SXSW: 'Scandal' star Washington talks the power, pitfalls of social media

Posted March 13th, 2016

On “Scandal,” Kerry Washington plays D.C. “fixer” Olivia Pope, who helps her clients navigate the attention that can come down on anyone in our 24/7 digital age. In real life, the actress is just as savvy about handling social media and her celebrity status. She talked with Ariel Foxman, editorial director of InStyle magazine, at South by Southwest on Sunday about the “New Rules of Social Stardom.” Here are a few highlights:

Rich Fury/Invision/APInStyle Editor Ariel Foxman, left, and actress Kerry Washington speak during South By Southwest at the Austin Convention Center on Sunday, March 13, 2016, in Austin, Texas. 

1. Washington is very active on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, but certain topics are always off limits. “I knew from the very beginning that I didn’t want to talk too much about my personal life,” she said. 

2. She does most of the posting herself, though you will see some posts signed “kw’s krew.” Washington said she approves all those posts ahead of time and that it’s often a way to share “certain things I won’t engage in,” such as reviews of her work. 

3. Washington’s Twitter feed lights up on Thursday nights when she and other cast members live-tweet “Scandal” episodes. But she also posts frequently about social justice issues, fashion, and even pictures of her manicures (stars - they’re just like us!). “The diversity of interests in my tweets, I think that’s just a sign of being a curious person,” Washington said. “I really do care, I won’t say as much, but I am as interested in what just walked at Paris Fashion Week as I am with Hillary (Clinton). I just have a lot of interests. “ 

4. Washington relies on social media to keep up with what’s going on in the world. “Everytime I get breaking news, it’s definitely on social media. It’s not from an alert that comes in my inbox. I’m much more connected to social media.” 

5. The actress sees social media as a vital tool to help spread awareness about injustice and to give a voice to marginalized communities. “One of the beautiful things about social media is that the world has become smaller, we can have global conversations about what’s going on in a different kind of way,” she said. 

6. Washington won’t read comments on most stories online, even ones that aren’t about her, because there’s so much hate. But she does sometimes engage with comments or Twitter conversations on her own social media platforms. “The truth about comments that I’ve learned is that comments are not about me. When somebody comments on social media, they are revealing something about themselves. If you don’t like something that I say or do, that’s really you sharing with me who you are. And if you’re nasty about it, that’s really you sharing with me who you are.” 

7. Foxman mentioned the previous day’s online harassment panels at SXSW, and how women, girls and women of color are so often targeted. Washington said a particular comment she made while speaking at the Democratic National Convention in 2012 made her “Target No. 1 for a lot of groups.” Her response? “You don’t like my dress? Great. You think my manicure needs work? Right on. You tell me you want to rape me and send my back to Africa? You’re blocked. … It just crosses the line.” 

8. Washington has been on Twitter since 2010, which Foxman said made her an early adopter among celebrities. When “Scandal” began in 2012, Washington said she enlisted show creator Shonda Rhimes, who is also very involved in social media, to convince the cast to join in and promote the show online. “To this day, I know we would not have had a second season if it were not for social media,” Washington said.



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