Social media and multiple popular blogs and websites are flaming with hate directed at David Leavitt, a freelance writer who didn’t get his annual ethics alarms maintenance performed and is now paying the price. Perceiving himself as a mad wag, Leavitt took to Twitter for some levity following the horrifying event described in this lead from the BBC:
“Twenty-two people, including an eight-year-old girl, have been killed and 59 were injured in a suicide bombing at Manchester Arena, at the end of a concert by US singer Ariana Grande.”
Let me rephrase what I wrote before: Leavitt’s ethics alarms were not merely badly serviced, they had fallen apart into rusty chunks. He also hadn’t been paying attention to the world around him: did he miss the fate of Justine Sacco, who tweeted a joke to her friends that the cyber-mob decided was racist (though it wasn’t) as she boarded a plane, and by the time she had landed found that she had lost her job and become a national pariah? Had he not noticed that the Aflac duck had a different quack in 2011 after comic Gilbert Gottfried tweeted a series of jokes about the tsunami that devastated Japan and was promptly fired from what Gottfried had called the greatest gig in the world?
Either he had been practicing his craft (“Freelance Writer. CBS, AXS, Yahoo!, Examiner, & etc. I review #Games #Tech #Fashion #Travel. Casual #MTG #Twitch streamer”) from a cave, or he is an idiot, but in either case, he decided to tweet this…
Somebody apparently grabbed Leavitt and shook him hard (but not hard enough) as his tweets went viral and he was on the way to becoming the latest Justine. A few hours later he tweeted “Too soon?” and this apology:
Too late. His CBS PR disowned him; AXS sent his contribution down the memory hole; so did Yahoo. Boston’s WBZ, which had employed Leavitt, issued a statement condemning his jokes and saying that he was not an employee. Publications like Mother Jones, the New York Daily News, Heat Street and The Daily Mail had placed essays attacking him on their websites. The reaction by British websites and news organization was even more intense. David Leavitt can forget about vacationing in the United Kingdom. Ever.
1. Nobody deserves to have their life destroyed over two tweets. Let me quote at length what I wrote about the Justine Sacco’s cyber mob, because it applies with equal force to Leavitt:
Their conduct is cruel. It is unnecessary. It is excessive. It violates the principle of the Golden Rule, because I doubt that there is a single one of Sacco’s tormentors who hasn’t written, or uttered, or laughed at, at least as politically incorrect a sentiment as what she tweeted, or worse, and probably many times. This mob mentality on the internet, with anonymous, flawed human beings swarming like Furies around someone exactly like them, because it gives them a feeling of virtue and power…What a rush to be able to destroy another human being from afar!… is toxic, dangerous, and getting worse by the day.
I write here often about the importance of cultural enforcement of ethical values, how we each are responsible for thinking hard about right and wrong and joining in the shared societal duty of enforcing those standards that will ensure the best, happiest and most productive lives for as many people as possible. That process, however—and I have been guilty of not emphasizing this enough—requires the responsible application of the ethical virtue of proportion. We do not make society better by turning it into a fearful place where a single misstep brings abuse and shame down upon our heads from the entire community. “Nobody’s perfect” is listed in the site’s rationalization list, because people use it defensively to pretend that wrongdoing isn’t wrongdoing at all, since to err is human. But “Nobody’s perfect” is also true, and we all know it. This knowledge, I would think, would naturally temper a reasonable individual’s response to something as trivial as an insensitive tweet. The ethical sequence, in such situations, is..
That is not, however, the sequence that the social media is becoming addicted to. That sequence is..
- Personal destruction
No society can exist with roving mobs of vigilantes looking for opportunities to display their power and reduce their targets to pleading, ruined, submissive, pitiful pariahs. That, however, is what the social media is becoming. Such a place is not fun, not friendly and not safe. It isn’t beneficial to society, but harmful to it. Justine Sacco was not the offender here, but the victim. If this is how Twitter is evolving, then Twitter should be abandoned by sane and decent people, and left to the Furies, the mobs, the vigilantes, the haters and the destroyers to fight among themselves, like scorpions in a bottle.
2. When the Cyber Furies strike, it is not unethical for their target to be rejected by employers. It would certainly be exemplary conduct for someone to stand by Leavitt in this crisis, refuse to pile on, and give him a chance to redeem himself. No employer has an ethical duty to do so.
3. Twitter should be regarded by all users as ethically perilous, and every considered tweet should be thought of as a pre-unethical condition. The ethic alarms should start ringing, if faintly, every time a Twitter user considers making a statement on that platform. We have seen public figures, pundits, bloggers, actors, journalists, professors, scholars, celebrities and, of course, the President of the United States represent themselves as fools, jerks, bigots, ignoramuses, cowards, assholes and worse on Twitter, and the malady is getting worse, not better.
4. Leavitt’s apology was dreadful. On the Ethics Alarms scale, it was a hybrid of #9...
Deceitful apologies, in which the wording of the apology is crafted to appear apologetic when it is not (“if my words offended, I am sorry”). Another variation: apologizing for a tangential matter other than the act or words that warranted an apology.
and #10, the worst of the worst…
An insincere and dishonest apology designed to allow the wrongdoer to escape accountability cheaply, and to deceive his or her victims into forgiveness and trust, so they are vulnerable to future wrongdoing.
He said he was sorry if his jokes offended anyone, which is not the same as recognizing why they were inappropriate and acknowledging that they were. Saying that he didn’t recognize the magnitude of the tragedy is either a lie—look at his first tweet, with “MULTIPLE CONFIRMED CASUALTIES” at the beginning—or further proof of depravity. How many people have to be hurt in a terrorist attack for it not to be funny to you, David? “I always do this” is just a particularly obnoxious version of the Golden Rationalization, #1 on the list, “Everybody does it,” along with #41A, Popeye’s Excuse, or “I am what I am.” The fact that you are habitually a callous jerk, David, is not a mitigation.
The gratuitous “condolences 2 families” is so perfunctory as to be offensive all by itself.
5. Nonetheless, exposing oneself as a jerk in a few thoughtless tweets should not condemn anyone to social isolation, misery and penury. A better apology, however, is highly recommended.
Pointer, Source: Advice Goddess Blog