The Unethical Web-Shaming Destruction Of Holly Jones


“I will never go back to this location for New Year’s Eve!!!” young Holly Jones ranted on an Indianapolis bar and restaurant’s Facebook page. “After the way we were treated when we spent $700+ and having our meal ruined by watching a dead person being wheeled out from an overdose my night has been ruined!” The angry post accused the evening’s restaurant manager of rudeness, the party’s waitress of profanity and the establishment itself of inattention.

After a sharp on-line rebuttal by the restaurant, the Web Furies were unleashed. Jones’ post became the latest web-shaming catalyst and an invitation to join a cyber-mob where fun could be had by all turning an ordinary jerk into a national villain. Lots of people signed up. The mob tracked down Jones and bombarded her own Facebook page with hate—she took the page down—then moved on to the salon where she worked as a hairdresser, threatening a boycott unless it fired Jones.

So it did.

These exercises in vicious web shaming can be ranked along an ethics spectrum. At the most unethical end is the destruction of Justine Sacco, who had her legitimate marketing career destroyed by social media’s  hysterical over-reaction to a self-deprecating, politically incorrect tweet. Now she works promoting a fantasy sports gambling website, a sleazy enterprise that entices chumps into losing serious cash with a business model derived from internet poker—she not only had her life derailed, she was corrupted too.

At the other end is Adam Smith, the one-time executive who wrecked his own career, with the help of another cyber-mob, by proudly posting a video of himself abusing an innocent Chic-fil-A  employee because Smith didn’t like her boss’s objections to gay marriage.  Somewhere between the two is Lindsay Stone, who lost her job by posting a photo showing her pretending–she later said— to scream at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier while flipping the bird at the “Silence and Respect” sign.

The distance between Smith and Jones is the difference between words and conduct. Smith’s video showed him abusing a young woman, and his posting of the video indicated that he saw nothing wrong with it. Jones, in contrast, did nothing, other than prove herself to be, at least at the moment she posted her rant, an utter jerk. Everyone along the spectrum, however, including Jones, were excessively and unjustly harmed by the web-shaming  campaign against them. Last I checked, Smith was unemployed and destitute three years after his episode of atrocious judgment.

In the current case, the cyber-mob forcing Holly’s employer to fire her is ethically worse, by far, than anything she can reasonably be accused of doing by posting her criticism of the restaurant.

It is not even certain, based on the exchange between Jones and the restaurant manager, that she didn’t have some legitimate complaints, if ungracious ones. A customer of any dining establishment has every reason to expect a professional and enjoyable experience, and if the restaurant can’t provide it for any reason, it is the management’s problem, no one else’s. If the ceiling falls in, it’s the restaurant’s problem. If a car crashes through the window, it’s the restaurant’s problem. If a woman has a heart attack and the place is thrown into chaos, it’s the restaurant’s problem. It is accountable, and if diners do not get the experience they had a reason to expect, it is the restaurant’s duty to make it up to them, or at least to try.

It doesn’t sound like Kilroy’s tried very hard, instead taking the approach that none of the disruption was their fault, so nobody had any right complaining. Baloney. They have every right, and I have heard of restaurants apologizing profusely and comping every meal when something truly horrible ruined an evening for their customers. Indeed, most people are understanding, most people are going to be good sports, most people don’t react like entitled brats. That most people choose not to hold the restaurant responsible for meeting their end of the diners’ bargain with it, however, does not relieve the restaurant of responsibility.

Manager Chris Burton’s much-acclaimed retort to Jones wins no ethics prizes. He wrote,

kilroys retort

Sorry. Unprofessional. The customer may not always be right, but calling the customer an asshole is uncivil and wrong, as well as a dog-whistle to the Cyber Furies. Nor is the sarcasm appropriate. The details of the stricken woman’s humiliation is irrelevant, and was just added to appeal to the emotions of the Holly-Haters. Jones can’t be expected to have been sympathetic to evens she had no knowledge of.

The issue, Chris, isn’t whether patrons’ bills take precedence over human life; the issue is that the bills are still part of the restaurant’s responsibility to handle in an accurate and professional manner regardless of whether there’s a fire in the kitchen or paramedics in the dining room. It sounds to me as if the staff freaked, and that Kilroy’s management—Chris— leaves something to be desired. I see no reason to automatically believe Burton’s version of the waitress’s conduct over Jones’account—I am inclined to believe her, in fact, buts since the Cyber Furies have marked her for destruction, none of Holly’s complaints have credibility. I note with interest, for example, that there was a “scuffle” yesterday at Kilroys that left a 59-year-old man in critical condition with a head injury. What a coincidence! I know literally hundreds of restaurants that manage to avoid major disruptive incidents for years, and yet the one Barton manages has had two in less than two weeks. Go figure.

Interestingly, Barton’s counter-rant never includes the words “I’m sorry.” (Holly hasn’t publicly apologized either, which one would think would be an obvious first step toward rehabilitation.) Kilroy’s should apologize, you know. Whether it was the establishment’s fault or not, a patron was ill-served, and the restaurant should be sorry…yes, even though Holly Jones’ reaction was obnoxious. She paid money, and got a lousy evening. Kilroy’s has to be sorry.

I have also been amused at how many of the news media accounts make a point of implying that Jones’ callous post was especially bad because she misidentified a respectable grandmother as a dying junkie. Jones’ callousness was callousness whether she thought the woman was a junkie, a grandmother, or Caitlyn Jenner. The correct ethics point is that the woman was a human being whose mortal distress Jones felt should have taken a back seat to her party’s dining needs. Jones’ post was no more wrong because she misidentified the woman as a junkie. It would have been equally wrong if the woman were a junkie.

Now the final ethics score on this Indianapolis ethics train wreck:

Holly Jones’ Facebook post: Unethical. Unfair and uncaring.

Kilroy’s handling of the incident: Unethical. Incompetent, irresponsible and unaccountable. Unprofessional

The Cyber-Mob: Unethical. Irresponsible, unfair and uncaring. Read the Golden Rule, please.

Barton’s response to Jones: Unethical. Irresponsible and unfair, as well as uncivil and unprofessional.

Serenity Salon in Indianapolis: Ethical. No ethics foul. A business, especially a small business, cannot be expected to keep an employee whose self-publicized poor judgment threatens to harm business. None of this was the salon’s fault.

Happy New Year.


Sources: SMH, Daily News, Eater, Daily Mail

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts, and seek written permission when appropriate. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work or property was used in any way without proper attribution, credit or permission, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at

14 thoughts on “The Unethical Web-Shaming Destruction Of Holly Jones

  1. As someone who had long roots in the hospitality business, this is just so symbolic of how times have changed. Back in another era, Holly’s complaints would have been brought to management in private and the response would have been in private. Even the most outrageous complaints and paper thin ones would usually result in customer satisfaction – knowing that they “put one over on us” was meaningless, since that was just part of doing business – like dealing with a mob-controlled union. Now the first response is to act first and think later.

    A great complaint: A gentleman wrote to the corporate office complaining about the toilet in one of our locations. Claimed the low height and high water allowed his scrotum to float while taking a dump. Felt the issue should be addressed. This was handed to me so I sent a $25 gift certificate with the notation that several single women in the office were wondering if he was single? No doubt in the current PC frenzy my own scrotum would be removed.

  2. One of the issues here — and I’m trying to work up my own blog post on it — is that communication is hard, especially written communication, and it’s unfair and unhelpful to hold everyone to too high a standard. Holly Jones’s basic story would make a good post on her own personal Facebook page: “My New Year’s Eve at Kilroys was horrible! The bill was wrong, the staff was rude, and on top of that, during our meal, someone died right at the next table!” Or better yet, she works at a salon, right? That would be a great story to tell one of her customers while doing her hair. It’s a harmless bit of whining about how New Years Eve went wrong. But because of the way she told it, and especially because of the setting in which she told it — as a complaint to the restaurant and it’s employees.– it comes across as really callous.

    It’s a little like when the news media (or a fake comedy news show) sends a reporter to find uneducated rural southerners and get them to say stupid things about black people or gay rights, except she did it to herself. She certainly made mistakes, but she may not be as bad a person as she makes herself seem.

    • GREAT and perceptive point, Mark–as often happens, I started writing this post with a lot of ideas swirling around, that one was in there somewhere but inchoate, and it dropped out somewhere.

      Yes, she’s a careless, sloppy writer and that was a lot of the problem. I’m sure she just dashed his out as social media trains people to do, maybe never even re-read it, and then was judged as if every tone and nuance was calculated. But she’s still accountable for what she writes, and in cases like this, being accountable is a big cosmic karate chop. How many of the commenters, I wonder, on Mediaite are really as big jerks as their careless, nasty comments make them seem, under the guise of anonymity? The medium invites and nourishes lousy writing and blunt communication, and then punishes what it teaches.

      Thank you.

      • This is an interesting point. As you are probably aware, I have an unfortunate tendency to respond emotionally to many issues. Unfortunately, this means that a lot of my responses are not consistent with reasonable ethics. My guess, with deference to your judgment, is that an ethical response requires some thought and certainly some logical thought process. At the very least, it requires some small obeisance to the feelings and/or beliefs of the people around you or the public in general. While ethics do not necessarily equate with morality, I would think some sort of conscience would also be required.

        • Key point! We don’t think about ethics most of the time—not necessarily emotions, but also non-ethical considerations, basic human instincts, wants and needs, usually are more powerful unless one stops and deliberately does some ethical analysis. She didn’t.

          • Temper and a desire for revenge also top the list of “considerations” often. I’m frequently guilty of that, many’s the time I’ve seen something or heard something or read something and my first reaction has been “why, that blankity-blank, I’ll teach him a thing or two!”

  3. Outside of the ethics question, your post (and these situations) reveal one of the real drawbacks of the interwebs. The insatiable 24/7 news cycle, the zillion and one blogs, Facebook, and other social media have created a world where what were once local issues to be dealt with by local communities have the potential to go viral (a desired result for many) and create Holly Jones. House fires and car accidents killing multiple citizens frequently show up on local Washington, DC newscasts – only the tragedies are in California or North Dakota. The reports are sad, but not relevant to what is happening in my community. It does make a dramatic and tasty filler if we don’t have enough fires and accidents of our own.

    I think the same phenomenon has contributed to what appears to be the sudden national realization that all white cops have gone rogue on communities of color. A moment’s thought about sheer numbers would reveal that while there is surely a problem in several communities, 99.9% of police are serving their communities honorably and without incident. However, a shooting picked up by the media and fed to the news cycle and other social media amplifiers creates the illusion that *all* cops are behaving this way. Once that sense of moral outrage is unleashed, facts and rational thought become the real victims and the sweeping generalization becomes the truth. This will always be to the detriment of a local community’s ability handle its own business, rather than judgment by Web Jury and the traveling brothel of “experts” who want to come in to “support” the local community.

    I’m not certain how we turn the amplifier off or encourage our fellow citizens to back off. I don’t want to see Holly Jones as a victim, but clearly she is and the power we have to punish is increasing far beyond whatever the crime deserves. There is such a hot, juicy, righteous surge of emotion that goes with reacting to these kinds of stories and now we can in a big, impacting way – perhaps that is the new drug in a country that seems to have a hard time with the old emotions like empathy and regard for the common good.

    • Thanks for connecting the dots, Mark. Technology and changing mass communications alter both the phenomenon and how we view what’s rational and ethical. Holly’s error may have been no more than forgetting that an angry, ill-considered post on Facebook has the chance of boomeranging horribly, unlike the letter of compliant if old, and with letters, you can hold them for a day until you cool off. With the police shootings, it cuts both ways: the impression given is that cops are trigger-happy and shooting unarmed black men at a record pace—that’s an illusion, but is it like shark attacks, where the media’s emphasis makes us think there’s a deadly problem that really doesn’t exist, or it it a case of news media focus and media glut putting a once ignored problem in a spotlight that gives it correct prospective?

      Technology changes everything, and it takes human beings more time to adjust to the new conditions and rules than we think—even to calibrate our emotions, empathy, and regard for the common good.

      Great comment.

  4. Now the final ethics score on this Indianapolis ethics train wreck:

    Holly Jones’ Facebook post: Unethical. Unfair and uncaring.

    Kilroy’s handling of the incident: Unethical. Incompetent, irresponsible and unaccountable. Unprofessional

    The Cyber-Mob: Unethical. Irresponsible, unfair and uncaring. Read the Golden Rule, please.

    Barton’s response to Jones: Unethical. Irresponsible and unfair, as well as uncivil and unprofessional.

    Serenity Salon in Indianapolis: Ethical. No ethics foul. A business, especially a small business, cannot be expected to keep an employee whose self-publicized poor judgment threatens to harm business. None of this was the salon’s fault.

    I completely agree with your ethical evaluations on this.

    Although the unethical behavior of Holly Jones, Kilroy’s and Chris Barton is concerning what’s REALLY concerning is the effectiveness of the blatantly unethical, immoral and thuggery behavior of the Cyber Mob. Even if you’ve done it before, can you please create a blog specifically addressing the complete moral bankruptcy of these mobs of thugs both cyber mobs and physical mobs. What is truly alarming is the potential of these uncontrollable moral bankrupt cyber thugs and how they could be used to control and promote political behavior that is devoid of morals. It is very clear to me that there is an ongoing effort taking shape to completely silence unapproved speech and if the unapproved speech cannot be silenced they will invoke the mobs to destroy the speaker; I’m very concerned for our future.

    • The issue bears returning to, I agree. The problem is power, and power, once granted, is incredibly difficult to take away, or to persuade the reckless not to use. Shunning and mass disapproval are powerful ethics enforcement tools, but when abused, like this, they do damage, cause fear, and undermine ethics rather than strengthening them.

  5. It’s hardest to feel sympathy for Adam Smith, seeing as he doubled down and wrote a book about how he was a role model and a hero for sacrificing his reputation by “doing the right thing”. Which reveals another reason web-shaming is a bad idea: Some people can’t be made to feel shame.

  6. Sorry I’m talking about this when it happen so long ago, but I just came across this.

    There are ways to complain and way not too. This is a case on how not to complain. She didn’t have all the facts, she couldn’t have known if the person was a junkie or not, and even if the person was a junkie, how could Kilroy’s have know that? Had she made a complaint to management, she might have been surprised at their response, and if she wasn’t satisfied with their response at least she’d have the facts to make an intelligent post. After the facts became known, she came away looking heartless at best.

    Kilroy’s was wrong in the way they handled their response, I agree it was very unprofessional. They would have looked much better by simply saying, “I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy your night, but due to a medical emergency with another customer, who was suffered a heart attract, my staff felt their efforts should be in saving their life rather than attending to you….”

    I know the customer isn’t always right, I also know there are no winner when you belittle a customer. Had Kilroy’s taken the high ground, they would have looked so much better.

    Now, the staff probably should have been able to smooth things over at least a little, after all I’m betting they all weren’t attending to the lady, but I also understand not everyone aren’t going to cool calm and collective when an emergency happens, so it’s at least understandable the staff was off their game.

    Now the The Cyber-Mob, unethical, maybe. The question is should people be held responsible for what they say? You can almost hear the cyber-mob thinking “What if that was MY grandmother on the floor, and this so and so was putting her night out ahead of my grandmother’s life.” Did their response fit Holly’s “crime” after all Holly put it out without knowing the fact, without (from what I read) talking to Kilroy’s management, that is the question.

  7. The only argument you provide for her being partly in the right is stemmed in inherent sense of entitlement, making you difficult to take seriously.

    • The fact that you apparently can’t read make you IMPOSSIBLE to take seriously.

      What was it about the statement,“Holly Jones’Facebook post: Unethical. Unfair and uncaring.” that you found confusing?
      Or the description “ordinary jerk”? I pointed out that the conduct of the staff was unprofessional, and it was. Entitlement has nothing to do with it.

      You have breached the sin of misrepresenting my post in your very first comment. You get one chance to redeem yourself wi tha fair and intelligent comment. Based on this one, I’m laying odds you’re not up to it.

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