Friday, April 27, 2012

Managing behaviour: Don't grab a boob—or be one—online

Denise Abbot has come under fire for punishing her daughter for talking smack on Facebook. Many may disagree with the punishment, but I do agree with Abbott’s rationale. “When you put everything on Facebook, you have to realize there’s a consequence for all of your actions,” she said in an interview with NBC. Those consequences can be far-reaching, if not also career limiting, as former NDP candidate Ray Lam, Guardsman Cameron Reilly, and now US Marine Gary Stein can all attest.

Alarmed that her 13-year-old daughter Ava was stirring up drama and making offensive comments about others on Facebook, Abbott replaced her daughter’s profile picture with one showing Ava with a red X over her mouth. Accompanying the picture was a message stating, “I do not know how to keep my [mouth shut]. I am no longer allowed on Facebook or on my phone. Please ask why; my mom says I have to answer everyone that asks.”

Across the social web, some commenters are speaking out in support of Abbott’s actions, while others are condemning her for publicly humiliating her daughter. Opponents suggest Abbott’s choice of punishment may do Ava a disservice in the long run, given that people unacquainted her and with nothing else to inform their opinions will deem her a trash talking drama queen. 

While it may have been more prudent to contain the punishment to Ava’s circle of friends or to shut down her Facebook account, I don’t think Denise Abbott was deliberately trying to humiliate her child; instead, I think she was trying to get Ava to think about the consequences of her online actions.

Ava seems to have gotten the point.

“I feel like I deserved [my punishment] because I was mean to my mom and spoke disrespectful to her in front of my friends,” she told NBC in an email.

Being a parent means being aware of your child(ren)’s behaviour and taking steps to curb—and, if possible, stop—dangerous, socially inappropriate and self-destructive behaviours. I believe Abbott wanted to keep Ava’s present peccadilloes from haunting her in the future the way Gary Stein’s, Ray Lam’s and Cameron Reilly’s egregious errors in judgment have come back to bite them.

Cameron Reilly: Perhaps a vegan; he doesn’t like “stuck up cows”

Last year, the social web was abuzz over the Royal Wedding. Indeed, Prince William’s marriage to Kate Middleton caused quite a stir. Among those to stir the pot was Buckingham Guard Cameron Reilly.

The 18-year-old Scots Guardsman, scheduled to be among several hundred Scots Guards lining the route of the wedding procession, listed “causing trouble” among his interests on his since-removed Facebook profile. He was dismissed from his royal wedding day duties for comments he made about the bride-to-be. Specifically, he called Kate a “stupid stuck up cow” and a “posh bitch” on Facebook.

The anger-charged post was allegedly spurred by what he saw as a rebuke. Reilly wanted more than just a wave from Middleton and voiced his displeasure:
Hur and william drove past me on friday n all a got was a sh***y wave while she looked the opposite way from me, stupid stuck up cow am I not good enough for them! posh bitch am totally with u on this 1 who reely gives a f about hur.
An unnamed soldier claims Reilly’s acrimonious comments are not the first he has made. The source says Reilly has previously used Facebook to openly speak his feelings, writing racist and violent comments, including “a was gonae put a few rifles in ma bergan anaw but then a remembered a couldnt fit any in cause a had 2 many paki’s scalps in it already.”

Reilly was investigated for his racist and anti-Semitic comments.

Ray Lam: A total boob caught with his pants down

Ray Lam, a former NDP candidate for Vancouver-False Creek during the May 2009 provincial election, resigned after inappropriate photos on his private Facebook page became public. One of those photos showed him palming a woman’s breast. Another showed him with his pants down and two people pulling at his underwear.

Then-BC NDP leader Carol James said candidates had been warned that something like this could happen. Even though the photos were posted on a private page, James indicated that “once you become a public figure, everything is public. When you’re going to be in politics and you are going to be a public figure, it’s important to recognize that.”

Critics submit that Lam should have realized photos from his private life, if posted as part of his Facebook page, would become part of the public record.

Not wanting the photos to distract from his campaign, Lam stepped down.

Gary Stein: Trash gets US Marine canned

Speaking out during a debate allowing NATO to try American soldiers for the burning of holy books in Afghanistan, US Marine Gary Stein posted several jabs at President Barack Obama. The Facebook posts called Obama a liar and referred to him as “the ‘Domestic Enemy’ [the Marine Oath] speaks about.” Then, in March of this year, Stein, a sergeant at Camp Pendleton, California, questioned the legitimacy of Obama’s birth certificate.

During Stein’s hearing, Prosecutor Capt. John Torresala said that Stein ignored warnings from his superiors about his postings. Defense Department rules forbid US citizens serving in the armed forces from participating in certain forms of political activity and activism. Pentagon directives are explicit: military personnel in uniform cannot sponsor a political club, participate in any television or radio program or group discussion that advocates for or against a political party, candidate or cause. Moreover, they cannot speak at any event promoting a political movement.

Stein’s inflammatory posts, which also include statements indicating he would not follow the President’s orders and Obama’s face superimposed on a Jackass movie poster, led to his “other-than-honourable” discharge. The discharge strips Stein of his military benefits and ends his nine-year career. He is also no longer allowed on any military base.

Ponder before you post

Given the Orwellian “I Spy”, “Big Brother” world in which we live, it follows that candidates and companies are being vetted on social networks. Anything damaging is posted immediately. With the proliferation of social networking sites such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn, there’s no shortage of opportunities to look stupid.

Perhaps Abbott—and other concerned parents—might be well advised to hold up these case examples as “teaching moments” illustrating that the only solution is to manage the behaviour, not the medium.

Bottom line from the Ray Lam playbook, kids: don’t grab a boob—or be one—online. You just might get caught with your pants down one day.


For more on managing persona and credibility online, you might want to check out my earlier blog post Getting a "handle" on personal brands and credibility online (30 March 2012).

My post Hand over your social media login info? Not in Canada, you don’t! (24 April 2012) posits that employers and recruiters shouldn't be asking for access to your private social media profile(s). Then again, given that not much is truly private on the social web, you may just want find out what your Facebook profile is telling prospective employers and, if necessary, clean up your act.

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