Which hat do you wear and when? Getting it right (and wrong) in the age of social media.
December 8, 2014
Recently, I was asked by a colleague to take down a Facebook post because it apparently offended someone in the office. I had offered a less than politically correct view on the hot button issue regarding the tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri and the continued fall-out surrounding it.
Reluctantly, I removed the post. Not because I rethought my position and came to the conclusion I was wrong. Nor was I particularly upset that my post offended someone. Many people were supportive of my opinion, likely more. Rather, I took it down because I determined that my role as an officer of the company took precedent over my personal opinions. Said another way, I put my professional reputation and currency ahead of my social reputation and currency. It would not be the first time. Rightly or wrongly, I’ve always put work ahead of personal matters.
Yet, the event has continued to bother me. A lot. Partly because of the post’s emotional weight (which I won’t go into here) but also because I feel like a coward for removing the post. After all, it was on my personal Facebook page. Though hardy benign, the post was not racist or classist or sexist or, in my view, “ist” in any way. It was merely a provocative take on current events, which I feel is totally valid on social media. I would not and did not post the piece on LinkedIn or on any of my agency’s forums.
Still, I realize work and personal life have converged like never before. People as well as companies have become like one thing. If a CEO Tweets something inappropriate her company takes it on the chin. People will judge the firm as they judge the person.
Back in the day, the artist and his art existed separately. For example, T.S. Eliot was an “on again, off again” anti-Semite but people (even Jews) appreciated and studied his poetry. There are countless such examples, historical and modern. Recall director, Lars Von Trier’s recent controversial comments at Cannes and the subsequent hit he took to his career. He did not stand down and he paid dearly for it.
TS Eliot. Poet. Hater?
As I said, I know my controversial Facebook post was not hateful. However, I do not doubt someone who disagreed with it might interpret it (and me) as hateful. Therefore, I took it down.
In 2014, we are all learning (and struggling) with this. Some play it safer than others. And while I think playing it safe is often the equivalent of being dull as a bag of dirt I did not want to risk my company’s reputation and my place in it. Would you?
I have always worn many hats: husband, father, brother, son, citizen, officer, employee, Christian, Jew, drinker, non-drinker, author and so on. In the age of social media, knowing which hat to wear and when is increasingly difficult.