Seems like the topic du jour in our world is online shaming. The New York Times Magazine did a story on Sunday about Justine Sacco, the so-called public relations consultant who got caught in a real-time warp on her flight to South Africa in 2013. On a layover en route to Cape Town she tweeted to all of her 170 followers: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white.” The Tweet went viral and by the time she landed after an 11 hour flight, she was trending No. 1 on Twitter. The back lash was so intense she lost her job.
Sacco was remarkably stupid, but perhaps the real story was the malicious feeding frenzy that watched the “kill”. While she slept onboard in a cocoon of ignorance someone who didn’t know Sacco gloated: “We are about to watch this @JustineSacco bitch get fired. In REAL time. Before she even KNOWS she’s getting fired.” Hard to feel sorry for her, but the Times feature shares similar anecdotes that brought down some innocent people.
In an issue of the Economist late last year, Schumpeter noted that in the social media era, executive careers are “more vulnerable than ever.” While bad press can be damaging, he notes that perhaps an even bigger career threat today is “the risk of being pecked by a pack of angry birds.” He quotes Jennifer Evans an ANZ Bank executive surveyed by Deloites in 2013, “Reputations built up over decades can be challenged in an instant.”
“Thanks to the digital revolution, chief executives now live in glass houses. An ill-judged remark can be broadcast to the world in and instant. An unwise ‘Reply All’ can provide sensitive information to a competitor,” says Schumpeter. And he continues, an exasperated complaint such as “I want my life back,” made by BP boss Tony Hayward during the Gulf Oil spill, can irredeemably destroy a career.
Good thing there are some old time PR practitioners around who still begin every executive counseling session with: “If you don’t want to see it in print, don’t say it.” Here at Jesson I am the subject of some gentle hazing (fortunately not the career limiting kind) for my cautiousness about online privacy. I admit, I don’t get the constant need for idle online twitter. I remind the Jesson team, our clients — and anyone reading this blog — there is no putting the milk back in the bottle. Think before you tweet.