This isn’t exactly a social media ethics story, not entirely. Yes, it reinforces the Ethics Alarms position that Twitter makes you stupid, and that it is an ethics disaster waiting to happen for the impulsive and the unwary. The main ethics lesson, however, lies elsewhere,
Bryan Colangelo resigned as the president of basketball operations for the Philadelphia 76ers two weeks ago despite leading his perennially doormat team to the NBA play-offs this season for the first time in many years. He resigned in the middle of a Twitter scandal. The Ringer, a sports website, received an anonymous tip from someone who claimed that he or she had linked five anonymous Twitter accounts to Colangelo. The accounts had all tweeted about internal matters relating to the 76ers players, personnel and business, even, in one tweet, defending Colangelo for his eccentric shirt collar style, which had been the topic of some social media mockery.
The Ringer contacted the 76ers, but only told the organization about two of the suspicious accounts, not all five. Colangelo informed the team that one of them, @Phila1234567, was indeed his, but insisted that he had never posted anything using it. Coincidentally, or probably not, the other three accounts that the Ringer had not revealed were suddenly switched from public to private after the 76ers had their little talk. After the Ringer published The Mystery Of The Insider Tweets, the 76ers hired a large New York law firm to conduct an independent investigation. Over the course of a week, the firm collected several suspicious laptops and mobile phones (well, it was the owners who were really the suspected ones; you can’t blame the devices), and retrieved text messages and emails. Investigators also analyzed the involved Twitter accounts to try to determine who was behind them.
One of the mobile phones examined belonged to Colangelo’s wife, Barbara. Investigators concluded that she, or someone, had attempted to wipe its data—you, know, like with a cloth?— by resetting the device. Nevertheless, the law firm said in its report that it had not been Colangelo, but Mrs. Colangelo who had created and operated the accounts, and, of course, composed the tweets. She had been tweeting in support and defense of her husband, but also, unfortunately, her tweets to the world included confidential, proprietary information of the sort that employees are ethically and often contractually obligated not to disclose to anyone outside of their organizations. The investigators concluded that there was “substantial evidence” that Colangelo had been the source of sensitive material posted, and that he had been “reckless in failing to properly safeguard sensitive, nonpublic, club-related information in communications with individuals outside the 76ers organization.”
How many professionals in law, government, military, accounting, medicine, journalism, business, education and other fields routinely share proprietary and confidential information related to their work with their spouses? My guess: a lot. Too many. Their theory is that somehow the marital bond is an exception to the ethical duties of the workplace. It isn’t, and Colangelo’s fall is a useful cautionary tale to illustrate why it isn’t, especially in the age of social media. The oft-heard boast that “there are no secrets” between spouses, if true, is a statement that makes either spouse untrustworthy and unemployable in many fields and jobs. Colangelo was sharing his work frustrations and problems with his wife, who, apparently, had her IQ reduced by Twitter to double digits, assuming it was in triple digits to begin with.
Let it be a lesson to us all.
Facts: New York Times