Should Mistakes Last Forever?
Over the last few years people have been losing their jobs and forced out of the public eye in pure shame. There have been documentaries covering social justice warriors and the effects on the people who have made mistakes and said or have done the wrong things.
For example, the head of public relations at IAC, Justine Sacco, made a huge mistake by tweeting to her 170 followers that she was on the way to South Africa. Her tweet basically said she couldn’t get AIDS there because she was white. After landing she had quickly learned that during her flight it had made the rounds and people were waiting for her at the airport to see her reaction when she checked her email and learned she had been fired.
I paraphrased the story, but the idea is that she had made a mistake. It was insensitive, but no worse than some of things I have heard on TV or the radio. Because of her position and instant fame she has been unable to find work since. This is only one story out of many. Even I have said things that people would want to grab their pitchforks for. I own it though and I am not the head of a PR section.
My question is, do these people deserve to live the rest of their lives for something so small? Paula Deene is another example. When people learned she had a slavery-themed wedding and used the N-word 30 years ago, she was banished for almost two years. Why? Someone felt that she deserved to have nothing over something that was almost accepted back then. I don’t support this behavior, but I understand it.
I am not a social justice warrior, also know as an SJW. When people attempt to spread these things on the Facebook groups that I run or tag me in them, I delete and remove the posts. No one deserves to pay a public price forever for a tweet or their past errors that we disagree with. I equate this to the town square stocks. The online world is harsh and if there is one thing I have learned, it’s to own it and deal with the disaster.
Shit happens. So what do you do if you are the center of this kind of nightmare? Perhaps you are the white lady caught on camera breaking up a fight in a small town in Texas. People search who you are, learn you work for Bank of America, then begin tweeting and emailing your boss the video. The internet loses itself into a violent rage. The SJW’s are in full swing. What do you do?
I saw the interview with her the other day and she was trying to deal with it, but didn’t do it correctly. She was pleading that she was breaking up the fight. You don’t gain public trust by going on TV and passing the buck. You have to manage it and be in control of it. What she should have done is gone on TV, apologized, and told the world that this was a terrible incident. Also, that the film doesn’t give context, and took some kind of ownership for her role. Even if she had no role, she needs to be confident and explain that.
Instead she took her black friend to the interview to show the world that she had a black friend. I don’t know how this became the “go-to” way of showing the world you are not a racist. You gain no additional credibility by telling the world you have a black friend, or a gay friend.
I don’t necessarily endorse this next comparison, but it worked somehow. I am anti-Fox News 100%, but Bill O’Reilly got called to the carpet right after Brian Williams was suspended for embellishing his war story. Mr. O’Reilly lied about his presence in previous war coverage of the Falkens and others. His workers confirmed independently that he was not a hero. Instead of saying sorry, he attacked his opponents publicly. Interview after interview shows him not taking any criticism and he ignored the scandal. Unlike Brian Williams, which apologized several times, he still has his job.
I suppose different reactions for different situations are warranted. Knowing your audience and what support they will give you is important as well. Bill O’Reilly’s audience didn’t give it a second thought and they moved on as Twitter continued giving Brian Williams the meme treatment. It was mind blowing to say the least.
Being against what is publicly acceptable can be a career-ender, and limit your ability to put food on the table. You never know when you will be recorded and remember that the internet is forever. I think it’s shameful that large corporations choose the public over their employees as well.
I once had an employee that accidentally CC’d a customer by hitting “reply all” on an email. In his reply he had said something to the tune of “she was slow paying her bill because she is Mexican”. When I had woke up in the morning to see this along with her reply, my stomach turned. I spent all day thinking about my response to her. This was a very racist/stereotypical thing to say, and it was poison to my customer base because this was a very high profile person that had the capability to show the world this email.
This is where my writing skills came in. I wrote her a full page email apologizing for the incident and that I would ensure that I gave a reprimand to the employee and that my company doesn’t tolerate this kind of behavior. I was confident in my messaging, understandable in her response, and overall I think I handled this very strategically. You can bet that I was going to make sure this wasn’t going to happen again too. I gave this employee a verbal reprimand and explained how his joke through company email almost cost us everything. I knew he didn’t mean what he had wrote, but this was an egregious mistake. I didn’t fire him and she thankfully didn’t spread the negative email.
Lesson learned? Don’t be dumb, but if you are going to be, you better own it. Don’t play the innocent card or play me like I don’t have intelligence.
You can listen to this post being narrated below: