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What You Can Learn From #FHRITP About Public Shaming

05/14/2015 01:05 EDT | Updated 05/14/2016 05:59 EDT
Global Calgary

Years ago, back in the days of my youth, we could go out, act like fools, drink too much, say too much, dramatize too much and behave as stupidly and selfishly as we wanted. As long as we weren't engaging in a criminal act or hurting anyone, we could get away with it, chalking it up to a memorable night out on the town. And it was funny. Damn, we thought we were so funny. We relished and relegated those moments to the bastions of our memory banks, proud that one day we'd have some great escapades to share with each other.

I'm sure there are pictures and video documenting our shenanigans, but those are conveniently tucked away, hopefully locked away from public viewing, and the requisite public scrutiny that comes with our social profiles. Some are being uploaded on Facebook and the like during #TBT (Throw Back Thursday). Every "funny" memory becoming a cringe-inducing recollection as we carefully sift through our mental rolodex for any indecent act or perceived shenanigan that an employer (current or potential) might find offensive, that may get you sanctioned for conduct unbecoming or as we've just witnessed yet again, terms for dismissal. And if you're self-employed, a self-constructed smear campaign on your personal brand.

The days of inner-circle folly and "boys will be boys" are long gone. No longer do our actions -- public or private -- stay in those little circles. Or in Vegas. It only takes one. One upload, one tweet, one misspeak. We share too much, tweet too much, divulge too much, and on what can be the most democratizing of platforms, the global network of communication avenues on social media, we become judge and jury to all. We are equals. Every one, and every thing, is fair game.

The incidents outside a Toronto FC game this past week by a bunch of buddies were meant to be fodder among friends, a notch on their wall of shameless self-indulgence, "Look at me, I got my face on TV." I get it, #LOL guys. But they crossed the line. And when given a safety net, threw it back at the face of their rescuer.

Their particular brand of senseless smearing and professional disregard of a reporter on live television has been decades in the making. They were not the first to partake in the offensive #FHRITP trend (no, I will not elaborate -- if you don't know what that means, look it up, or better yet, don't, its not funny, just offensive). Their actions, akin to pushing someone off a ladder while they are working. Their interruption of a live broadcast may have brought them a few giggles, but what transpired has likely brought on some man-tears.

We are creatures of habit but don't learn lessons well. Over the past decade we have witnessed scores of celebrities, politicians and average citizens who have faced the scorn of public shaming. We've heard the well-crafted apologies, yet, unlike conventional crisis communication wisdom, owning it and apologizing doesn't necessarily make it go away. It follows you, it traps you and in this specific case (like so many others) it can ruin your life. There is no trash bin on social media. Yet it seems to happen time and time again. And the offenders are shocked all the same when they become the victims of their own ignorance.

Here is a short primer on how to avoid a bout of public shaming. It's certainly not the authoritative volume on how to avoid and rectify situations like this, but lets use this as a friendly reminder of how to stay out of trouble.

1. Everyone is watching and yes, we are all judging you. I don't want to judge you but some of you make it so damn easy. Why? Why do you post pouty revealing selfies, make six-second vines engaged in questionable pranks or worse, post testimonies about what you really think about controversial topics? Why? Because you want me to watch. Actually you want us all to watch. You want to go viral, get thousands of shares and millions of views. And yes, by posting my thoughts on this topic I know I am opening myself to scrutiny, so I ask that before you judge you refer to tip #6. Before you post think about how about how the four points of judgment will react: your family; your employer; your friends or network; and the social media community at large. It only takes one share to stir up a storm of controversy and unsolicited, relentless feedback. Social media doesn't sleep, its always watching.

2. Don't be a Dick! Seriously. Just stop it. Did I get your attention? Good. Because if that's your M.O. find a new one, you are now performing on the stage of public opinion. If you're old enough to drive, or be let out of the house without a curfew, we expect you to act like a [responsible] adult. Remember Korea's Dog Poo Girl? She was caught on video dodging her doggy's doodoo on a subway platform, then refusing to pick it up after a very public scolding by fellow commuters? All it took was one guy to record a video on his mobile phone and in an instant her new handle was Dog Poo Girl (among many). I don't know many people living in Korea, but I know her. She was taunted, tormented and went into hiding for weeks. Talk about a shit show! We're living in the age of The Google and YouTube -- your ignorance to others, and their ability to publicly shame you with power of a press, can become your downfall. Just because you didn't approve it or sign a release, doesn't mean it won't be uploaded.

3. Only your friends think you're funny. Everyone else is laughing at you, or doesn't get it. Who can forget the sad tale of Justine Sacco, a well-respected and high-positioned PR executive. Her racist and shocking tweets as she boarded a plane to South Africa ignited a fury, and the globally trending social media campaign on twitter #HasJustineLandedYet, which was swiftly followed by #JustineisFired once she landed, and spawned even more mocking parody accounts. She destroyed her career and her reputation in a matter of minutes. So much commentary swirled around this case that Ms. Sacco allowed herself to be interviewed by Jon Ronson last year for his book "So You've Been Publically Shamed" documenting the unprecedented global mob-mentality shaming she endured (rightfully so) and resulting career-paralyzing effect such lapses in judgment are creating. You'd think most people would have taken her cautionary tale to heart. Apparently not. My advice: Unless you're a comic, keep your comedy to yourself, or among friends. Don't publish it. Same goes for rants.

4. Don't do or say anything you wouldn't do in the company of your parents, your boss or your kids. The guy who claimed his mom would "eventually" find his antics hilarious has probably been given an earful already. He humiliated himself, and by extension her. She an unwitting victim of his bravado. Do you really think your mom will eventually find your disgusting, crass comments hilarious? Why don't you ask her first? I'm venturing to guess that even if she thought you were "hilars," she'd probably tell you to put a sock in it and smarten up. Your friends and maybe even your spouse might support, encourage, enable or indulge your every whim, cause hey, "are you my friend or what"? This Wolf Pack mentality coupled with the chance to have a fleeting 15-minute as a YouTube sensation, has lead to a lot of questionable videos out there, that 10 years down the road could come back to haunt you. Some poor saps like former mayor Rob Ford have demonstrated how an unrestrained ego and unfiltered words can irrevocably damage any credibility you have, humiliating your family. An unwitting victim of his own demise, he became fodder for those who wished to capitalize and capture all his theatrics and rambling rants. What he did for the cameras publically was certainly unbecoming, but what he did when he thought he was off camera, was even more telling. And we all turned to look at his wife, and kids, speculating on what they must think, act or do, and by default taking their silence as acceptance. The sad reality is, for as open and aware as society has become, we are closed-minded to other's failing and faults and quick to judge publicly and definitively. And we'll round everyone up on this cattle drive. Be mindful of what you do and say on camera, its not all about you. It's not repressive, just responsible.

5. Social Media Mockery has become a Gladiator Sport. We live in an interactive world where with the flick of a switch, so to speak, we can post anything across multiple platforms instantaneously. And in the shadows of our screens we can malign anyone anywhere, however we want, with little repercussion. As an online community we have proven to be not so forgiving and quite vicious. These days the first comic or clever commentator to the post, start the blood sport, their evil twins, the trolls, like turkey vultures picking at the remains. It can become incessant and has proven tragic in many cases of online bullying. There is no innocent until proven guilty. Do not poke the beast.

6. Be kind. You don't have to agree with everyone. I believe that divergent perspectives can always add to the conversation. We've lost the art of the debate. More and more we are losing our basic sense of courtesy, consideration and manners. The keyboard has removed any inhibitions normal, rational people would have in face-to-face interactions. If you are going to say something controversial or unpopular it is your right to do so, but best to back it up with facts, not zingers. Know that there are people out there who live online to be hurtful, you don't have to join their ranks. This trend of hurling insults and making cutting personal remarks when we disagree with one another can actually build a case against you professionally. On top of being unkind, it can amplify any mean-spiritedness or questionable behaviours you may exhibit. Many employers do online searches of your social media, not just for content to for your commentary, to get inside your head, and get to know your real persona. It's not hard to do. Remember the golden rule 'if you can't say something nice (insert: on TV, on social media, on video, audio, email) better to not say anything at all'. As we learned in this case and many more to come, your public, and private, words and actions can create a poor reflection on your employer, defying their codes of conduct, and ability to work harmoniously with others.

7. Do NOT, and I repeat, DO NOT try to go toe-to-toe with a veteran news reporter. Here's where my years in the media may give me an advantage over most. After years working in newsrooms, control rooms, and directly with reporters, I can tell you that most reporters and journalists are a tough and savvy bunch. They didn't get where they are by being shirking violets, or shying away from controversy. They are opinionated, live for that killer sound bite and in the right setting can be more crass and vulgar than you'd ever imagine, in other words, little shocks them. Until now many have found clever ways to combat the crude cowards who try to sneak in a little face time during a live report. Some will ignore, some will turn the tables brilliantly and some may go along with the antics to diminish the disruption but understand this: They are in charge, and they can and will humiliate you back. When you interrupt a live broadcast you are airing your ignorance for the world to see, document and share, millions of times over. Remember you're on live T.V. and your shameful antics, as brazen and funny as they many seem at the time, are being captured and broadcast to all for eternity. Don't become my next case study.

Kudos to CityTV's Shauna Hunt for calling these perverse fans on this disgusting display of sexual vulgarity and then holding them accountable, demanding they consider their entitled attitudes and retract their comments. Unlike most, she gave them a voice, a forum to apologize, a chance to review their thoughts and words. Rather than acquiesce, they defended and declared their misogyny to the world. They blew the opportunity to save face most brilliantly.

Sometimes you gotta know when to hold them and know when to fold them. These guys should have folded, cause all they'll be folding now are the tissues they'll be crying into over the coming weeks.

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