Flipping Off The President, And Proud Of It (With A Poll!)

Remember Julie Briskman? She flipped off the President’s motorcade in  November, and was so proud of that eloquent statement that she posted a photo of her gesture on Facebook. He company, A government contractor, promptly fired her. I wrote at the time,

Flipping a middle figure to the President’s motorcade is protected speech. Flipping said finger to the President when one works for a company dependent on government contracts and plastering photos of one doing this on social media is not what I would call wise, and Julie Briskman should have reasonably expected her employers to admonish her to keep the company’s public image in mind the next time she was tempted to bite the hand that feeds it. Akima LLC, however, a Virginia-based company, fired her.

They have every right to do this, but it was a gross and cruel over-reaction. Worse, the company wasn’t even honest about its rationale,telling her that company policy forbade an employee having  anything ‘lewd’ or ‘obscene’ on your social media. Sure. “The finger” is undeniably rude. Obscene it’s not.

But Julie doesn’t read Ethics Alarms (obviously!), and sued for wrongful termination. Last week, Virginia judge Penney Azcarate judge dismissed Briskman’s wrongful termination claim. Her lawyers had claimed that Briskman’s employers violated public policy by forcing her resignation.

As I said, I don’t think the company was particularly fair to Briskman, who is young and like most of the resistance, lacks judgment and proportion. I doubt that anyone would take it out on her employers that they employed a rude and immature jerk as a marketing analyst. It need not have fired her. Still, Virginia is an employment at will state where you can be fired for having an obnoxious laugh. As Ethics Alarms has held here frequently regarding professors who post racist rants on social media and episodes like that of Adam Smith, the so-called Chick-Fil-A Video Vigilante who verbally abused a Chick-Fil-A employee and posted the video of him doing so, companies have every right to regard an employee whose public behavior embarrasses their employers as a liability, and to treat them as such. It isn’t kind, and it isn’t compassionate, but as I wrote about Smith,

“I can’t blame anyone who doesn’t want to be represented by a man whose judgment was this wretched and who is best known for bullying an innocent minimum wage employee because he didn’t like her boss’s take on gay marriage. Actions have consequences, and while the cumulative effects of the foolish and damning video have been excessive, no individual component of it is. Someone should be kind, obey the Golden Rule and give Smith a shot at redemption, but no one individual is ethically obligated to do so. Smith’s sad fate, which extends to his family, is still his own doing, and he alone is accountable.”

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From “The Pazuzu Excuse” Files: The Justly-Fired TV Reporter’s Lament

Colleen Campbell, a local  Philadelphia television reporter, got herself fired for an obscenity-packed rant berating a cop  outside a Philadelphia comedy club. What she didn’t know was that the whole, ugly thing was filmed. You know that rule that says “ethics is what you do when nobody’s looking except your embarrassed companion and a policeman who you have no respect for anyway because he’s just a cop? That’s the one Colleen whiffed on.

Campbell ae was kicked out of the club for “loud whispering” throughout the show. Once outside, she denied being disruptive to an officer who removed her. The officer replied that Campbell and her male friend needed to just leave the scene. The reporter replied, charmingly,

Or what? Or what, motherfucker? Lick my asshole. How about that? Fucking piece of shit. That’s why nobody likes fucking police … idiots in this fucking town.”

Campbell, 28, didn’t know her act was caught on camera and posted to Facebook until after she received word from the station that she had been fired. Now she says…

“That’s not me or how I talk or act or anything at all…I don’t know what to do. I feel ruined and embarrassed for me and my family….I feel awful…That’s not me or how I speak or how I talk or how I was raised. I had to delete all my social media, because I’m getting threats….I wanna apologize to the officer. I don’t remember the whole altercation at all. I remember feeling attacked. I would never talk like that. It was like watching a whole different me.”

The Kathy Griffin episode sparked several of those currently popular blog posts and web essays about how social media destroys people who make “one mistake” and if it could happen to them, it can happen to you. Ethics Alarms has had several of these posts in the past, always about regular citizens who had an ugly e-mail distributed to the universe by an angry girl friend, or a tasteless or misunderstood tweet to a friend gone viral. No question: these web lynchings are out of proportion to the offense. Continue reading

The Unethical Web-Shaming Destruction Of Holly Jones

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“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. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: What’s Fair Punishment For The Chick-Fil-A Video Vigilante?

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I previously wrote about Adam M. Smith, the ex-CFO of  a Tucson medical supplies manufacturer who filmed himself dressing down a Chick-fil-A drive-in employee and placed the video on YouTube. I said in part…

“He’s a vile bully and a jerk, who thinks it appropriate to embarrass and abuse an innocent employee of a restaurant because he happens not to agree with the politics and moral positions of the company’s owner…The video served to alert millions to beware of this rude, rabid and self-righteous champion of gay rights, who equates faith-based advocacy for the current law of the United States of America with “hate.”

I was more accurate than I knew. Now we learn that since that August, 2012 fiasco which cost him his job, Mr. Smith has fallen on hard times. His self-posted indictment of his own character has poisoned his reputation and career. When he found a new job, he was later fired for not alerting his employers about the incident. When he has raised the video to potential employers, they have declined to hire him. Where he was once earning a six-figure salary, had $1 million in stock options, and lived in a stylish home, he now lives in an RV with his wife and four children, and is existing on public assistance.

It all sounds like the plot of an Adam Sandler movie.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz today is…

Is Adam M. Smith the victim of excessive social media punishment for one ill-considered act?

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Unethical Quote of the Week: Tucson Bully Adam M. Smith

“I’m a nice guy, by the way.”

—– Adam M. Smith, ex-CFO at Vante, a Tucson medical supplies manufacturer, in the middle of a two-and-a-half minute abusive dressing down of a Chick-fil-A drive-in employee, which he filmed himself and placed on YouTube.

No more Mr. Nice Guy.

Mr. Smith isn’t a nice guy, you see. He’s a vile bully and a jerk, who thinks it appropriate to embarrass and abuse an innocent employee of a restaurant because he happens not to agree with the politics and moral positions of the company’s owner. Whatever his cause may be (I almost wrote “beef,” which would have been inappropriate for a chicken place), there can be no excuse for his choosing as the target of his indignation a minimum wage clerk who has no control, power or influence over the situation, the issue, the controversy or anything, other than getting Smith his order, which in this case was a cup of water. He made her his captive audience for verbal abuse, ignored her objections when she said she didn’t want to be filmed, and generally took the ethical principles of fairness,respect, kindness, proportion, caring, compassion and reciprocity and tore them into little bits to throw in her face. He cannot claim some utilitarian justification , because attacking this poor young woman could logically accomplish nothing positive whatsoever. Continue reading