CNN, a division of Time Warner (TWX), recently fired an editor who had been with the company for 20 years. A twenty-year relationship destroyed by 109 characters, including spaces. Those characters were in the form of a Tweet, which can only be a maximum of 140 characters. CNN decided that the Tweet was inappropriate.
Regardless of the words and thoughts those 109 characters represented, the fact that a Tweet could result in someone’s termination should be a wakeup call for many. The former CNN employee stated as much in a subsequent blog post, in which this was written, “Reaction to my Tweet was immediate, overwhelming and provides a good lesson on why 140 characters should not be used to comment on controversial or sensitive issues…” This is a vast understatement.
However, this is far from the first time when new technology and an interconnected world have resulted in a “small statement” having major consequences. For some time, microphones being “inadvertently” left on have caused politicians consternation. Such “inadvertent” mic comments have included normally professional politicos swearing like truckers and, recently, the former United Kingdom Prime Minister Gordon Brown calling a constituent “bigoted”. These events can tarnish an image or, as in Brown’s case, result in much larger incidents from which people have a difficult time recovering.
Then there is the email trail that never goes away. Goldman Sachs (GS) recently provided The Financial Crisis Commission 2.5 billion pages of records, including all sorts of digital documents like emails. The goal of the commission, which was angered by the overwhelming number of pages provided, was to find the type of “smoking gun” emails that have been used to take down many in the financial arena, including Henry Blodget, who’s emails appeared to contradict his published research writings at Merrill Lynch, which is now a part of Bank of America (BAC).
The list of modern technology snafus doesn’t stop there, though. Reuter’s reports that a recent poll found 20% of those who text in the United Kingdom have sent a “racy” text to the wrong person. Frighteningly, over 40% those under 25 reported that this was something they had done. Indeed, those most used to the use of technology appear to not appreciate the magnitude of its impact.
Indeed, this was clearly the case when an employee of Best Buy (BBY) created several videos that he posted on Google’s (GOOG) YouTube. The videos mocked both Best Buy and its customers, which the company found objectionable and resulted in his suspension from work. Interestingly, after a public outcry, the employee was allowed to return to work and had received some support to start a more artistic career.
Technology is a huge benefit, but if it isn’t respected it can turn into a personal nightmare, or worse. There is no company or service that can stop people from doing what, after closer inspection, turns out to be less than intelligent. Of course, that closer inspection often happens with the benefit of hindsight.
Indeed, technology has helped to create a situation in which simple human error can be tracked for future scrutiny closer than many understand. For example, the so-called “black box” technology that has for years allowed for the recording of events in airplanes is also in automobiles. Toyota (TM) is receiving some vindication in its accelerator scandal, as reviews of black boxes from crashed cars reveal that, in some cases, the accelerator problem was that the driver was, well, pressing the accelerator and not the brake, as was originally reported. Too bad the speed of the Internet has already tarnished Toyota’s image. Still, add this technology to the list of monitoring devices out there, including red light cameras, and even driving a car is less private than many believe it to be.
With all of the technology that people live around today, it is easy to grow accustomed to it and forget the impact it can have. But technology has infiltrated all manner of life, and it’s vital to remember it’s there—even if it isn’t apparent.