West Point controversy grows as social media fans the flames

Last month, senior cadets uploaded a photo that drew sharp criticism and prompted an investigation. Here’s how the academy is responding—and how crisis PR has changed.

Yesterday Vox asked its readers: “Is a raised fist a sign of free speech or subversive political expression?”

Though the question—prompted by an uproar after African-American senior cadets from West Point raised their fists in a photo—is the focus on many news outlets and social media, PR pros might ask a different question:

Is there a point that you must respond to a politically charged backlash—instead of quelling online critics with silence?

A crisis timeline

Last month, one of the 16 senior cadets in the photo tweeted the image, which drew backlash from several social media users who accused the women of racism.

One of the more vocal critics, former soldier and online public figure John Burk, wrote in a blog post that the cadets were showing support for the Black Lives Matter movement—violating both the academy’s honor code and Armed Forces protocol:

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