Lessons from NTUC ‘s Firing of Amy Cheong for Racially Offensive Comments
Welcome to Public Scrutiny 2.0. Issues of public interest are increasingly shaped by the outrage or the lack of outrage by social activists, netizens and hactivists on social networking sites. Incidents that once passed for dirt under carpet, social noise or distractions are cross-examined and scrutinized extensively by netizens these days.
It is a new world order. In the wake of Ms. Amy Cheong ‘s firing from NTUC, I thought it is worthwhile looking at the lessons from this incident, we can prevent the next one. Here are my thoughts:
1. Facebook (Social Media) is Part of the Public Sphere
Ms. Amy Cheong ‘s sacking makes it clear once more that Facebook as well as other social networking sites are part of the public sphere. In the past, some people have made the argument that they were only sharing with their friends. Thus, even what was meant private could easily go public.
That view point also undermines itself because of social media ‘s “share-ability” function, which enables friends to share with other friends. This means all content, once on a social media site can potentially receive the benefit of public viewing and is judged with equal attention as any other idea in public domain.
2. Once Public, You Can’t Stop it.
Even though has been given, no body is event talking about it. It appears to be very sincere and candid. That not withstanding, she has lost her job. It is a clear indication that once the “genie” is out, you can not put it back in the bottle.
Unlike other media with limited circulation, social media has an unlimited footprint. It can be seen and judged anywhere by almost anyone interested. Once it is out, you can’t erase or delete it completely. In some cases, even if you succeed to delete a post, there are tools that can find the deleted post relatively easily.
3. Once there is a Public Outcry, You Become Public Enemy
In many similar cases, when a post goes viral or generates an outcry or firestorm for its content, netizens, social web users sometimes go on overdrive. When their voices multiply to a point where they overwhelm and nullify other conversations, whatever they say sways the conversation. At that point, you ‘re public enemy.
Quite often, some people wait until it is very late before they try to speak up or cleanse up. A failure to recognise how dangerous or delicate a post can multiply is a sure path to becoming a public enemy via social media. It is a fine line that needs an effort in watching how close you get.
In essence, the fact that NTUC acted decisively arrested the issue from greater public scrutiny and discourse with its attendant baggage of giving wanton publicity. The organisation also sent a strong message that it does not condone “colorful” and derogatory speech. What I don’t know is, is such speech forbidden in the employee mannual? Does it constitute enough grounds for instant dismissal?
Social media growth is still in its teenage and volatile years. So are the users. Anybody who has ever been on the receiving side of intolerance will tell you, it can very tough. That said, society must also find ways to deal with such issues without coming across as high handed or unwilling to give humans a second chance, within the right conditions. We are all fallible mortals and we fall short everyday.