I’m a little disturbed about a few recent incidents of people being fired for things they said personally on Twitter. The most recent to pass my attention was a Microsoftie who got a little abrasive in a personal exchange.
Yes, he said highly unpopular things. Yes, he works for Microsoft. But whatever happened to the little byline we used to stick in our NNTP .sigs that said “I don’t speak for my employer?”
I think it’s important to separate these issues. I’m not calling their employers out for firing them. I don’t like it, but I’m not responsible for making the call. Instead, I’m calling out our culture of blaming the employer for the mouthiness of their employees in a personal capacity.
Twitter is public, email is allegedly private, but we are moving more and more to a transparent society. I hate the idea, but one day there might be something like Google Earth in real-time. Phones might record everything, always-on. Anonymous and Wikileaks might get ahold of Google’s entire email database and start publishing stuff.
Even though we in the public might have the ability to snoop into people’s personal affairs, I think we should have a culture of separating their personas.
I have a “Raganwald” persona and a “Reg Braithwaite” persona. Of course there’s one guy here. But I would like to live in a world where people might disagree with Reg Braithwaite but buy Raganwald’s book.
I’m personally willing to cut a Microsoft employee a lot of slack on his personal time. I don’t care what his title is, if he isn’t speaking formally on the record, I know he doesn’t speak for the company. I’m not an idiot, I know that they have PR flacks and a carefully orchestrated procedure for inundating me with bullshit.
And his opinions are probably just as controversial inside the company as out. When they’re deciding things like whether consoles should be ‘always connected,’ I bet they have shouting matches in meetings. They probably fling market projection printouts at each other and complain about the other division imposing their DRM vision on them and so forth.
That company doesn’t have an option on anything, it has a bajillion, and all we see are the results of one set of knives being longer than another. Hell, that bozo Ballmer will come out and laugh at the iPhone one day and then the next you see Microsoft trying to clone it. So who cares what some guy–no matter how senior–has to say in a fairly personal episode of troll-baiting?
And here’s the really big thing. We win–we all win–when we can be personal and honest and ourselves online. We win knowing what that guy really thinks. Now he’s been fired, do you think that means that anyone with his opinions is going to be fired as well?
Only those who speak out will be fired. Getting him fired is a classic case of winning a battle but losing a war. With every case of someone being fired for speaking their mind, we lock things like Twitter down a little more. We make it more “political.” We get people to think of it as being dangerous. We get companies imposing “No Twitter” rules on their employees.
How is this a win for society? Or for us? We’ll end up with a Twitter full of teen-agers talking about their bowel movements and a million carefully curated corporate accounts. The people will have left because it’s just too dangerous to risk a moment of letting your guard down.
Honestly that takes me back. To life behind the Iron Curtain.
This is just my two cents. But I encourage everyone to cut each other–and the companies that employ us–a little slack. I think we’ll all win if we loosen up and take it easy.