Responding to David French’s great piece on the Milo Yiannopoulos kerfuffle, Jim Geraghty wrote in this morning’s Jolt:
The era of social media allows us to communicate all kinds of ideas to audiences we never dreamed of reaching. Thousands of thoughts once expressed only to those within earshot of the barstool, the backyard barbecue, the office water cooler and other casual conversational hangouts can now instantly be transmitted to a global listenership. We haven’t gotten any more extreme, bigoted, controversial, weird, or twisted than generations past; we simply can express thoughts on Twitter or Facebook so all the world can see. Yes, the world would be a better place if people exercised more discretion. Yes, a lot of people have opinions that range from controversial to odious. But some employers, terrified of the social media outrage mobs, now have a wildly itchy trigger finger. Katie Nash, social-media coordinator for Frederick County Public Schools, was fired earlier this year when she corrected a student’s misspelling of “tomorrow.” The school board’s vice president said the tweet “was inappropriate and certainly created a lot of unpleasant responses in terms of other students piling on.”
We’re creeping closer to a society and an economy where holding a sufficiently controversial opinion or making a sufficiently controversial remark makes you unemployable or barely employable. This phenomenon of demanding people be fired for tasteless, dumb, or offensive social media posts inflicts an economic consequence a social “sin.” Yes, there should be consequence, but the consequence should occupy the same realm. Imagining the reverse, a social consequence for bad economic judgment, is absurd. We don’t get socially ostracized for frivolous purchases, overpaying, a tanking stock, or agreeing to attend that timeshare sales pitch. A social action should bring a social reaction – i.e., people responding, “your belief is nonsense.”
This fire-the-controversial impulse dramatically changes the yardsticks for hiring someone to do a job. Schilling’s opinion on transgender bathroom use didn’t really change whether he’s good at announcing a baseball game. But in this new world of social-media outrage mobs, the employer’s criteria stops being, “who can do this job best?” The criteria becomes, “who can do this job best without causing any heartburn, headaches, or potential public relations problems because of their thoughts and opinions expressed outside the workplace?” This is a golden economic era if you’re just barely good enough and thoroughly boring.
What is illustrated here is the power of social pressure, and the amplification of it that social media provides. As Geraghty is pointing out it is becoming the enemy of actual competency. That fact has consequence far beyond employment. Continue Reading