Disclaimer—I have a personal bias, and it is this: Organizations and people should take responsibility for their actions first, intentions second.
Almost every day I encounter situations where a person’s stated values or an organization’s stated policies are in conflict with their actions.
When the BBC asked me to tweet a correction
Today, persons associated with the BBC asked me to make a correction to a tweet I sent out, saying I had missed the true picture, where a credible report was made that:
The BBC had taken images from Twitter in violation of certain rights, and that an employee of the BBC had followed up by saying they were within their rights in using those pictures without attribution or payment.
When this issue became a blog post, employees of the BBC commented that this was against the policy of the BBC, and that an investigation would happen.
It was tweeted that “…damage [was] done to the BBC by @TweetSmarter…” Of course, it was an employee of the BBC that had “harmed the BBC” and complaining about my part it in was typical a “shoot the messenger” reaction. Usually this is justified by saying “you didn’t just share a wrong message, you mis-stated it, therefore you are the one doing harm.”
As it appeared to me from reading the blog post (which continues to garner new comments), it appeared that the BBC stole the pictures and justified their right in doing so. While “stole” may be considered a sensationalist word, there are worse ways to characterize an organization that does so and then justifies their right to do so.
If asked not to send the tweet beforehand, would I have complied? No. I would have sent the tweet, but I would have worded it according to all the information I had. I might have changed it something like “People argue that the BBC steals/takes pictures from Twitter without attribution.”
In response to the request made to me, I said I would delete the tweet, and tweet any official information as a follow up that I found or was provided to me. I am more than happy to delete tweets that may need correction in the future. Whenever I find a story reported incorrectly, I try to at minimum delete any tweets I’ve sent that got the information wrong, and send corrected and sometimes interim tweets.
Some people feel you shouldn’t delete anything, but you can’t edit a tweet to correct it. I will correct a wrong blog post, or indicate that more information is coming, but there is no such mechanism for a tweet. So I delete and re-issue a corrected tweet (when I can). Of course, I can try to link to the previous tweet in the future corrected tweet, but the character limit makes that impractical and confusing in most cases.
How people blame others instead of taking responsibility:
The problem of course, is that everyone blames their situation, while saying they have good intentions:
- Organizations complain about how they have good policies/intentions and shouldn’t be called out on their actions instead of taking responsibility for bad actions that happen in their name.
- People complain that they have good intentions and shouldn’t be called out on their actions, as their boss or employer or organizational climate pressured them into bad actions.
Instead, take responsibility for actual actions first. Later you can complain about how unfair it is that you are being criticized because you have good intentions/policies.
How difficult it is to take responsibility
Now, I realize how difficult both situations are: For large organizations to control the actions of their many members; For employees to go against a bad climate or direction.
For the organization that realizes it is doing bad things in contradiction to good policy or intentions, to change things can be expensive to the point of putting the existence of the organization at risk. The organization has to care deeply that the right thing is done, rather than justify “the good we do by existing outweighs the bad that is hard to control.”
For the employee that realizes they are doing bad things in contradiction to good intentions, to change things can be expensive to the point of putting the existence of their position within the organization at risk. The person has to care deeply that the right thing is done, rather than justify “the good intentions I have outweigh the bad that I am forced into due to circumstances beyond my control.”
I am biased against both people and organizations that say they care deeply but find the effort to actually take the right actions too expensive. However, I don’t mean you must quit today or close down your organization. It’s wiser to make a smooth transition.
Fact of life: Doing the right thing usually costs something in the short term.
You do it because it makes you who you need to be. And if you are wise, you can also see from enlightened self-interest that acting from values in the short term can lead to long-term gains, even if there are short-term losses.
I have had similar situations with other large media organization more than once, such as Mashable and the New York Times. I wanted to put this post together as position statement so everyone would have some idea of where I stand on such issues. I realize that tweets can be considered libel, and that both ethical and legal considerations should be made before tweeting something.
Of course, it’s easier to criticize organization that you don’t know intimately. I respect that people who know a lot of good people taking right actions within an organization might be more forgiving to that organization. I think if you really feel an organization is doing a lot to see that right actions are taken (and if the organization responds responsibly to controversies) you might give them more leeway to respond or correct before reporting on problems.
As an outsider, I can simply comment on the actions and available information. But I fully admit that if I had detailed information about an organization for whatever reason, that it would inform my reporting of them. So I am not claiming impartiality here. I am simply trying to expose my different biases and be as fair as I can within those limitations.