Thursday, February 06, 2014

Think Before You Tweet

For decades the Internet has been recognized as the Great Equalizer. The rich and powerful still have advantages--especially if they are wired legally or not into the government and big-tech data-gathering apparatuses--but their cruel behavior, impertinent remarks, and personal indiscretions are often publicized far and wide. Instant and far-ranging negative publicity causes real damage to mighty reputations, which are costly to restore. (Google "ruined reputations" for thousands of postings on this subject.)

Taking potshots at the powerful is not without cost. Misstatements of fact are subject to laws concerning libel and defamation, and social norms about when and how much to be indignant can boomerang upon the critic.

Last year's Donglegate incident was the perfect storm of controversial topics (sexism in tech, feminism), the Internet, and social media:
at a tech conference called PyCon, the consultant Adria Richards overheard some indelicate puns — involving the terms “dongles” and “forking” — from a couple of male attendees sitting behind her. The jokes made Richards uncomfortable, so in the heat of the moment she decided to register her displeasure by tweeting a picture of the two guys, calling their behavior “not cool.” [snip]

One of the men was recognized by his employer and lost his job. The backlash against his firing then triggered a massive onslaught of online abuse against Richards, who also got fired.
If you're going to cast stones through the Internet,

  • Make sure you can back up your position;
  • Assume that you won't remain anonymous;
  • Weigh whether the principle is worth the possible cost to your own reputation (remember the Biblical admonition to be without sin yourself).

    A more courteous age told us that if you can't say anything nice about someone, don't say anything at all. If you're not going to follow that advice, at least think before you tweet. © 2014 Stephen Yuen
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