamel has waited over a month for Twitter to review their appeal and the account is still suspended.
During this time, the @IWWFJU tweeted support of Kamel and brought awareness to the ongoing issue of Twitter’s imbalanced application of its Terms of Service — leaving many users vulnerable to online hate speech and threats, while punishing those who attempt to speak out against harassment. In its tweet, the FJU linked to an archive that showed the original Twitter post that @ZacharyKamel had their account locked over.
Though the archive was hosted off Twitter, Twitter suspended the @IWWFJU account, citing the same Canadian privacy laws, and required deletion of the post before reinstatement. As previously happened in Elizabeth King’s account ban ruling, Twitter is using its prior rulings to railroad certain judgements, despite new circumstances and a lack of finality on the appeals of those rulings. This is lazy enforcement and allows bad rulings to compound on an issue without any additional effort by Twitter.
We encourage supporters to share – .@Twitter and @TwitterSupport shouldn’t prevent journalists from reporting on the far right. Reinstate @ZacharyKamel! See freelancejournalistsunion.org/statements/2019/12/17/kamel to learn more. via: @IWWFJU
On November 8, freelance journalist and Industrial Workers of the World Freelance Journalists Union (IWW FJU) member Elizabeth King’s Twitter account, @elizabcking, was suspended following coordinated mass reporting by fascists aiming to silence critical reporters. Despite not violating the platform’s terms of service, King was nevertheless informed by Twitter that the suspension was permanent.
At King’s request, the IWW FJU began tweeting in support of them from the union’s account, @IWWFJU, on November 10. These tweets, and other similar messages, were liked and shared widely in a grassroots outpouring of support from journalists, unionists, and anti-fascists.
On November 11, Twitter reversed their previous ruling on the suspension after determining for the second time that King’s account had not violated any rules.
The IWW FJU thanks all of those who spoke out in support of King. We also encourage any journalist targeted by fascists to reach out to us directly at [email protected]. We are here to support you because we wholeheartedly adhere to the IWW’s motto: “An Injury to One is an Injury to All.”
On May 5, IWW Freelance Journalists Union member Talia Jane reported Mike Rosenberg of The Seattle Times for sexual harassment via Twitter. Jane notified The Seattle Times, which suspended Rosenberg pending an investigation. For exposing a man who made inappropriate sexual comments to a colleague, Jane has become the target of online harassment and trolling. She has also given a number of other women the courage to come forward with their own stories of sexual harassment at work — once again demonstrating the ubiquity of predatory behavior.
Freelancing is hard enough without professional acquaintances abusing the power imbalance inherent between established journalists and young writers. The IWW Freelance Journalists Union unequivocally stands with Talia Jane against sexual harassment, misogyny, and patriarchy.