Opinion - Chicago (IL) - Technology is a beautiful thing, and I am one of the biggest advocates of free speech, open forums, blogging, social networking and the ability to utilize the Internet as a medium to deliver your work, your opinions and your views. Internet technology, however, is something that should be used carefully and treated with respect. At its best and worst it can bring individuals wealth, fame and popularity. Unfortunately it can also cause significant harm.
Does using the Internet mean one must be responsible? That's a question circling my mind since an event transpired earlier today. Internet responsibility means you only post content, images, thoughts and feelings which correctly convey the image you're after. When you post, you must know that in the future these words could land in front of potential employers, co-workers, relatives, friends and complete strangers. You must consider: How do you want to be seen by them at that time?
Today the blogosphere is abuzz with opinion and hearsay regarding a Twitter drama and the new "internet meme of the day".
This morning, upon receiving news of a job offer, Twitter user theconnor -- whose profile has since been set to private -- Tweeted the following: "Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work." This is a Tweet the user more than likely regrets due to the events that followed.
No more than an hour after the first tweet, a Cisco employee who openly utilizes the social networking site and has implemented its use (and the use of other social networking sites) within the company, posted this reply: "Who is the hiring manager. I'm sure they would love to know that you will hate the work. We here at Cisco are versed in the web."
There are a few issues that should be recognized here: First, the girl who originally Tweeted needs to observe proper online etiquette, use proper privacy settings and she needs to know her audience and understand that the Internet is permanent. Second, the Cisco employee who stumbled upon the Tweet acted in an unprofessional manner. And third, there were other Twitter users who launched into full attack mode on the girl. These actions could easily be deemed cyber-bullying, as they started rumors that her job offer had been rescinded, and even built a website devoted to making fun of her -- publishing her private information.
Knowing Your Audience, and Web Socializing Accordingly
There is no doubt in my mind that at some point EVERYONE has disliked their job, the long commute to get there, their boss, their co-workers or any number of other things in life. There's nothing wrong with that. Even further, there's absolutely nothing wrong with vocalizing your thoughts to whomever you please. However, if you make the decision to do it on a public forum such as Facebook, Twitter (or any other social networking site or blog), you must either make sure your site is secure (which, it never can be on the web), or be prepared to handle any backlash which might come from your actions.
In this instance, and in our economy, I can understand the anger felt by many over theconnor's Tweet. She was lucky enough to land a job when so many are still waiting in line to be hired. The market is competitive, and we must all be grateful that we're able to work. That Tweet regarding a job offer which had just been extended to her was disrespectful. Additionally, it showed the individual who posted it lacks respect for the company.
When you work for a company, or you are hired, that company has done so because they trust you and feel that you are able to carry out the duties and expectations of the role in question. When you are hired, your employer is seeking something in particular. They are looking for an individual with a desire to be with the company. Having a poor attitude regarding your work and the company you work for could have a negative impact on not just yourself, but the company in general and its employees. It is a very disrespectful act, and as an employer would you want to hire an individual who admits up front they are effectively doing it just for the money with no real desire to be a team player? Probably not.
Looking at this situation from all angles is incredibly important. Privacy issues aside, she publicly Tweeted, she publicly admitted to disliking her job, and now she is due whatever action Cisco decides to take.
Read on next page: Practice what you tweet, Revealing Levad Tweets, Be careful on that bandwagon, Free to speak, free to trample too?, Conclusion
Practice what you Tweet
What theconnor did not deserve, however, was cruel and unprofessional treatment by 10-year Cisco employee, Tim Levad -- whose biography on the company site describes his expertise as "Web 2.0, social media, Twitter," among other things.
Personally, I would think that someone who's an "expert" in social media (and Twitter) would know how to conduct himself on a public forum. And while I think what he found was a great catch for the company, as it could save them money down the line should they choose not to move forward with hiring theconnor, and while it also is great when employees take a company seriously enough to speak up for what they believe in, there is still a manner in which one goes about doing this.
When Levad found that gem of a Tweet, his first course of action should have been to notify a hiring manager or someone with authority over matters such as this -- either in HR, or even within his own department. In most large companies, at least the companies I've worked for in the past, it is always advised not to speak out on behalf of, or for the company without consent. Levad openly addressed multiple bloggers asking them to re-tweet his words and thanking them for their blog posts about theconnor. He even communicated with me, though he did not go into much detail (and I told him specifically I was a journalist). Levad then went on to brag about his new followers, and new-found level of "fame".
Revealing Levad Tweets
At first Tweet, Levad was clearly launching an attack -- even if he only did so in the form of an indirect threat and an elitist tone saying "Who is the hiring manager. I'm sure they would love to know that you will hate the work. We here at Cisco are versed in the web." This could have been done via direct message on Twitter (person to person), which he had no trouble sending me. He then went on to make comments about people being careful about what they say on the net. And while this is all good advice, in digging through in hisTweets I found them a bit hypocritical.
Who is Levad to know the Tweet wasn't taken out of context, or that she even Tweeted herself? Maybe her sixteen year old brother did it because she wouldn't let him drive the car. Levad made a lot of leaps and assumptions that would have been best discussed on a personal, more direct level, and one which did not leave such a public sounding on the web.
In this situation though, I feel this goes deeper. I wish I could believe Levad was merely protecting the best interests of the company he loves so dearly -- but I cannot. After looking further into his Twitter account, and reading the various things Levad's posted in the past, and even things he's posted as recently as today, I feel his actions were malicious -- and unfortunately it was his malicious actions which caused a trickle-down effect that eventually rocked the web, and more than likely theconnor's life.
Be careful on that bandwagon
In this situation, one Tweet launched what appeared to be the entire Internet into an uproar. Users were tweeting ferociously; individuals were upset, and more than anything people were making assumptions based off less than 140 characters -- the maximum Tweet message length.
As previously stated, I understand the anger of individuals out there and where it comes from, the nature of the economy, and the devastating unemployment rate. Unfortunately, Levad's response to theconnor's Tweet surpassed professionalism, surpassed criticizing and forming an opinion, and even launched others into the land of harassment and cyberbullying.
How many individuals can honestly say that they've never complained, or said they hated their job? Or even said "Oh, I'd like to kill my boss." It happens every day. I did a search on Twitter for "hate my job" and also "job I hate" which turned up numerous results. I don't see the entire Internet attacking, and publicly embarrassing, these individuals. But in theconnor's case, it was different.
Free to speak, free to trample too?
Everyone has the right to free speech; censorship is wrong -- make sure you understand what an advocate I am for individual rights. Unfortunately no one has a right to release the personal information of someone including and not limited to their name, address, photos, and telephone numbers into the public spectrum simply because they "don't like what a person said."
On a daily basis, individuals on the net are going to incite feelings within you by their words. I have personally done it with my own. People have the right to make a comment, write a blog post, call me names on a forum, and hate my guts. All of that is acceptable, but what you have to understand is that within the confines of the Internet, just like in real life, there is this thing called "personal space." You do not threaten someone's personal space, or make them feel unsafe on the web. My general rule of thumb on this is: If you would not do it to a friend when you're angry, an acquaintance who has wronged you, or at all in real life, then don't do it on the web either.
It's real easy for individuals to find separation when dealing with "real life" and "web life." There really isn't much, except for that you are behind a computer screen. There are boundaries and lines that are never crossed. In this instance they were crossed and the actions of some of the individuals involved were beyond reproach.
What did this girl do to any of the people who blogged about her? Absolutely nothing. Breaking news and reporting fact is one thing. However, it has yet to be confirmed by Cisco whether or not this girl was offered a job or not and even further whether or not the alleged job offer was rescinded. At this point all of the words flying around are simply speculation.
Within less than a day, theconnor has turned into the latest internet meme as "Cisco Fatty", and the backlash she's received is like some sick punishment being handed down by a twisted "Internet militia." A domain was purchased, dedicated to providing and posting her personal information. Pictures were uncovered, and she has been publicly ridiculed. I am not one for the public slaughter and I think it's appalling that people can't feel free enough to simply post what they feel, wherever they feel. This bandwagon was jumped on before anyone knew all of the facts.
The issue here is simple: EVERYONE involved in this situation conducted themselves in a manner which was unacceptable, but ultimately the brunt of the event fell on an individual who (though maybe ungrateful, and unappreciative of her situation) did not do anything which caused anyone outright or direct harm. Yes, everyone has to suffer the consequences of their actions, but as Americans we live in a place where we are "innocent until proven guilty" and subject to "due process."
I know that this is not a court proceeding, but I also know that this should have been handled internally by Cisco, and I believe the individuals involved in the cyberbullying and harassment need to be dealt with as they are no better than common criminals who assault someone on the street, taking away their security and trampling on their rights.
If you have an opinion, Tweet it. If you feel a certain way, express it. But don't do anything to others on the web you would not do to them in real life.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.