Imagine you’re at a conference and you hear a fellow employee tell what is clearly a sexist comment. What would you do?
- Do nothing.
- Tell a manager about the incident.
- Tweet the alleged sexual comment and include a photo of the individual who made the comment.
Adria Richards was working for her company, SendGrid, at the PyCon 2013 when she overheard the person telling the joke. She turned around and snapped a photo of him, and then posted the photo in a tweet along with the alleged comment.
The reaction was swift and, for Richards, unexpected. PyCon 2013 officials saw the tweet almost immediately. An article on Boston.com quoted Jesse Noller, chairman of the conference: “We pulled all the individuals aside. We got all sides of the story. They said she was right, and they were very apologetic.”
While owning up to the transgression and apologizing was the right thing to do, the person making the comments was fired. Unfortunately for Richards, she was fired, too.
And therein lies the problem. Twitter is a public forum. In posting the tweet, she not only exposed and publicly shamed the perpetrator, she potentially hurt the company’s reputation. Instead of excelling at the conference, SendGrid had to initiate damage control and deal with an employee problem.
Richards forgot a key teaching point of etiquette: it’s not a matter of “if” you’re going to do something, it’s a matter of “how” you do it that’s important. From SendGrid’s point of view, there’s no question that she should have reported the incident. The issue is how she chose to do it. SendGrid’s CEO explained the company’s decision in a posting on its website: “Her decision to tweet the comments and photographs of the people who made the comments crossed the line. Publicly shaming the offenders — and bystanders — was not the appropriate way to handle the situation.”
Twitter is a great communication device when used appropriately. But because it is a public means of communication, when it’s used inappropriately, it can boomerang and end up hurting you as much as you are trying to hurt the person you are tweeting about. Don’t believe me, just ask Adria.
You can follow me on Twitter at @PeterLPost.
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About the author
Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers' questions in The Boston Sunday Globe's weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business" and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book "Essential Manners For Men" was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of "Essential Manners for Couples," "Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf," and co-author of "A Wedding Like No Other." Post is Emily Post's great-grandson. His media appearances include "CBS Sunday Morning," CBS's "The Early Show," NBC's "Today," ABC's "Good Morning America," and "Fox News."