The problem with human interaction is that it’s so fucking nuanced. I mean, why can’t people just be obviously good or evil? It would be much easier to decide whether we should give someone a knighthood or throw them to the wolves.
There’s been a trend recently that I find utterly disturbing, of people being hauled over the coals for misjudged (and sometimes utterly prickish) comments that they have made on the internet, and I’d like to take a bit of time to lay down some ill-thought-out rules and opinions. If you want to skip the waffle, go straight to my 3-step guide to not being a prick on the internet.
In the meantime, here’s why I don’t think you should be fired from your job for being rude on the internet.
Representing your company
You, as an individual, are representative of your company, right? Wrong. I feel quite strongly about this, and it is my duty as an anonymous sex blogger to point out that nothing I write on the internet in any way relates to my job. If it did, my job would be far more interesting.
Yes, if you’re tweeting from a company account, you should conduct yourself as if you were on company business – no gratuitous swearing or trollery. This should be fairly common sense. But just as I wouldn’t expect to conduct a pub chat as if I were chairing a meeting, likewise I will say things on my personal Twitter feed that I would never say at work.
But when people who tweet personally are then linked to their job, the waters get a bit muddy. This week Grace Dent received what I can only describe as a tawdry, prickish insult on Twitter. Rather than ignoring or blocking the offending person, she clicked through to his biog, where he had a link to his personal website that had a link to the company where he worked. A company that happened to represent Grace Dent.
This man was an idiot. By his own admission he shouldn’t have posted it. Were I his boss I’d be having a serious chat with him about the nature of social media, and insisting that he remove all links to his workplace from his profile. But I categorically do not think that he should be fired.
If he’d threatened her, yes. If he’d been bigoted, or obviously inciting hatred, maybe. But he made a stupid joke about her looks. The problem is that this is a level of reasonably inane and harmless cuntery compared to hate-speech and threats, and we find it hard to come up with a solution that deals with the nuance. Grace Dent has decided that she would like him to be fired.
I have a lot of respect for Grace Dent, who is the epitome of everything I admire – someone who gets paid to write funny stuff on the internet. But in this case I think she’s desperately wrong.
Pic and Mix rules
If you accept that what you say on Twitter is subject to scrutiny by your workplace, you have to accept that your workplace could skip over the insults you’ve written and instead concentrate on the more personal/political things that you say.
It’s then more than possible to end up with situations where someone will be censored not because what they’re saying is offensive, but because it isn’t in line with company policy.
You could tweet about a political figure on whose good side your company would like to stay. You could say something negative about an organisation that your own company is about to partner with. In the case that inspired this post, you could say something rude about a client of your company. Or finally, in a sudden and sledgehammer admission of my own personal interests in this tale, you could tweet about piss play and get fired for being a pervert.
I’m not saying people should say and do what they like and damn the consequences. It’s of the utmost importance that people at least try to conduct themselves with courtesy and respect, because otherwise society will fall to bits and you’ll end up sitting at a laptop in the middle of a nuclear armageddon typing “OMG u r a troll you fat slag lolz” while the remnants of civilisation crumble to dust around you.
All I’m saying is that we should be careful what we wish for – accept that a man gets fired for being catty about a client and we have to accept a certain degree of company interference in tweets that we post on our personal stream. And that way lies unemployment for political bloggers, interestingly opinionated tweeps and – most importantly – me.
To prove I’m not advocating total anarchic trollery, and for those unsure of how to conduct themselves online, I have compiled a handy 3-step guide to not being a prick on the internet. Please print out, affix to your screen, and have a glance every once in a while before you post rude things about powerful journalists.
Three-step guide to not being a prick on the internet
1. Got a criticism that is threatening, illegal or hate-filled? Don’t post it.
2. Got a criticism that doesn’t fall into category 1 but would be hurtful to the person on the receiving end? Don’t @ them in it.
3. Got a criticism that is thoughtful, interesting and genuinely contributes to the discussion? @ the author, reblog, talk about it, or spaff your wisdom intelligently in the comments.