Thursday, February 27, 2014

People are mean. Let’s social media murderize them!

If you’re not from around here – meaning Northeast Ohio or NEO for short – you may be unaware of the latest regional brouhaha.
 
It seems a local “communications professional” – Kelly Blazek – who provides a job bank service, has been sending nastygrams to some of the people who sought to connect with her.
 
You can read all about it on Cleveland.com (click here), or merely search on “Kelly Blazek” in Google or Bing, or on Twitter search for #kellyblazek.
 
The story has been picked up all around the country and has set tongues wagging, particularly among those of us who label ourselves as “professional communicators,” among other things.
 
Sadly and ironically, if you read the Tweets or comments forums attached to the various articles, there’s very little professionalism being exhibited.
 
And so here I go wading into the fray with my two cents…
 
The blazing Blazek/Mekota meltdown
 
I’ve met Blazek and receive her job bank emails. She’s worked hard to develop a good and helpful service.
 
And, while she’s pleasant enough in person, you can get a sense of her less tolerant side by reading the notes that top every job list she sends out. Here’s a snippet from a recent email:
“[A] plea regarding LinkedIn. PLEASE DON’T. If we haven't met personally and also worked together, it's not appropriate to ask to connect. I can't possibly vouch for the thousands of strangers who subscribe to my goofy gift, and won't accept wishful requests to go shopping through my connections (sounds ugly, but that’s what it is). Thanks.”
 
“Feel free to forward this e-mail to communications, marketing, media, creative and fundraising job hunters. They can subscribe by sending a request to join at ClevelandJobBank-subscribe@yahoogroups.com WHICH MUST BE ACCOMPANIED BY a brief statement (less than 200 characters) about the industry/job title they seek. Only qualified individuals within our industry receive the Job Bank. Requests which include no background, degree and or qualification statement will be declined. Please do not send a resume when requesting membership.”
When you’re providing a free service and getting hit with multiple requests for help every day, it’s reasonable to establish rules and insist people follow them. It’s also reasonable to ignore those who don’t follow your rules.
 
Basically you say a polite no or say nothing.
 
So far so good.
 
But apparently when Blazek received requests that were out of line, she felt the need to educate the senders.
 
And boy did she school them!
 
While most who received these blazing Blazek rejections shrugged their shoulders and soldiered on, one person – Diana Mekota (@PettieBettie) – decided she was going to do something.
 
She was mad as hell and she wasn’t going to take it anymore, by golly!
 
Mekota posted images of Blazek’s tactless emails on multiple social media sites, whipping her online audience into a frenzied Blazek backlash.
 
While Blazek has a few defenders, it seems the majority have sided with Mekota and are doing so with a vengeance.
 
Frankly, I think just about everyone’s been a loser in this debacle.
 
Snark can be deadly
 
The Blazek/Mekota affair will certainly become a case study used for years to come to teach the dos and don’ts of social media.
 
But I’m not sure, based on a cursory reading of the plethora of postings and comments that right lessons will be learned.
 
It seems that in our brave new social media fueled culture, anonymously damning people you don’t like is perfectly acceptable. More than one commenter has as much as said so.
 
Figuratively speaking, murder by Tweet of the disliked is now acceptable.
 
I disagree.
 
Here’s where I come out on this:
What Blazek was doing was wrong. Blazek’s emails were brilliantly awful and totally uncalled for.  They were mean, nasty, arrogant, and, well, you get the drift. Someone needed to tell her this. Firmly. Face to face. One on one. And you can’t tell me that no one in her professional circles was aware of what she was doing. I’m sure there were a few who knew and chose to remain silent. Shame on them.
 
How Mekota reacted was wrong. While many are admiring Mekota for “standing up” to Blazek, publiclyshaming and damaging another is generally wrong and unprofessional. I doubt that in a work setting Mekota would appreciate being called out in a staff meeting by her boss for making some kind of blunder. And if Mekota outed her boss in social media for doing so, well, she’d be fired in a New York microsecond.
 
Those blasting Blazek are wrong. It’s stunning that the majority of those berating Blazek have no sense of irony for doing to Blazek what they claim she’s done to Mekota and others. Sadly, the idea of “two wrongs don’t make a right” seems to have been lost. And even though unaffected by anything Blazek has done they feel entitled to sound off their outrage in often vile terms. Many are claiming to be “communications professionals” as they do so. Really?
Tragically, anonymity in online forums breeds contemptible behavior. I guess this shouldn’t be surprising given the fallen and sinful nature of mankind. Still, it’s sad and a little depressing. I guess this is what happens when teaching the “Golden Rule” is booted from classrooms.
 
Sigh.
 
Doing the same yields the same: Be different! Be nice!
 
The bottom-line here is that when confronted by meanness, being mean back only yields a lot more meanness.
 
Nothing gets better and a lot of people get hurt.
 
I wonder how those blasting Blazek would feel if because of this she was driven into homelessness, depression, a heart attack, suicide, or some other awful end? Would that be viewed as a just and good outcome? If you think so then I do not want to be your friend or colleague.
 
So what’s the right response to meanness?
 
I don’t know about you, but I learned a few principles in kindergarten and Sunday school that, frankly, apply in adulthood.
 
Here they are.:
1. Ignore it. On the playground, kids learn that when someone’s being a meany, the best way to deflate their negativity is simply to walk away and ignore them. The same is true in life.
 
2. Understand it. If a friend is having a bad day and snaps at you, you usually know to ask them if something’s wrong. Bad days can push us to be less than patient with others. If someone you really don’t know snaps at you, consider they may be having an off day (or an off life) and extend them some slack, at least until you learn differently.
 
3. Face it. Walking away doesn’t always work and is occasionally not feasible. When you’re working with someone day in and day out and they’re being a relentless cad, odds are you’re going to have to confront them.
A. First, talk to them privately, one on one, about your concerns. Be sure you’re heard but also be careful to listen and give them a chance to open up. Work toward a friendly solution.
 
Apparently Mekota did try to do this via email with Blazek. Perhaps picking up the phone would have been a better approach.
 
If this doesn’t work or the behavior continues, then…
 
B. Second, talk to them in the presence of a trusted, neutral friend or colleague or two. Again, be heard and listen and seek a resolution.
 
Perhaps Mekota could have reached out to the person who referred her to Blazek for advice, even asking if there were others she could approach with her concerns who could mediate between her and Blazek.
 
If this doesn’t work or the behavior continues, then…
 
C. Third, go up the line to a broader audience, but carefully. In the workplace, this probably means involving your immediate supervisor and/or HR.
 
For Mekota, perhaps she could have approached someone at the Cleveland chapter of IABC or even at the national IABC office since Blazek had been given an IABC award. Perhaps there was another professional organization Blazek is connected to that could have been approached. Often, when others are being brought into the picture, a recalcitrant or stubborn offender will begin to pay attention.
4. Forgive it. Forgiving is easier when the one perceived to be the offender acknowledges their wrongdoing. But this won’t always happen. Still, for your own sanity and sense of professionalism, the right response is forgiveness and not revenge. When there is acknowledgement of a fault and an apology is offered, then accept it graciously and work to build a bridge and make a new friend. And call others off of the shaming as well.
If no reconciliation can be reached, possibly, but only in very serious and rare situations is the right response to go public with a social media driven shamefest. For example, if someone is at risk of being physically harmed, a group of people is about to be financially hoodwinked, and so forth, then perhaps going public is a reasonable solution. But in virtually all non-life-threatening instances, public is probably not a good way to go. You’ll seriously tarnish your reputation while trying to destroy theirs.
 
You’re occasionally offensive and not everyone likes you either
 
Kelly Blazek was being rude. No matter how annoying, frustrating, or painful her rudeness was, it really boils down to a matter of bad manners. She did not deserve to be so brutally and publicly pilloried by social media meanies.
 
It would really be nice if someone could mediate between Blazek and Mekota (and others who feel they were slighted by Blazek) bringing them together for a friendly and healing discussion. Given the vitriol exhibited so far, I’m not sure this could ever happen.
 
In business or any part of life on this planet, we’re going to meet people we just don’t like and who rub us the wrong way. And our feelings are going to get hurt, many times.
 
The flip side of this is not everyone will like us and, even when we don’t mean to, we will offend others. It happens.

The solution is to first, try to get along, then, failing that, move along.
 
As Paul the Apostle said, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:17, NIV).
 
If it’s not possible? Then maybe the advice Jesus gave his disciples is apropos, in a metaphorical application: “If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them” (Luke 9:5, NIV).
 
But no matter what, it’s always best to not crucify people in social media, but rather to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
 
In fact, in one New Testament incident, two disciples wanted to call down fire (the biblical equivalent of a social media thrashing) on an unwelcoming village. Jesus said no and then they moved along (Luke 9:51-56, NIV).
  
As one of the few wise and more positive commenters stated in one of the forums:
“Everyone who lives and breathes and communicates online; everyone of us has skeletons of bad behavior, fatal faux pas, arrogant attitudes, and the like stuffed in our burgeoning digital closets. Everyone one of us is only one leaked email, one inappropriate Tweet, one rash blog post, one angry Reddit rant, one hidden microphone, one unnoticed phone camera away from being the next pilloried professional to be vilified at the hands of social media snarks. After all, the offense is in the eye of the beholder.”
 
“It’s time to come down from our high horses, log-off the forums, shut our pie holes, apply the balm of the ‘Golden Rule,’ and get back to work behaving like the professionals we all claim to be.”
“Civility and charity are much more attractive than snark and scourging.”
Amen.

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(Added 3/2/14): Another sane perspective on the issue: “Women behaving badly in LinkedIn exchange” (click here to read).

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Have you ever been on the receiving end of a social media storm? If so, how did you deal with it? What advice would you offer to Blazek or Mekota? How do you feel about anonymous commenting online? Share in the comments!

10 comments:

  1. "my goofy gift?" and she thinks people should take her seriously? BTW - while her RULES are stated in her emails - they are not so apparent if you find and access her goofy gift directly through Yahoo! Groups.

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    Replies
    1. Hey, thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my post. Your comment is both grammatically correct and technically accurate. Good job! But if this is ALL you've taken away from this post, then I guess you don't intend me to take YOU seriously. Thanks again. And have a nice day.

      Delete
    2. That was the best response you could come up with? Too busy posing for pouty blog pictures?
      Done with stephenclarkblog and you.

      Delete
    3. Okay, to your original comment, my response is, “So what?”

      Because Blazek's job bank emails were culled from publically available sources, not receiving emails from Blazek would not have impeded anyone's ability to get a job. At most, not getting the emails meant job seekers would have to do their own legwork.

      In other words, all it cost them was a little inconvenience. Is that what’s making everyone so whiny?

      Blazek responded to some people who she felt did not follow her rules for accessing her free list with some rude, tacky, and callous emails.

      The emails were unprofessional, but it's her list to do with as she pleases. Her list; her rules.

      And the level of rudeness in her emails is FAR, FAR LESS than that exhibited in a lot of the ridiculously vile comments many have posted.

      And these outrageous slams are coming from people who never received an email from Blazek, had no interest in receiving the job list from Blazek, don’t live in and don’t plan on moving to northeast Ohio (the area covered by the jobs list), had never heard of Blazek before this blew up online thanks to the whining by Diana Mekota, and essentially have zero right to any anger over this faux pas.

      Nobody was actually harmed by anything Blazek did. Offended, yes. But not harmed.

      Blazek is not an embezzler, murderer, pedophile, or terrorist. She has not threatened to kill the President, invade Ukraine, take hostages, or poison neighborhood pets.

      Yet based on the scorched-earth, schadenfreude-fueled snark frenzy on social media that has absurdly reached the national level, you'd think she was a female Jeffrey Dahmer or worse.

      At the same time, those blasting her are preposterously being hailed as heroes.

      Yet at best, the ONLY people who potentially have any claim to a modicum of legitimate unhappiness with Blazek are those who actually received emails from her. And even then, all she did was send them tacky emails.

      Big fat hairy deal.

      The level of reaction and outrage is EXCESSIVELY out of proportion to the offense.

      It's as if professional communications (since many insisting on the eternal demise of Blazek claim to be part of the profession) and, indeed, the whole country, has become deeply dysfunctional and mean.

      It is the blacklash that is the real evil here.

      So, again, “So what?” So what if she called her list a “goofy gift”? So what if her rules “were not so apparent”?

      There are far, far more important issues and truly damaging offenses in the world over which to expend outrage and energy.

      Nothing about the shamefest directed toward Blazek is constructive or justified. Nothing.

      Delete
  2. Short sighted. Ignorant. Get off your soapbox.

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    1. Short sighted? How so? Please explain. Ignorant? In what way? Please expound. I'm standing on a soapbox? Nope. Just the truth. Have a blessed day!

      Delete
  3. as a communications professional and winner of the 2013 Business Communicator of the Year Award, Blazek should have known better. She of all people, should have known that responding to anyone in the way that she did was playing with social media dynamite (there are many examples). Not saying it's right, just saying her behavior was incompetent and also mean-spirited.

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    1. I completely agree that her emails were mean-spirited (and stated as much in my post), but Mekota's behavior was just as wrong if not more soe (http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/01/opinion/drexler-linkedin-exchange/index.html), and the ensuing shaming is over-the-top. There are far better ways to deal with the issue than piling on cruelty. Thanks for commenting!

      Delete
  4. Hoisted by my own petard? No, just schooled by my loving wife. She gently pointed out that in my responses to the anonymous comments above I was guilty of the bad behavior I was calling out in my original post. Sigh. She's right. I stand corrected. So, I apologize to you, whoever you are. Thank you for stopping by, reading my post, and taking the time to share your comments. I pray we can all be civil, patient, and tolerant even when sharing opposing views and opinions.

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Like? Dislike? Agree? Disagree? Have something to add? Please share your thoughts on my post below. I want to know what you think. But be civil.