Be careful on the ‘net. It is cruel and unforgiving. Draw wrong attention and you get dissected, then shamed.

If you are in any social media platform at all, you need to be really careful about what you say. You need to be cautious in saying things that are flippant or can be misunderstood.

CPAs need to be aware of the dangers. This article is cross-posted from my other blog, Nonprofit Update.

The twitter shame mob

A PR manager from a company sent smart mouth tweets to her 170 followers. Sent a few before travelling to London. Checked her phone there, found no reaction, and sent a few more smarty-pants comments.

While on the 11 hour flight to Johannesburg, another person saw her tweet, and sent it to his 15,000 followers hinting the person was a bigoted racist.

You know where this is going. Oh, her extended family she was on her way to visit? They are all ANC supporters.

The attack tweet went viral.  By the time this person landed in South Africa, there was someone waiting to take pictures of her as she turned on her phone and saw the deluge. Huge numbers of people around the world were trashing her and visiting Orwell’s two minute hate on her.

She lost her job. Had to move. Dropped out of sight for a month working at a charity in Africa, then got trashed by the first hater for hiding out.

An article in the New York Times – How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life on February 12 tells the story of the pain she has gone through since then.

Article tells of the hurt, tears, sleeplessness, and anxiety she has suffered. Can’t even go on a date because first thing you do today is google someone’s name.

The damage has been severe.

The guy that pointed out to the world this poor attempt at a joke? Well, if you like karma, you will enjoy the rest of his story. If you don’t believe in karma, then you may enjoy his just deserts.

In several interviews over time, this person has no regret for publicizing the smart mouth comment, even knowing the pain he caused. A year later he met the person for dinner and after three Margueritas gave her an apology.

The karma, or turnaround, or just deserts?

He lost his job as blowback for an inappropriate tweet he sent. He believes the reaction to his tweet was unjustified. Large part of it was merely a political attack, he thinks.

Read the story for the depressingly sad details of how two lives have been destroyed.

Just one more example

Another story in the article is of a person overhearing a tacky joke at a conference that offended her. On twitter she outed the private joke teller. He got shamed and then fired. Lots of backlash against the first offended party. She got shamed and fired.

Two more lives destroyed.

I won’t mention any more names than the one listed in the linked article.

The ‘net can kill you with laughter

Then we have the tale of Brian Williams, who has been telling made up stories of his derring-do for around 10 years. For reasons I don’t understand, about two weeks ago one particular false story actually got attention.

Very quickly more stories of alleged exaggeration or alleged fabrication drew attention.

In no time at all, his tenuous position disintegrated with ridicule and laughter.

In her Wall Street Journal column, An Honest Reporter, and His Antithesis, Peggy Noonan explains where things are today:

No one is safe anymore. Status is no longer a buffer. We know this in the abstract, but it’s still startling in the particular.

Depressing implication of her comment is that extremely high status protects you. As a fond reader of history and heavy reader of current news, I have to concede that has long been the case.

It is changing. Membership in a tightly protected privileged class is no longer a guarantee of protection.  From reading the news, seems like it has been fairly well-known in media circles and amongst the higher-ups in the network that Mr. Williams tells tall tales. It does seems somewhat arbitrary when the high-status provides protection from close review.

For some reason, he has been well-protected for a decade. Until the last few weeks.

She continues:

Technology makes scandal faster and more completely devastating.

They can hurt you with tape but kill you with laughter. Many people, uncoordinated and unaffiliated, can bring down a target by doing a full frisk of past statements on the Internet, that incredible tool. But as powerful a weapon is anarchic wit.

That means if you draw lots of attention, a whole bunch of people will quickly dive into everything you’ve said and written. Things can disintegrate quickly.

Then comes the humor.

I’m sure you’ve seen the photographs of Mr. Williams standing alongside Abraham Lincoln in the field during his interview with the president. You may have also seen the less well done job of a photo of him in a landing craft on D-Day or reporting live from the moon as Neil Armstrong landed.

Ridiculing a reporter’s honesty is devastating.

The ultimate though, is getting your very own Hitler-in-the-bunker video. If you are not familiar with the genre, there is a 4 minute clip from some movie of Hitler in his bunker as he is given really bad news about the Allies advance into Berlin. He excuses all but about half a dozen of his senior staff. He goes on a several minute rant.

In this genre, you add your own subtitles to convert the bunker scene into harsh ridicule of your target. View changes a few times in the movie giving opportunity for smarty pants comments going several directions.

Mr. Williams has finally hit bottom. He has his own bunker video. Caution: there is a lot of bad language and lots of political commentary.  I will just link it instead of embedding the code.

He may only be on suspension, but I don’t know if you can recover from being featured in a bunker video.

Moral of the story

You really need to watch what you say and do on the ‘net.

Be very careful with satire and sarcasm.

Might be good to have only truthful comments out there in the never-to-disappear social media world.

Also, maybe we ought to cut people some slack in the twitter world.

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