A Village is Missing its…

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Mayor. A village is missing its Mayor.

Remember when you could review your Facebook timeline and your friends were not calling each other fascists or crooks? Remember when Twitter posts were not the primary conduit for fake news and alarmist conspiracies? OK, no on the latter…social media has always been suspect when it comes to redistribution of unverified muckery, but the Presidential campaign of 2016 brought out an unprecedented volume of social venom.

Someone opened the floodgate on posting outlandish political diatribes against the “other party” on social media, and everyone from grade school kids to grannies unloaded bitter vitriol. No matter what side of the decision you were on, long-time friendships ended over some of these rants and careers and brands were jeopardized.

Case-in-point:

On Tuesday of this week, a social media post issued by a West Virginia county contractor reached that pinnacle of social elite status in that it achieved the holy grail of “viral” for all of the wrong reasons.

Per many, many media outlets, the director of a West Virginia grant-funded development group was put on leave and a county mayor was facing heavy scrutiny (and has since resigned) after a racist post about first lady Michelle Obama caused immediate (and justified) outrage and backlash.Pam Taylor racist Tweet about Michelle Obama

Clay County Development Corporation director Pamela Ramsey Taylor made the post following Donald Trump’s election win, saying: “It will be refreshing to have a classy, beautiful, dignified First Lady in the White House. I’m tired of seeing a Ape in heels.”

Clay County Mayor Beverly Whaling responded: “Just made my day Pam.”

In an interview with the Washington Post, Mayor Whaling issued an apology of sorts, and therein lies the rub:

“My comment was not intended to be racist at all,” Whaling told the Washington Post. “I was referring to my day being made for change in the White House! I am truly sorry for any hard feeling this may have caused! Those who know me know that I’m not of any way racist! Again, I would like to apologize for this getting out of hand!

Let’s dissect this apology just a bit:

“My comment was not intended to be racist at all.”

Too late, it was.  If you’re explaining you’re losing.

“I was referring to my day being made for change in the White House!

Why respond to an obviously racist, disrespectful post at all? Or better yet, why not call the post out for its distasteful content?

I am truly sorry for any hard feeling this may have caused!

Hard feelings? That’s what you’re sorry for?

Those who know me know that I’m not of any way racist! Again, I would like to apologize for this getting out of hand!

That’s the bottom-line of the apology; for this “getting out of hand…”. We are all so very sorry that your lack of maturity has inconvenienced you. It does that.

Pam Taylor has since been put on leave, and Beverly Whaling resigned her post Tuesday. The Clay Town Council accepted the resignation in a meeting late Tuesday afternoon.  Whaling had three years left on her term.

Beverly Whaling Clay County Mayor Resignation Letter - one line

Council member Jason Hubbard issued a brief statement condemning the “horrific” post and said “racial intolerance isn’t what this community is about.” He apologized on behalf of the town to anyone who is offended, including Michelle Obama.

A petition site calling for Whaling’s ouster had 176,474 supporters before her resignation.

Protecting People and Property

Man at desk with head in handsI don’t mean to be unjustly snarky here, but social media is way past being new. The positive of new media is that it does allow a level of transparency we have never experienced in the past; from alt-left and alt-right, you may learn information about employees that is better left to a third-party observer such as Firestorm, as you cannot allow certain information to influence hiring, development or termination decisions.

I suppose then, that when we see this level of abhorring lack of maturity and blatant racism we can’t be blamed for the public outcry and shaming, but it does and will go too far and in that we do have a responsibility to protect people and property.

When an incident such as this occurs, it is not done and over after the resignation; both women in Clay county have received death threats; Taylor also said her children have received death threats and the county has received threats against other county workers.

The superintendent of schools in the county cancelled all after-school activities stating that the school administration did not want children sitting in traffic or in any potentially dangerous situations before a meeting Tuesday evening. The backlash will continue even after this story fades from the headlines.

In an unsurprising twist, Taylor told news outlet WSAZ that she is considering filing a lawsuit against those who have allegedly slandered her. Taylor added that the situation turned into a “hate crime against me.”

While you are shaking your head, consider this:

Those who have been outed for crossing the line (or perceived crossing the line) on social media have had their families, co-workers, and certainly themselves threatened in the aftermath of an episode, and report PTSD, depression and insomnia in addition to immediate job loss, indefinite unemployment periods, DDoS attacks against their employers, cyber stalking, real world stalking, doxing (the publication of sensitive personal information such as address and phone information online), swatting (calling 911 to report a dangerous crime at the subject’s address), and a myriad of other threats and repercussions.

In the case of Justine Sacco, the PR Exec who angered the world with an insensitive and racist pre-boarding tweet prior to a flight to South Africa, employees at the hotels she had pre-booked for her trip were threatening to strike if she showed up. Her life is forever changed.

You may recall Lindsey Stone, the Massachusetts woman who, with a co-worker’s help, posed for a photograph while mocking a sign at Arlington National Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknowns. Ms. Stone’s ex-employer LIFE – Living Independently Forever, Inc., a non-profit organization that provides supported independent living for adults with disabilities – gained worldwide, unwanted attention for one, stupid, immature act by their employees. LIFE received an onslaught of commentary and activity via their Facebook page and via other outlets, an onslaught that certainly required effort and attention and distracted from their primary work. Their facilities were overrun with media and endangered the lives of their residents and employees.

When a potential employer conducts a search on these people – for years and years to come – their humiliation will be the first search result.

More than a Binder on a Shelf

Overload of paper and document binders

Image credit http://www.cammather.com

Helping employees conduct themselves in a mature, professional manner on social media is guidance that is designed – not to micro-manage their personal social conversations – but rather guidance designed with a long-view of assuring their and their family’s safety and the protection of the organization’s brand and reputation.

Many organizations put this subject at the bottom of their priority list: In PwC’s 2014 State of Compliance Survey, social media ranked at the very bottom of the list of concerns of compliance officers. Moreover, the National Labor Relations Board has a lot to say about what employers (even non-union employers) can expect of employees when it comes to social media use.

  • Employer policies should not be so sweeping that they prohibit the kinds of activity protected by federal labor law, such as the discussion of wages or working conditions among employees.
  • An employee’s comments on social media are generally not protected if they are mere gripes not made in relation to group activity among employees.

You must have a Social Media policy, it must be lawful, and it must be custom to your organization and culture. Revisit this policy twice a year; social media and the law are evolving and you must stay current.

Last, knowing an issue has occurred in real-time is great, but seeing the possibility that one might occur and preventing it is ideal.  In the case of Justine Sacco, she had previously posted many distasteful and questionable social messages. An early alert and intervention may have saved the company, and certainly Ms. Sacco and her family, a great deal of distress.

PREDICTIVE, ACTIONABLE INTELLIGENCE PROGRAMS are vital to identifying risks and making decisions about those risks.

These programs:

IDENTIFY targeted people, words and key phrases within the seemingly chaotic conversation universe to empower effective decision-making when it matters most.

‘LISTEN’ to the complex patterns of conversation that matter to you, in a structured, investigative manner, where and as they occur.

‘LOOK’ at locations, events, persons of interest, and spheres of influence to see the impacts.

The application of experience in combination with the identified risks, threats and vulnerabilities provides predictive, actionable intelligence that may save you and your employees from career and company crushing mistakes.

To learn more about social media, monitoring and predictive intelligence contact Karen Masullo.

Download a companion paper from our recent webinar on The Evolution of Monitoring

For an excellent analysis of the aftershocks of social media shame campaigns, read How One Stupid Tweet Ruined Justine Sacco’s Life by Jon Ronson for The New York Times.

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