SXSW: Kerry Washington Talks Live-Tweeting 'Scandal,' Keeping Her Daughter off Instagram

Kerry Washington - H 2016
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"Thursday nights are intense in Shondaland," said Washington. "We're very committed to that community."

When Kerry Washington was filming the first season of Scandal, her social media consultant showed her a list of the top-tweeted shows on TV. "I was like, 'I want to be on this list a year from now,'" recalled Washington during a panel Sunday morning at South by Southwest. 

So she rallied Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes to get the entire cast on Twitter. "To this day, I know we would not have had a second season were it not for social media," she said. "There is no way we would be in season five today if it wasn't for social media." 

Washington was an early adopter of platforms like Twitter and Facebook, and today she has a large following online. Moderator Ariel Foxman, the editorial director of InStyle, started the panel running through Washington's social media presence: She has more than 3 million followers on Twitter, for example, but follows just 480 accounts (including Cory Booker and and Barbra Streisand); she has posted 875 times on Instagram but doesn't follow anyone on the photo-sharing app; and 96,000 people were talking about her on Facebook on Sunday morning before her panel started, to which she responded, "Ya'll should have been in church." 

Washington explained that she got interested in social media as an extension of her job. "I had a movie coming out that I was really proud of and really excited about," she said, referencing 2010's For Colored Girls. "I knew it would be a film that required reaching out to the community in a different way." 

Washington explained that she has made an effort to be authentic online and talk directly to her fans. Tweets sent by her social media manager, Allison Peters, are signed KW Krew to signal that Washington herself didn’t send the message. But she says she still approves everything that is posted to her social media accounts. “I have made it a real commitment that my engagement in social media reflects me,” Washington said. “I don’t have the energy to maintain a false identity on all these platforms.”

A big part of maintaining that voice includes talking about her work in the political sphere. But Washington acknowledges that it can lead to negative comments and online harassment. She said she tries to stay away from comments (and she never reads reviews of her work) but that she does sometimes engage. “Twitter is really a conversation,” she noted. “So I do occasionally engage with things that people say. Sometimes I post something specifically because I know it will engender action and then, almost for fun, I read comments.” 

She went on to explain that she once posted a photo of a manicure and was surprised to discover that her followers were not impressed. A week later, she referenced that backlash in a post of a new nail color. “It made people so happy,” she said. “It cracked them up. I have a sense of humor about stuff.”

She added that she blocks people whose comments have become harassment and, if there’s a threat of violence, reports them to security. “The truth about comments that I’ve learned is that comments are not about me,” she added. “When someone comments on social media, they are revealing something about themselves.”

For as much as Washington shares on social media, there are some things that are off limits. That includes talking about her personal life and sharing pictures of her daughter. “I have these itchy fingers where I want to post a photo of my daughter so instead I send it to my shrink or my mother,” she admitted. “I want her to be able to make those decisions in her time. She already has a lot to navigate in life as the daughter of an actor and a former football player. She should be able to enter this world in the way that is right for her.”