This week two news items have got me thinking about internet justice and how quickly someone’s life can be damaged or destroyed by doing something dumb.
Today and yesterday it has been all about the City TV news reporter in Toronto who challenged these sexist assholes (not sure I have used a bad word on this blog before) who think it is funny to approach female reporters doing a live TV bit on camera and shout “F%k her right in the the P$$y.” (One bad word per post is enough.
Today it emerged that one of those men has been fired from his $100k / yr job as a result of his actions. I’ve been thinking about this situation. I initially experienced a moment of elation to hear that this guy had been identified and punished for his actions and I hoped that the others involved would meet the same fate.
Then I started thinking about it in greater detail. I wasn’t really aware of this particular ‘prank’ because I don’t watch live TV anymore. I do remember hearing something about one guy doing this to a reporter somewhere else, but I didn’t realize it was a trendy thing to do. I also didn’t realize that it was supposed to be downright hilarious.
I heard the reporter (Shauna Hunt) interviewed on the radio and she indicated that this happens to her all the time and it wasn’t the first time it happened that day. I can’t imagine what gives these assholes (I said it again) the sense that they have the right to demean and harass women this way. Other than that whole rape culture thing. Seriously guys, what the hell are you thinking? This is not a funny joke. It is harassment and verbal assault. It is a threat and it creates an unsafe workplace for these reporters.
In case I haven’t made my feelings on this clear… I think this is idiotic sexist behaviour and these assholes should be charged with harassment.
All that said, I don’t think that this guy should have been fired over this behaviour. He was not on company time. He was not wearing company gear. He is not a spokesperson for the organization. He was being an asshole on personal time. I’m ok with naming and shaming him. If he was looking for 15 seconds of fame by getting on camera and doing something stupid he has earned the public shaming.
My concern with his firing is this – where is the line? At what point does my employer get to fire me for doing something dumb on my personal time? I write a blog, it is not about work, although I may from time to time reference my day job in an abstract way, such as when I write about parental leave. I have never written the name of my employer or what it is exactly that I do in my day job.
Sometimes I take a stand on issues that might be controversial in some way. If my employer disagrees with my publicly expressed opinion, can they fire me? How much do they have to disagree before they let me go? In this case the assholes were busy being assholes and doing something that the police have indicated they would be happy to lay charges for if someone files a complaint. I am unlikely to get busted for anything I write on a blog about being a dad. However, what if I do do something against the law? I drive a lot and I have been known to occasionally go slightly in excess of the speed limit. There have been a few times in my life where certain law enforcement officials have noticed me going a little quicker than the posted limit. Should I get fired for that? What if I get in a fight in the school yard with another parent after eating too much paste while volunteering in my daughter’s class? Where is the line? When does my personal behaviour outside of work become something my employer can judge me on?
What about all the other assholes who harass women on a daily basis and aren’t caught on video. Can we now report them to their employers and have them fired or is it only when they are caught on video and therefore an embarrassment to the employer?
Does the destruction of this man’s life mean he or others pulling this prank or harassing women will learn a lesson and stop harassing? Probably not. I suspect it is more likely they will feel that he is being unfairly treated for something that was ‘just a joke.’ I doubt it will bring understanding, change behaviour or instil a fear of getting caught.
It may be that in this case his employer felt they had no choice once he was identified and the Internet started circulating that online. He became a PR liability and given that he worked for a publicly-owned utility, he was about to become an issue to be managed and a question in the legislature to the government. The opposition parties would have demanded that something be done about him.
I was also thinking about this issue in the context of the Darth Vader selfie story that has been circulating over the past few days. In this case a mother overreacted to what she thought was a man taking photos of her kids. She snapped a photo of him and posted it to Facebook with a suggestion that he was a pedophile. The internet posse jumped on board and quickly identified the man and began harassing him.
In actual fact, the man was a dad taking a selfie with a cardboard cut out of Darth Vader to send to his kids. Once that became known, the internet posse turned on the woman who had posted the photo.
Internet justice is swift, vindictive and more often than not, it is misplaced. We all enjoy seeing someone get their comeuppance after doing saying something stupid and/or illegal. Sometimes though we need to consider whether the punishment actually fits the crime.