Monday, September 23, 2013

Excellent Article by Elizabeth Renzetti: Firing People For Offensive Tweeting

I really enjoyed this article. 

This is from Elizabeth Renzetti at the Globe & Mail. Read the whole thing.

Two Toronto firefighters have been fired for making "offensive" statements on Twitter.

(BTW I know plenty of women who would be delighted to make firemen pie..)

Renzetti rightly asks if firing people for having an "offensive" opinion isn't just as offensive as holding said "offensive" opinion.

This is exactly the question people need to be asking themselves.

This is what the battle for free speech is about.

The crux of the matter, the essence of liberty is that in a free society-the actual test of a free society-is that people can hold and state "offensive" opinions without fear of being punished except socially by the society that rejects that opinion.

Simply put: offensiveness is in the eye of the human beholder.

When it is a privilege held, determined and enforced by the state, it is a very short road to totalitarianism. 

When people are punished by the state, or by their employer for holding offensive opinions (especially if the employer is the state), when it does not interfere with their work then they do not live in a truly free society.

Of course the exception to that are threats of violence i.e criminal activity which must be dealt with by the authorities.

It's getting harder to make the case even for libel or slander because social media puts everything out there-there is no putting the internet genie back in the bottle.

Read every word but especially this:

"There’s no indication that these firefighters were let go for any transgressions committed at work, on the company dime. If they’d made lewd comments or overtures to colleagues, that would be one thing, and you could understand that the hatchet would fall. But, in essence, they’ve been fired for (at worst) holding a set of beliefs that the rest of us find offensive or (at best) having a stupid and juvenile sense of humour. They’ve been fired for expressing their thoughts, however idiotic those thoughts are. I’m not sure that’s a road we want to be travelling."

"People who support the termination say the firefighters were contravening the City of Toronto’s social-media policy, as if those policies are holy writ brought down from the mountain, not human resources documents developed by companies to cover their bottoms in case of embarrassing exposure. Guidelines are open to question and interpretation. In the case of the firefighters, their poor judgment combined with bad timing; the fire department is making an admirable attempt to bring more women into the fold."

"Stripping someone of his or her livelihood is the direst punishment, but I fear we’re going to see more of it as the intersection between work and life becomes increasingly blurred. Workers are expected to extend their company’s “brand” online, and God help anyone who accidentally besmirches the brand."