You Don’t Have to be Famous to Get into Trouble Online
11/1/18 – – Kelly Johnston was in the last month of his 16-year employment with Campbell Soup Company. A former Secretary of the U.S. Senate, Johnston headed Campbell’s lobbying efforts in Washington D.C. as vice president of government affairs. The timeframe for his exit was tightened, however, when on October 22 he authored this provocative tweet regarding the migrant caravan heading to the U.S. through Mexico:
@OpenSociety planned and is executing this, including where they defecate. And they have an army of American immigration lawyers waiting at the border.
The next day the Open Society Foundation and its founder George Soros strongly denied this charge on Twitter, commenting:
We are surprised to see a @CampbellSoupCo executive spreading false stories.
Campbell’s CEO Keith R. McLoughlin quickly apologized in a letter to the Open Society Foundation, explaining: “Mr. Johnson’s remarks do not represent the position of Campbell and are inconsistent with how Campbell approaches public debate.” And in a statement to The Washington Post, the company announced that it had reached an agreement with Mr. Johnson that, “under the circumstances it would be best to accelerate the timing of his departure.”
In Chapter 3 of The Crisis Preparedness Quotient — Measuring Your Readiness to Weather a Reputational Storm (“Where Crises Come From”), we focus on the perils of today’s interconnected world, which have redefined the definitions of privacy and personal. Nothing online is private, and your personal communications will be taken to reflect the views and positions of your employer — whether you intended them to be or not. Yes, there are extraordinary upsides to the internet and digital communication, but it was a lot easier, especially for chatty executives, to stay out of trouble before smart phones, email and social media.
Last year, a CBS in-house attorney named Hayley Geftman-Gold, commenting on Facebook one day after the massacre by a gunman of scores of people attending a country music festival in Las Vegas, posted this:
I’m actually not even sympathetic bc country music fans often are Republican gun toters.
CBS fired her from her position as corporate vice president that same day, publicly stating: “Her views as expressed on social media are deeply unacceptable to all of us at CBS.”
Going to school on Mr. Johnson’s and Ms. Geftman-Gold’s internet indiscretions, it’s smart crisis prevention to regularly remind employees of the commonsense rules of email communication and social media etiquette. Make sure everyone understands that whenever they hit “send,” regardless of the platform, it’s wise to consider how comfortable they and your organization’s leadership would be if their thoughts were projected on a big-screen TV in court or quoted in an article on the front page of The New York Times.
The career they save may be their own.