There was a time when it wouldn’t have mattered much that working people were feeling angry, defensive, outraged, elated and, in some cases, mean-spiritedly cocky. The primary means of spouting a political opinion was via mouth, which tempered opinion-spouting.
But now we have social media, and, as we’ve seen over the past week, political opinions can easily get out of hand and damage careers.
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I’ll get to those examples in a moment, but first let me say this: Everyone has the right to say, tweet or blog what they want. That’s freedom of speech. But freedom of speech is often mistaken for freedom from consequences, and working people are guaranteed no such thing.
If you’re posting comments that are racist, sexist, xenophobic, bigoted or just plain vile and somebody connects you to your company or organization, then you are, by association, making that company or organization look bad. And you may well find yourself out of a job.
To which I say, “Good.” Given the level of vitriol and hideous garbage that gets spewed online these days, I’m in favor of companies taking stronger steps to show that words come with consequences. I don’t mean managers should be policing workers’ social media accounts, but if an employee is reported forgoing far beyond the norms of civil discourse, that person’s company should act.
You have a right to free speech, but you don’t have a right to a job that tolerates you posting material that could damage a company’s reputation or workplace morale.
Let’s review some related news that has popped up since President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
A suburban Chicago school board member resigned after posting a string of wildly sexist tweets regarding the women’s marches in Washington and across the country. One tweet read: “Most of these vagina screechers didn’t vote, but they mean business. Riiiiiiiight. What a farce.” Another read: “Alas, the 300 million pound Women March provides a strong argument for doing away with women’s suffrage.”
The author of these tweets, Dathan Paterno, is founder and clinical director of Park Ridge Psychological Services, which was eviscerated on Yelp by people rightly offended and shocked that a mental health professional would spout off in such a way.
In Texas, a principal wrote a Facebook post calling Trump a “moron” and describing his Cabinet as being made up of “non-qualified white males.” After parents complained, district officials launched an investigation to determine whether Diaka Carter violated the district’s social media policy.
A writer for “Saturday Night Live,” Katie Rich, sent out a tweet joking that Trump’s 10-year-old son, Barron, “will be this country’s first homeschool shooter.” She was suspended indefinitely and issued an apology.
Nebraska Sen. Bill Kintner stepped down following outrage when he retweeted a tweet suggesting the appearance of women marching at the protest events would keep them “safe” from sexual assault.
Like other male Republican lawmakers who sent out inappropriate tweets and Facebook posts about the march, he apparently doesn’t understand that social media isn’t private, and there’s such a thing as basic human decency.
I think one of the problems is that there are working people who get paid to express opinions. (I’m one of them, but I still have to be careful to not go too far.) And then there are working people who get paid to do other things. But because of social media and the internet in general, everyone is tempted to broadcast an opinion. And many people don’t understand that there is a place called “too far.”
When you work for any organization, there is a point where the road splits: One way is unfettered freedom of speech, and you can take that road as far you want to go. The other way is continued employment, and that road lets you speak your mind within reason while still getting a paycheck.
You can map your own route. But if I’m giving directions, I’ll point you toward that second road every time.
Contact Mr. Huppke at firstname.lastname@example.org.