“A Tweet Away From Being Fired”

Free speech means you can say what you want, right?

Not without consequences—a painful lesson PR pro Justine Sacco learned last December when she tweeted what many people labeled “racist” and “insensitive.”

Her tweet is pictured below:

Justine Sacco tweet

Shortly after she boarded her plane in London, the tweet went viral. While she was unavailable on her flight to South Africa, her company fired her, Twitter users mocked her with the hash tag #HasJustineLandedYet and reporters waited to interview her at the airport in South Africa. Needless to say, she was embarrassed and ashamed. It didn’t take her long to post an apology, but her name now carries the weight of her costly mistake.

As one of “The Five” on Fox said, “We are all one tweet away from being fired.”

Note that Sacco was never arrested or fined by the government for what she tweeted. The First Amendment protected her rights to free speech, but just because there was no legal action involved doesn’t mean there were no consequences. In addition, she was a PR professional, which should imply an expertise in reputation management. When she landed in South Africa she had to some reputation management of her own to handle.

The First Amendment allows U.S. citizens:

  • Freedom of religion
  • Freedom of speech
  • Freedom of the press
  • Freedom of assembly
  • Right to petition

These are all beautiful rights to have and we are fortunate to be entitled to our own opinions, practice whatever religions we choose and protest. In the case above, Sacco was allowed to tweet essentially whatever she wanted, but obviously suffered consequences.

This freedom is not the same in every country. In the UK, social media users can be prosecuted for what they say online. According to The Daily Beast, for example, a Staffordshire man was arrested and had his computer confiscated for a tasteless Mandela joke. (I’ll let you look that one up.) Furthermore, the article states that, “In the United Kingdom, it is now the police’s remit to protect communities and individuals from “alarm,” “distress,” and “offense.”” Is this method of enforcement taking things a step too far? Possibly, but it can be argued that our current world is one where what is said on social media is amplified in a way that has a broader impact than just sticks and stones.

Take Paul Chambers, for example. Brian Solis explains in a blog post how this 27-year-old Twitter user got into some legal trouble with a recent tweet in 2010 that essentially threatened to blow up the airport. Whether or not his tweet was taken out of context, it isn’t okay to even hint at taking action that might threaten the lives of others. This is no different than yelling about a bomb at an airport or yelling, “fire” in a movie theater. We have freedom of speech and “Freedom of Tweet” as Solis calls it, but when what we say might infer a risk to someone’s life, there’s a good chance legal action will be taken. He was fined, faced conviction and also lost his job.

Our First Amendment rights should be celebrated, but with rights come great responsibility, especially as a public relations professional or organization. As PR pros we are expected to value ethical use of advocacy, honesty, expertise, fairness, independence, loyalty and fairness, according to the PRSA Code of Ethics.

Tweeting anything that might be racist, unfair or dishonest most likely reflects poorly on your company, not just you. And besides, what can you gain by saying something that might be hurtful to someone else?

It all comes down to professionalism and respect. No one wants to hire a PR person that can’t even maintain their own image, much less, their client’s.

Know your resources

work hard and be nice

Image from behance.net

Know the PRSA Code of Ethics and stay current with industry news because with the nature of social media it can be easy to forget the impact words can have on others. In addition, many companies have values or specific Code of Ethics for employees to know and practice. Some companies even have a social media policy, which can be helpful.

Value diversity

Many of the people called out for what they’ve tweeted have been accused of being racist or ignorant. It’s so important to value diversity because diversity is everywhere. It’s not wrong to be different and although no one can possibly agree with everything, it’s still important to be respectful and objective, even on personal social media accounts.

ALWAYS think before you post

It seems silly to remind people to think before using social media, but everyone makes mistakes. Mistakes on Twitter are now more costly than ever. Always think about what you say and how it can impact others before tweeting or posting online.

Although we are each one tweet away from losing our jobs, it’s important not to see this as a limitation, but instead a protection for our employers, our profession and even our own credibility.

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January Five

This is a new monthly series I will be starting on five new PR/advertising campaigns, observations or products I observe each month. These things might not all pertain to PR or current events, but I think this will be a fun way to document the year. Hope it’s just as enjoyable to read. Feel free to make additions in the comment box below.

1. CarMax Super Bowl commercial

If you know me, you know I love anything with puppies. This Super Bowl advertisement by CarMax is awesome because it has a people version and a puppy version for the Puppy Bowl. How adorable is that?

The hashtag #slowbark is too funny! I’m looking forward to seeing the Super Bowl commercials tomorrow.

(If the frame above doesn’t work, click here to watch.)

2. Edelman’s “Show Up Differently” Campaign

Image from edelman.com

Image from edelman.com

Full disclosure: I spent last summer at Edelman, so maybe I’m biased, but I think this new campaign is awesome. I love the artwork, the message and the meaning it carries for companies and individuals. The campaign focuses on innovation, collaboration and creation. Check out an infographic explaining more here.

3. Jelly

Biz Stone, the founder of Twitter has created a new platform called Jelly. Although I haven’t personally used this platform, it’s a very interesting approach to answering questions. Jelly users can answer questions posted by others and ask their own about photos.

Have you used the app yet?

4. Starbucks Flan Latte

My barista roommate despises the new flan latte, or as I like to call it, the flatte. I happen to think it’s amazing and I liked it even more since Starbucks sent me to get a free one the day it was released (Gold card perks!). Everyone should go try it. You can thank me later.

Image from starbucks.com

Image from starbucks.com

5. Facebook’s New App Paper

Paper, Facebook’s new-and-improved set-up is supposed to be available Monday and I love the clean layout. Do you think it will be faster than the super-sluggish Facebook app?

Is an #UNselfie mindset possible in a #selfie world?

Shouldn't every day be an #UNselfie day?

Shouldn’t every day be an #UNselfie day?

Forget chocolate. Selfies are society’s new guilty pleasure.

So what exactly is a selfie?

Oxford Dictionary’s “Word of the Year” for 2013 is defined as, “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.” More than 90 million selfies have been posted across social media channels since the word was first used in an Australian forum in 2002. Since then, selfies have become widely popular among social media users, including celebrities, political figures and athletes.

It didn’t take long for technology to adapt to the trend by creating front-facing cameras and smartphones to accommodate selfie photographers. It’s no surprise that Facebook, Twitter and especially Instagram are loaded with them and that Instagram’s most used hash tag is #me.

Don’t you think it’s all a little narcissistic?

Unleashing the #UNselfie

This week was the second annual Giving Tuesday.

A number of what users are calling #UNselfie photos were posted featuring people holding signs supporting charities and advocating self-sacrifice.

This day of giving was initially launched by New York’s 92nd Street Y , the United Foundation and the Case Foundation and has since rallied thousands of nonprofits to reach out to prospective donors and share the importance of giving. The hope behind the campaign is inspiring similar fervor to that of Black Friday sales, according to Forbes.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen people camp out for days in advance and line up for blocks just to help others.

Comparison of #selfie posts and posts about giving

Comparison of #selfie posts and posts about giving

An Instagram hashtag search on Giving Tuesday pulled up more than 60 million photos tagged #selfie, but less than 600 thousand photos were tagged with the top five commonly used hashtags about giving: #giving, #givingback, #givingtuesday, #unselfie and #givingbacktothecommunity.

It’s heart-warming to see the reaction to the movement dedicated to giving through #UNselfies over social media and  I don’t want to discount the compassion behind anyone’s efforts to make a difference, but shouldn’t every day be a giving day?

In Conclusion…

Let’s face it; we’re all guilty of taking selfies and putting our wants above the needs of others at one time or another. Living in a #selfie culture makes it easy to forget that giving isn’t only something we should do during the holidays. Wouldn’t it be nice if we greeted every day with thanksgiving without a turkey dinner, gave without expecting anything in return and felt immense joy in the absence of a decorated tree or presents?

I challenge you to give this Christmas season, but to also continue giving long after the tree and lights are packed away. Do your part to make your life a walking #UNselfie. As many have said before, it’s much better to give than to receive.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we greeted every day with thanksgiving without a turkey dinner, gave without expecting anything in return and felt immense joy in the absence of a decorated tree or presents?