The Dark Side of Digital: Beware the Social Media Lynch Mob

It happened again. Another termination because of posts on “personal” social media accounts.

This time the victim was a Cathay Pacific Flight Attendant who wrote she wanted to throw coffee in a passenger’s face. In a separate well-publicized Facebook posting incident, a woman was fired from her job after public uproar over a photo she posted at Arlington National Cemetery.

As YouTern’s Content and Community Manager, I’m surrounded by social media. Blogging, tweeting and re-tweeting, networking, posting… Foursquare-ing. Everything posted by my team is read by hundreds, thousands and, over enough time, potentially millions. The platform connects, educates, entertains and employs more than anything that has come before.

Social media has – and holds – much power… and can do immense good.

The Dark Side is Strong

Social media has a dark side, however; it has become a powerful force in swaying the court of public opinion.

With just one tweet or post, coffee-swilling digital citizens can be enflamed into a virtual lynch mob ready to storm Frankenstein’s castle, swiftly organized to kill the monster within. For example, soon after the Arlington story broke, a Facebook group (now with over 5,000 likes) was created calling for the young lady’s head.

We Should Know Better

Certainly, we should know better by now; behind every social media comment or post, whether in a personal or professional capacity, is the potential to ignite the villagers and trolls alike. This concerns me; and should concern you, too. The potential for negative reaction should have concerned the two people above who got fired – well before they showed poor, and very public, judgment.

As young professionals, we must increasingly be cognizant of the ease with which our personal brand can be damaged. We must be hyper-vigilant to self-censor… or instantly be censured. With a few keystrokes and a mouse click – and almost zero accountability or due process – anyone can brand a digital Scarlet Letter on another person, and we seem to do so with ever-increasing fervor.

E-vigilante Justice

This side of social media is difficult for companies, too. On one hand, social media is a tremendous brand-building tool, enabling instant access to, and communication with, millions of potential customers. On the other hand, social media has made management of the company’s hard-won reputation more fragile. More care must be taken to protect it from internal rogue keystrokes – and external trolls.

This social lynch mob can also cost a company good (even if lacking common sense) employees. In situations like the two above, regardless of how otherwise exemplary the employee is, they almost have to be fired. To avoid being dragged through the social media mud, companies sometimes have little choice but to bow to the will of the hashtagging masses.

The employee must be sacrificed to the angry mob; lest the castle be torn down.

Do I agree or disagree that those in the examples above should have been fired? Honestly, I haven’t decided. But it seems that a frenzied, mostly-anonymous, perhaps not-so-well informed social lynch mob isn’t the best answer.

Beware the dark side of social media. Or perhaps find yourself as another cautionary tale… with a sudden need to job search.

 

About the Author: Dave Ellis is an original member of the YouTern team and is instrumental to its success… in fact, he’s so awesome there wouldn’t be a YouTern without him (and he might have written this bio himself).

Dave serves as YouTern’s Content and Community Manager, and enjoys his role as the company’s “Man Behind the Curtain”. In his spare time, Dave volunteers, rescuing and rehabilitating sea lions and baby elephant seals. Connect with Dave on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter!

 

 

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