According to Greenbaum’s blog post (which was mirrored on his personal blog), someone posted a comment on a story in which they used a colloquial or slang term for female genitalia. It was deleted, but then was reposted. Greenbaum says he noticed that the comment alert from WordPress showed that it came from a nearby school. So Greenbaum called the school, and they asked him to send them the email with the comment, which he apparently did. About six hours later, he says, the school called and said that an employee had been confronted and that he had resigned.
Am I the only one who thinks that doing this goes way beyond the normal course of editorial behaviour?
There’s been some interesting commentary on this case — but there are some aspects that I think haven’t been addressed very well yet. It’s a more complicated situation than many have considered, and the answers really aren’t clear cut.
Here’s my take:
There are really two separate issues here.
Did Greenbaum over-react by reporting this person to his employer?
Yes — but.
Yes, he did. In the grand scheme of things, reporting a violator back to their host is a serious thing because it can have serious implications — like getting someone fired. Which effectively happened in this case. So it’s a last resort thing. Before you do something like that, I prefer taking many other tactics first:
- Delete the post
- Warn the User
- Ban the User (and ban the IP and/or IP range as necessary)
- Make it clear that if it doesn’t stop, they’re going to be reported
If those all fail, or if for some reason aren’t possible, THEN you start considering going back to the user’s host for support in making the behavior stop. As far as I can tell, only the first was tried, so a number of (to me) necessary steps were skipped. This could have been ended with much less serious ramifications, and wasn’t.
However, here’s the butt:
- The post was deleted, and the user insisted on putting it back. The admins made it clear it wasn’t acceptable, and the user decided to overrule their authority. This user was far from innocent here.
- Once the user is reportd back to their host (and I use that term carefully, because it’s many times unclear if it’s an employer or what, and to some degree it doesn’t matter if it’s an ISP or a boss or whatever), it’s out of Greenbaum’s control. The rest of the escalation to losing the job was the result of actions of the host (i.e the school, or this person’s boss). None of that is caused by Greenbaum (directly) or his fault, beyond that he should have been sensitive to the fact that his action in reporting might have caused other actions to happen.
So, you know what? I think Greenbaum’s transgression is a lot less serious than the user’s transgression in reposting his vulgarity after it was made clear it wasn’t welcome. I would have tried other tactics to cut the abuse, but let’s not forget that it was abuse, and it was repeated abuse after the site made it clear the posting wasn’t welcome. Whether you shoot over someone’s virtual bow one time or three times is a minor thing in the scheme of it.
The user’s fault in this problem was a much bigger problem than Greenbaum’s reaction.
But what about the school? They’re the group that took the complaint and escalated it into a situation where the person lost their job. None of that is Greenbaum’s fault. Was the school wrong for turning this into a termination issue?
I’m not so sure. It’s easy to say they over-reacted, but let’s not forget:
- This person did this using the school’s network
- It looks like he did it while on duty at the school – while he was being paid by them.
- He likely was on a school-owned computer
- He was (I’m sure) under some kind of employment contract with behavior clauses. The school very likely has acceptable use standards for computers and networks, and for all we know, also personal use restrictions (which this would be a violation of).
- So while this cascaded into a situation where someone lost their job, it’s not at all clear that the details of the action were the cause. We also don’t know if this person has a history of previous violations of work rules that might have been part of this. Has this person been warned about this kind of behavior before? We don’t know. It could well be from the school’s view that this was a “last straw”. We don’t know.
And those complications are why I believe reporting back to the host is something not to be taken lightly; once you do, the final outcome is not really under your control. On the other hand, the person who could have prevented this was the user who posted the vulgarity — either by not doing it in the first place, or by stopping after it was deleted the first time, or by being smart enough to not do it from his employer on company time and company equipment. He had plenty of opportunities to not turn this into what it was; Greenbaum had one.
And it’s not as simple as many of the folks commenting on it want to be. Real life never is…