Monday, April 27, 2015

If I were you…Advice to the intemperate commentariat

One of my addictions – an admittedly harmless one, unless you consider that deliberately doing things that make your head explode is, in fact, harmful – is reading comments online.

There is nothing – nothing, absolutely nothing – to be gained from checking out vox populi on  any article that even vaguely touches on race, politics, sexuality, religion, sports… Pox populi is more like it. Comments tend to be especially rancid when they’re anonymous. But not always. As was the case with a couple of comments I saw in a recent Boston Herald article on the current contretemps over Ben Affleck’s request that host Henry Louis Gates expunge Affleck’s slave-owning ancestry from a recent episode of Finding My Roots.

Affleck’s request was weak and embarrassing; so was Gates’ for giving in to it.

How much more interesting and instructive the show might have been if they’d let the voyage of ancestral discovery actually discover something that mattered in the telling of the Great American Story?

Anyway, I read the article and then, since I am an addict, I I couldn’t help twirling through a few of the comments.

Although I am an addict, my addiction did not get in the way of my realizing that Boston Herald + Henry Louis Gates (well-known African American scholar) + Ben Affleck (well-known liberal super star) will inevitably = racist and/or liberal-bashing commentary.

Two comments in particular caught my eye, because not only were they signed with a real person’s name, they were also associated with a real person’s employer.

Would a local accounting firm really want someone out there using their company’s name to go on a rant about how all liberals are liars?

Maybe they’d be fine with it. Maybe it’s a deeply held belief on the part of the firm’s partners. Maybe they don’t want the business of lying liberals claiming all sorts of fake deductions and hiding all sorts of income.

But I doubt it.

Certainly in liberal-ish Massachusetts it would be unwise to cut yourself off from a goodly proportion of your potential clientele.

So my guess is, no, the firm would not want M spouting off ridiculous nonsense about lying liberals anymore than they’d want M spouting off ridiculous nonsense about lying conservatives.

Now if M wanted to point out that Ben Affleck is a liberal, and make a claim she could back up that he is a liar, well, have at it.

Just keep all liberals out of it. And keep your company’s name out of it while you’re at it.

And would a respected local educational institution want one of its employees making a crack that 9 out of 10 people would interpret as racist? 

Maybe they’d be fine with it. Maybe they’re sitting around snickering about the dearth of African-American intellectuals out there. Maybe they think that white folks – maybe even just Irish Catholic white folks – are the only ones who can live up to this esteemed institution’s motto, “Ever to Excel.”

But I doubt it.

Certainly at a time when diversity in the academic environment is so prized, it would be unwise to have employees associated with your institution making silly, racially-tinged remarks.

So my guess is, no, the college on the hill would not want S making a snide comment that might be funny if you didn’t actually think about what it was saying. Which was racist to the core, even if this was unintentional on S’s part. Maybe he just thought he was putting Gates down. Fair game! Gates is a prominent academic, a public figure with a show on PBS. Attack away! No need to paint the entire African-American intellectual community with the same brush.

Personally, I don’t think employees should be fired for saying stupid things that have nothing to do with their jobs – unless the stupid things have a direct bearing on their work. (E.g., a police officer spewing racial venom on FB.) On the other hand, people need to be really careful about what they’re saying out there in the public forum, especially if they’re tagging their company’s name onto their own.

I’m all for free speech. But free speech doesn’t mean there are no consequences.

It would be quite easy for someone who was really pissed off by a comment to report the commenter to his or her employer. Or for someone, say, who knew a partner in an accounting firm or a university dean to say, ‘do you know what your folks are out there saying?’

Could get you into some kind of trouble ain’t nobody want.

I give both M &S credit for using their own names and not hiding behind Anonymous (or some scurrilous nom de web like “Obongo”). But when you’re using your own name, not to mention the name of the place you work, you really have to think twice before hitting the “publish comment” button.

Just a bit of Pink Slip advice to the intemperate commentariat.

1 comment:

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