Back in early 1990s, when I was still an un-defrocked technology guy, the corporation I worked for was aggressively courted by an East Coast technology company. Among the many earthly delights they showed us during the pitching of the woo, was, at the time, a genuinely startling revelation about what kind of personal information was available on public and subscription databases, and how detailed and personal a profile of almost anyone could be built up by cross-referencing the right files (I remember our president was visibly discomfitted at the sight of how much detail on her personal life could be deduced from the available data pool and, upon reflection, I am not entirely sure that what we witnessed wasn't both of a dazzling display of cutting edge technology and a genteel threat leveled at our carefully-closeted boss because who knows what else we know about you?)
Since then, the situation has gotten ever so much worse at an exponential rate by search algorithms which have reached near-sentient sophistication and hundreds of millions of social media users' who have been suckered into (and have pressured their peers into) backing their personal lives up to the digital trough and dumping terabytes of shockingly personal stuff into the web.
So you can imagine what a hearty and refreshing laugh at Young Conor Friedersdorf's call for a New Birth of Internet Freedom, in which corporations neither bow to outside pressure nor use the tools with which the times have provided them to pry into your private life and use that knowledge to your detriment:
...Meanwhile, I propose a new social norm. My strong suspicion is that we'd all be better off if Americans developed a broad aversion to people being fired for public missteps that have nothing to do with their jobs. That norm would do more good than bad even if you think some people deserve to be fired. Sure, I'd advise against taking flip photographs at a military cemetery. But whatever one thinks of that error in judgment, there's no reason it should cause a woman to lose her job helping developmentally disabled adults.An insensitive Halloween costume may justify a dirty look or scolding or even shaming. It should not deprive someone of their livelihood! It's strange when you think about it, this notion of getting sacked as a general purpose punishment that an angry faction of the public demands of an at-first-reluctant employer. The target, the mob demands, should have to find a new job, or go on welfare, or move back in with their mom, or perhaps starve. It's not even clear what's meant to happen. Let's rethink this.People should usually feel ashamed of themselves for thinking, "I should get that stranger fired." Companies should be left alone when one of their employees does something offensive while "off-duty." Since some Internet trolls will break that rule, here's another: Companies should expect to get more criticism for caving to the demands of trolls than for letting a briefly unpopular employee keep performing his or her duties, even amid an episode of obsessive public shaming. After all, these things always blow over, the attention span of the Internet being short, while losing one's job is, for many, a setback with consequences that last years. And have any of these firings achieved any social good? I defy anyone to produce hard evidence to that effect.Here's what corporations should say in the future: "Sorry, we have a general policy against firing people based on social media campaigns. We're against digital mobs."But note the one exception built into what I propose. Sometimes people do stupid things in the public eye that relate directly to their jobs. If, say, a DEA agent writes a Facebook post bragging about how many innocent black people he's going to lock up for drug trafficking next month, then it's obviously legitimate to demand his immediate termination. But generally speaking, Americans ought to be averse to the notion of companies policing the speech and thoughts of employees when they're not on the job. Instead, many are zealously demanding that companies police their workers more, as if failing to fire someone condones their bad behavior outside work. Few general standards work out best in every last circumstance. But the one I suggest would be better than what we've got.
I feel for anyone who has been whacked because of a digital mob which, like the wind, "...blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes", but comtemporize, man!
In a very real sense, Young Conor, this is the world conservatism made. A world in which corporations have been encouraged to systematically erase any concept of "off the clock". Where you are always on screaming, white-hot deadline. Where assigning you to do more in a week than you can possibly get done in a month is the new normal. A world of "What do you mean you haven't had time to finish the Gundersen presentation yet? You sure seem to have plenty of time to stay up until all hours arguing tax policy online! "
A world where peeing into a cup, polygraphs, credit checks, criminal background checks and a deep dive into your online life have become SOP in HR.
Where "at will" employment laws have been created specifically so employers can sack your ass for any reason or no reason at all.*
And since our dominant corporate culture has all but abolished the boundaries between home and work, this is now a world where anything you say or do anywhere at any time can be sufficient grounds for termination or never getting the job in the first place.
This is the world that emboldened corporations and gelded labor protection have created, so stop sending letters to imaginary people who will never listen to a word you say* and enjoy the fruits of conservatism's labor.