The Rollin' Stones of Silicon Valley

April 02, 2013


Inappropriate Tweet Forces Two Out of Work

Picture sunny Italy around the 1st Century BC. A one-time Syrian slave becomes famous for his ability to turn a phrase. Among the maxims Publius Syrus allegedly coined was the following: “People who are always moving, with no roots in one place, avoid responsibilities and cares.”

Leap forward several centuries and imagine some Englishman translating old Latin proverbs. In a damp and dank London, moss was viewed as a good thing—after all, things that stayed put were stable and generally profitable. Some great wordsmith from Great Britain reinterpreted the Syrian’s phrase to read: “A rolling stone gathers no moss.”

Today, when we see moss, rather than stability, many think stagnation. As such, the proverb has been turned on its head and is now often interpreted to mean: People who keep moving never lack for fresh ideas or creativity.

However, if you’ve followed last month’s news that emerged from Silicon Valley, you might conclude that rolling stones are actually hugely destructive to careers. Here’s what happened:

Stone #1 and Stone #2 both attended a conference. Stone #1 made a statement, which included a “big dongle” joke and another comment, which may or may not have been sexual in nature. Stone #2 took offense at the statement. To her 12,000 followers, she tweeted her disapproval and included a photo image of people attending the conference. Stone #2 also contacted the organizers of the event and later posted a long blog about the event and the particular experience.

Picture these two stones careening down a California mountainside. Now, picture these same two stones crashing head-on into management of their respective organizations. Something’s got to give. And it did.

First, after completing an internal investigation, the employer of Stone #1 reached the “unfortunate” conclusion that Stone #1 had to go. He was fired. Soon thereafter, Stone #2’s employer concluded that, "Her decision to tweet the remarks and photographs of the people who made the comments crossed the line."  She, too, was fired. Two rolling stones. Two jobs lost.

For interns, summer associates and new hires, here are your take-aways: First, don’t use offensive language anywhere and especially in a workplace setting. (And yes, attending a conference is a workplace setting.) Second, if/when someone says something that offends you, confront that person face-to-face and state your case in a professional manner. In these situations, avoid social networking, which has the uncanny ability to escalate minor disputes into the equivalent of nuclear war.   

Keep the following equation in mind: 1 sexually inappropriate comment + 1 Tweet = 2 jobs lost

For additional information, Google: Adria Richards.

What do You Need to Know?

Never tweet offensive language, and when communications escalate, jump off social networking altogether.



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