The Twittercide Of David Leavitt

A fatal terrorist attack at an Ariana Grande concert? Funny!

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…

then 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. HisCBS 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.

Observations:

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: 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?

Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: If There Is Going To Be A Racial Double Standard For Bigoted Statements, Can We Please At Least Know What It Is?

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Item: Donald Sterling, billionaire owner of the NBA Clippers, while speaking with his mistress/girl friend/ escort in the bedroom, announces that he doesn’t want her bringing black men to Clippers games. In the process, he does not say anything specifically derogatory about African- Americans. He believes the statement is private, and that he is talking to someone he could trust.He was wrong. A recording of the conversation was leaked to the press, and Sterling has been roundly vilified as a vile racist, threatened with a boycott by the players, mostly African-American, in the NBA, fined 2.5 million dollars and banned from the game.

Item: Via Mike Wise, Washington Post sports writer—

“Following Wednesday’s Pacers-Wizards game in Indianapolis, during the time when NBA rules permit media members to be present, the music blaring in the Indiana locker room was filled with vile language: racist, homophobic and misogynist. Afterward, I complained on Twitter that if Commissioner Adam Silver truly wants an inclusive league, he ought to address this (common) practice.”

Result: Wise, who is white, was attacked as a racist. What NBA players listen to in the locker room is none of his business, he is told (but what Donal Sterling says in his bed room is their business.) The NBA has done, and is expected to do, nothing.

Item: Appearing on ESPN where he is a commentator, Charles Barkley, former NBA star (and an African-American), decided to deride the women of San Antonio, Texas as fat. “There’s some big ‘ol women down there,” said Barkley. “That’s a gold mine for Weight Watchers.” He added, “Victoria is definitely a secret. They can’t wear no Victoria’s Secret down there.” A spokesperson for a fat acceptance group protested:

“Making slurs about body size is just as offensive as making comments about body color. One would think being a black man, he’d be more sensitive to having his physical body criticized. It’s totally out of line. He should absolutely apologize.”

Barkley not only refused to apologize, but defiantly challenged anyone objecting to his remarks, jokes or future comments to “change the channel.”  Nobody expects Barkley to suffer any consequences from this series of events.

Item: In 2007, talk show provocateur Don Imus got into a facetious discussion with a broadcast team member about how te women’s basket ball team from Rutgers was “rough looking” and had some “nappy-looking ho’s.” He also referenced Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing,” and the film’s “Jigaboos vs.  Wannabes.” Imus apologized profusely, pronouncing the exchange inappropriate, thoughtless and stupid. Under pressure from various civil rights groups,  WFAN, which produced his show, fired Imus, who has never regained his previous prominence.

Item: In 2013, media professional Justine Sacco tweeted a race-based joke before boarding a plane to Africa: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” A furious cyber mob condemned her as a racist, and demanded her punishment. When she landed in Africa, she learned that she had  been fired.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz for today is…

What the hell is going on here?

Continue reading

The Unethical Destruction of Justine Sacco

Justine Sacco, victim.

Justine Sacco, victim.

Media executive Justine Sacco tweeted an impulsive, racially provocative joke on the social media site Twitter that a lot of people found offensive, didn’t like, or felt they could justify participating in cyber-bullying as if they found it offensive. As a result, she has lost her job, is being portrayed as a virulent racist across the web,  receiving threats and hate messages from strangers, and has become an international pariah.

It doesn’t matter what the tweet said. It was a tweet–140 characters directed at nobody in particular, that harmed nobody in any way, unlike, say, the tweets by various celebrities trying to direct mobs to where George Zimmerman could be found and beaten. Nobody attacking her knows this woman, what’s in her mind and heart, what she has done in her life or the good works and deeds she may be responsible for. And yet thousands of strangers, many of whom are almost certainly, on balance, less admirable people than Justine Sacco in many ways, have chosen to use her 140 ill-chosen characters as provocation to throw a huge, greasy monkey wrench into the gears of her life. Continue reading

Ethics Alarms, Shaming, and Clarifying the Audrie Pott Tragedy Post

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There I go again…

I prefer to let arguments over what I write, mean and imply in the posts here resolve themselves in the comments; after all that’s the point of my writing them. I don’t like to write clarifications and re-considerations, and have posted very few. That is not to say that every post is a polished gem and perfectly articulates the often complex and contentious observations I’m attempting to make…far from it. Virtually everything I write would benefit greatly from being able to take the time to review it, think about it, run it by a few trusted colleagues, re-write it a few times, and post it a day or two later. I know that.  I write quickly, often in one draft, trying to keep up with a dynamic and diverse topic with a balance of quantity and quality I have time to deliver. It’s a trade off, and one that, fortunately, a passionate and articulate group of readers help make work.

For several reasons, the post “Audrie Pott, Web-Shaming And Moral Luck” has sparked confusion and discord, and I will accept the responsibility for that. Not every post works. Often, regular readers will note, I will choose a current event to use to highlight an ethics issue that is not the one most people are focusing on—sometimes this has yielded a very good post, and other times, I don’t quite pull it off. The danger is always that by not focusing on the primary issue, I will unintentionally send the message (to some) that I don’t think it still is an important issue, or that what I have chosen to write about instead is more important. That happened with this post. Continue reading

Audrie Pott, Web-Shaming And Moral Luck

Audrie Potts, in a photo she didn't mind others seeing, in a way she wouldn't mind being seen

The late Audrie Pott, in a photo she didn’t mind others seeing, in a way she wouldn’t mind being seen

Before we consider the tragic story of Audie Pott, let’s return to an earlier, certainly less tragic tale, that of the annoyed Applebee’s waitress who posted on Reddit an ungenerous female pastor’s obnoxious scrawl on her meal receipt, apparently refusing to tip the pastor’s server. Imagine that instead of demanding that the waitress be fired, the publicly humiliated pastor slit her own throat in despair and shame, but not before pinning a sad note to clerical robe reading, “I am so, so sorry! I didn’t mean to hurt anyone. I am disgraced forever before my Church and my God, and my life is worthless.”

Presumably this result would have splashed a little cold water on the enthusiastic supporters of the vigilante web-shaming waitress, but it should not have. Either taking someone’s conduct, words or appearance that was not intended for public consumption and publishing it to the world, knowing they will be embarrassed, is ethical, or it is not. The fact that the victim of this treatment takes it unexpectedly hard, even irrationally hard, is irrelevant to judging its ethical nature. If you really think that the pastor deserved to have her stupid and mean note, intended,for only the eyes  one or two individuals, used to make her a nationwide pariah, then the fact that she killed herself over it shouldn’t change your view at all. “Too bad, but she had it coming,” should be your response.

Now let’s consider Audrie Pott, the victim in an ugly variation on the Steubenville rape. She was a 15-year-old Northern California girl who killed herself a week after three teenage boys allegedly assaulted her at a party while she was passed out, drunk. They violated her (though there may have been no actual rape), wrote crude things on her naked body and breasts, and took photographs. After the party, when Pott realized that the photographs, text-messages and e-mails describing her assault were circulating among her friends and others, she took to her Facebook page to write, “worst day ever….The whole school knows…My life is like ruined now.” A week later, she committed suicide. Three 16-year-olds have now been arrested on suspicion of sexual battery against Audrie, and the fact that their callous treatment of her culminated in her death has greatly intensified the public outcry against what they did. But it should not, in fairness and logic. If Audrie had been a hardier young woman, vowed the see the boys punished and resolved to learn from the incident and go on to a happy and productive life…indeed, even if her criminal mistreatment at the hands of these heartless young men proved to be a catalyst that propelled her to such a life, it wouldn’t make what they did any less miserable and heinous. Continue reading