Organisations may have to live with ‘Cisco fatty’ moments

In case you've missed this one, there was another of those inevitable '[New technology of choice] gets person fired' stories. In this case a Cisco employee with the id theconnor tweeted

"Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a
fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work"

Inevitably, someone else picks up on it. The strange thing is that it then goes viral. There is something of a pack mentality then. Helen Popkin gives a good account of the unfolding story here. She describes how:

"Before the work day ended, Web sleuths revealed "theconnor's" true identity. "Theconnor" was lampooned in a popular YouTube
meme. And thanks to Google Cache, the deleted content of "theconnor’s"
homepage resurfaced on CiscoFatty.com, a Web site erected to
commemorate this cautionary tale."

It's not clear if this has caused the individual to lose (or not start) their job. The incident raised a few issues for me. Firstly was the sad inevitability of it – Brian Kelly asked last May when we'd hear the first such story. I think people will gradually learn how to handle these types of online conversations, and develop an appropriate online persona, but we'll have these stories for the rest of our lives (except they'll be so commonplace no-one will report them).

But how bad was theconnor's crime? Most of the response has been barely disguised schadenfreude at how could someone be so stupid. But while most of us wouldn't tweet something so obviously compromising, if we want our tweets to have any interest then you have to add in some element of the personal. Simply tweeting a corporate message isn't going to be of interest to anyone. I don't think I've tweeted anything sackable (maybe saying I didn't like presenter Neil Oliver counts?), but equally I wouldn't want a communications officer to track through all my tweets and advise me on their suitability vis a vis my professional status.

Sure, it's a bit embarrassing for Cisco, and you might want to know if someone hated their job, but realistically, how many people have said similar things in a pub to a fellow worker? At least they're hiring someone who's engaged with new media.

What would worry me more was if one of the people who took such delight in outing theconnor was on my team. What does it say about them and their values that they'd want to reveal the person's identity and attempt to get them sacked? So, if we're going to play the 'the internet can get you sacked' card, then maybe that should include unpleasant and unprofessional behaviour too, not just indiscretions?

Learning to have perspective on these type of incidents, knowing what constitutes a serious offence, and most of all understanding the medium, is going to be a big challenge for all organisations. Personally I hope theconnor is fine, and has maybe learnt a bit of a lesson, but nothing more.

[Update: The woman in question has a very reasonable and balanced post on it here (thanks to John Connell). In the end she has come out of it looking quite good I think, she seems thoughtful, reflective, non-judgmental – all the qualities you'd want in an employee (she had decided not to take the Cisco post when she did the tweet, so it hasn't 'lost' her the job). On the other hand, those who pursued her with a kind of rabid ferocity have come out of it rather tarnished. So, there's a moral in this somewhere – beware the righteous meme.]

8 Comments

  1. Clari Hunt says:

    Martin,
    You might be interested to see the following posts criticising the cyber-bullying of her and her subsequent response:
    How to use technology wrong http://www.tgdaily.com/content/view/41777/114/
    How to use technology correctly and with class http://www.tgdaily.com/content/view/41804/117/
    Clari

  2. Martin says:

    Thanks Clari – hadn’t seen that – it says what I was trying to say much better. Hence rendering this post obsolete. Damn.

  3. Sonja Tack says:

    It’s an utterly disgraceful invasion of privacy in my humble opinion. If whingeing were a sackable offence, all of us would be rendered permanently unemployable.

  4. John Connell says:

    The young woman in question has followed all of this up with a thoughtful post on her own blog that puts a slightly different perspective on the whole sorry episode – although it does not change the key points you make, Martin.
    http://www.theconnor.net/?p=12
    None of us likes a clype (http://dictionary.reverso.net/english-definitions/clype) and, if I ever bump into my over-zealous colleague in Cisco, I will be telling him so.

  5. Martin says:

    Thanks John – have updated the post to include this. As she says it is essentially a boring story, which some people have decided to whip up into something.

  6. I am pondering an idea that I think I heard on Radio 4 –
    When we are aware that we are being observed by someone/thing that we do not trust, we modify our behaviour. If, as a result of making ourselves more observable, we are further modifying our behaviour and we are becoming further removed from being able to exercise freewill. –
    For me, I am noticing a ‘centrapetal’ force to ‘market’ my ideas/thoughts/opinions to as many people as possible and a contending ‘centrafugal’ force to share only with those whom I know & trust very well.
    My experiment of the previous many months or so (since having my eyes opened somewhat at the OU Social:Learn workshop last year) has been to try near total transparency, without discrimination between, for example, work colleagues/friends/family.
    I think the results are, rather predictably, that inevitably one caters for one’s audience and that catering for a wide-ranging trust-quotient of trustee (if that is the correct term for someone on whom we bestow our trust) results in inevitably settling on lowest-common-dominator targetted communications.
    Soluton/way forward?
    I think the clue to the way forward for me is in one of theoconnor’s conclusions to ‘check the check box’. I interpret this for myself as meaning to not be lazy with my network of ‘friends’ just because I connect with them primarily online e.g. to now begin actively manage what I shared & with whom, just like I would with realworld friends. To build, not assume, trust. Here begins the next phase of the experiment!

  7. Martin says:

    Hi Lawrence, the idea of changing your behaviour if you are being observed, or more importantly, even if you aren’t actually being observed but could be, stems back to Foucault I think and the panopticon.
    I have gone for the open approach, particularly on twitter – but what you say is true, I have developed an online persona which is part of my overall one (or exaggerated elements of that maybe). I suspect as these things move more into the mainstream becoming more selective won’t be as difficult eg open on twitter, closed on Facebook. Generally my open approach on twitter hasn’t caused me any problems and has given me lots of good interaction. But I know there are things I won’t talk about there.

  8. Robin says:

    Is it possible to frame somebody online?
    What if a jealous colleague posts writings using a rival’s name to deliberately ruin their career? Can a person use technology like Facebook and Twitter to make their competitor look bad to future employers?

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