Tweet it public or talk in private?

“One tweet. Thousands of comments. Four days later, two people have been fired. Welcome to the digital age.”

With those words, Forbes author Kashmir Hill sums up the firing of a women, Adria Richards, who called out two men at a tech conference for crude language last week. The catch: she used Twitter to post a photo of the alleged offenders who talked about “big dongles” and “forking,” publicly outing the two for punishment. Organizers at the conference quickly saw the tweet and spoke with the men, who then apologized for their actions.

Adria Richards Tech Conference Twitter firingWhen Richards blogged about the incident, it became known to her that one of the men she called out was fired from his job. From there, Richards suffered a myriad of online attacks, which also targeted the company, SendGrid, she worked for as well. Finally, to supposedly end the online backlash they were receiving from cyberattacks, SendGrid posted they had fired Richards.

It’s regrettable that two people had to lose their jobs last week, all because of what seems like just a bad tweet. Many online authors, including Kashmir Hill insist Richards should have handled the situation privately, confronting the two men in-person instead. And it’s quite possible that this Stone Age method of handling the situation may have just led to a weak apology and eye rolls from the two gentlemen.

We all knew what Richards was trying to do–get the men to take responsibility for their actions by shaming them publicly. But all Tweeters and social media users should be aware that wrongdoings sit in the eye of the beholder. I certainly think the men did something wrong and should have been punished for their actions. Yet to many of the cyberattackers that ultimately lend to Richards’ firing she made her seem as if she were playing the part of cyberbully.

It’s important to distinguish what conversations need to be kept offline. In a growing digital age a quick decision has lasting repercussions. Company’s online presence takes time, energy and money to create. Thus, when their reputation is challenged, they hit back quickly to avoid PR nightmares. It’s the responsibility of employees to distinguish when private and public confrontation is needed. Though the digital age has helped us in many ways, some conversations still need to be had one-on-one.

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