Monday, March 28, 2011

Zero tolerance for offensive comments online

In the Internet age, if you say something that offends people, an apology won’t suffice. The offended parties will want you fired from your job, forced to drop out of school or tarred and feathered.
In the days before social media and around-the-clock news cycles, if someone said something offensive in public they could apologize, take sensitivity training or other corrective action. They’d have a chance to redeem themselves.
In Internet time, people want blood. They want dramatic action - Now.
Twitter, YouTube, blogs and news comment sections often carry offensive comments, untruths, profanity-laced invectives and other unpleasant dialogue. In the case of comments on articles and videos, they’re usually anonymous.
In the free marketplace of ideas, people have to be willing to permit speech that they disagree with. The thinking is that even disliked opinions can contain kernels of truth or convey widely held beliefs that need to be discussed. That’s a tenet of the First Amendment. Of course, there are legal limits to free speech.
And online news services and Web portals can edit their discussion areas to remove hate speech, insults and other base comments.
But what about gray areas like attempts at humor that go wrong or ignorant statements posted online by clueless people?
The same tolerance that allows free speech should apply to giving people who say something offensive the chance to do right. If they do so, we all should move on and not dwell on it.
However, that doesn’t seem to be happening now.
On March 9, an employee with a social media agency accidently posted a message to Chrysler’s Twitter account that he meant for his personal account. It contained the F word.
He apologized for the tweet, but Chrysler fired the agency, costing 20 people their jobs.
The tweet read, “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to fucking drive.”
Also this month, UCLA student Alexandra Wallace posted a 3-minute video blog to YouTube where she tried to poke fun at Asian students who talk loudly on cell phones at the library. She apologized, but was forced to withdraw from the college because of death threats and harassment.
I think we all need to be more forgiving in cases like these.

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