You abuse you lose: employee sacked for online bullying – the importance of responsible social media use
Writer, feminist and respected commentator Clementine Ford is “sick and tired” of the cyber-sexism and abusive trolling she experiences on a regular basis. And since perpetrators commonly act either by pseudonym or anonymously, they often get away scot-free.
Recently however, Ford was able to take action. While deleting hateful comments from her Facebook page she clicked on the profile of a user who had written the word “slut” on her page. She saw they had listed their employer’s name as a hotel chain. Ford decided it was time to take action – to name and shame. She took screenshots of the comment and linked them to the employer’s Facebook page, asking if they were aware of the malicious behaviour.
The hotel chain acted swiftly, relieving their employee of his position. In a frank letter to Ford the company expressed their disgust in what had been written online: “Perhaps he will think twice next time before using his social media account to call a woman ‘slut’ when she speaks out against online misogyny. These men have rarely ever faced consequences for their actions, but that’s starting to change.”
In her Daily Life column, Ford said “Facebook’s methods for responding to abuse are useless” and that women are “ritually targeted by gendered harassment”, having to choose between removing themselves from the online world, or otherwise attempt to create consequences for people who misbehave. “I’m sick and tired of men abusing women online and continually getting away with it,” Ford explained. “I can bear the brunt of this behaviour, but I’m angry about the number of women who tell me they can’t. Too many women are harassed into silence by men who flounce about the place doing and saying whatever they like. “There are basically no consequences for men who behave like this, so we have to start making consequences for them. When we complain, we’re told to ‘get over it’ or ‘harden up’,” she wrote.
Ford is not the only one sickened by these kinds of comments. Journalist Kerri Sackville had an idea to continue naming and shaming men who abuse women online, using the hashtag: #endviolenceagainst women. Sackville developed the hashtag after becoming exasperated with the frequency of her female colleagues being threatened with violence and rape. “It’s been ‘ridiculously successful,’” Sackville said. “It was the top trending topic in Australia within 15 minutes and continues to trend worldwide. The support has been overwhelming. All sorts of people are joining in and sharing posts and stories, including men. There’s some trolling now but there is so much support. Any negativity online is being dealt with by hundreds of people and getting snuffed out very quickly. “I wanted to stand up and say that this is not okay. That this kind of abuse will be noticed. That there are consequences. That we will stand together and support each other. That when you attack one of us, you attack us all.”
Of course, social media is here to stay. So it makes sense for smart businesses to educate employees to make sure they understand that whether they are at home or in the office their behaviour online not only impacts the intended receiver but may also affect their employer and ultimately, themselves. This “ripple affect” could not only result in a PR disaster for an employer, but as we have seen in this case, also adversely affect the reputation of the employee and result in the loss of employment.
iHR Australia has developed a digital training program that addresses responsible use of social media in the workplace. The program helps employees and their managers understand the consequences of social media when it is used inappropriately.