An Insider just got sent out the door. Pax Dickinson, the former chief technological officer of Business Insider, was “forced to resign” on Tuesday for a series of beyond objectionable tweets, according to the Daily Intelligencer. Dickinson used Twitter’s 140-character limit to be an equal-opportunity offender, using racial slurs and questioning the viability of women in tech as well as gay rights. His ousting is just the latest example of executives realizing the power of their tweets, and the effect they can have on their brands.
The language found in Dickinson's tweets, while common in your typical troll-heavy online comment section, is surprising from an executive at a high-profile company. For example, here's one of the tamest ones we could show you:
feminism in tech remains the champion topic for my block list. my finger is getting tired.
— Pax Dickinson (@paxdickinson) September 9, 2013
Valleywag, a Gawker Media site that covers Silicon Valley, first reported Pax Dickinson’s offensive tweets on Monday, to much uproar. Dickinson’s boss, Business Insider founder and CEO Henry Blodget, released a statement Tuesday morning, saying:
A Business Insider executive has made some comments on Twitter that do not reflect our values and have no place at our company. The executive has left the company, effective immediately. Business Insider's team is composed of more than 100 talented men and women of many backgrounds, and we highly value this diversity.
Dickinson hasn’t seemed to learn from his ousting, tweeting:
I gained 850 twitter followers and +7 @klout in less than 24 hours. Now offering social media consulting services.
— Pax Dickinson (@paxdickinson) September 10, 2013
But executives and employers should treat this as a teachable moment. "[Companies] are concerned about maintaining decorum in the workplace or preventing people from using social media in a way that is derogatory," Washington-based lawyer Lawrence Lorber told the Wall Street Journal. "Social media is speech with a pretty big megaphone."
One way to stem employees' (and executives') misuse of Twitter is instituting or educating employees on the company's social media policy and making it a part of your company culture. "The best defense is still a good offense," Eric Kinder of Spilman Thomas and Battle PLLC told Monster.com. "So if you don’t have a policy in place or one that is about blocking social media in the workplace, now is the time."
"While there can certainly be significant brand benefits from social media, there are also tremendous risks to companies," Mark Langsfeld, chief strategy officer at reputation management company ListenLogic, told OPEN Forum. "This incident is yet another example as to why organizations need to adopt measures like social media training, stronger policies and, above all else, advanced social detection and tracking of emerging risks and threats. Having consistent visibility into these threats as they emerge, with real-time detection, allows organizations to stay ahead of, or even eliminate them for greater protection."
Some of the employees and fellow executives at Business Insider may have previously been aware of Dickinson’s tweets (in fact, Nicholas Carlson, BI’s chief correspondent, said he blocked him). A good social media policy, besides outlining appropriate uses of the technology, creates a safe space for employees to share such instances of social media abuse to their employers. While social media policies are no means a cure-all to the ever-present social media gaffe, it can help employees think twice before they tweet and create a viral episode.
Read more articles on social media.
Photo: Getty Images