Fueled by Social Media, Society's Quick to Condemn


It reminds me of the ludicrous Queen of Hearts in Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" who cries "Off with their heads" at the slightest annoyance, Dawes says. (Photo: Disney)

We love a comeback story, but not as much as a resignation or firing in our quick-to-condemn society.

The University of Missouri decided last week to fire assistant professor Melissa Click based on her actions during an on-campus protest in November 2015.

The announcement recalled to mind the flurry of judgment following initial reports about the protest and a student's YouTube video, viewed 2.8 million times, of Click's actions.

Social media was filled with calls for her to be fired - including a "Fire Melissa Click" Twitter account as well as a Facebook page and a Change.org petition seeking her termination.

A Missouri senator called for her to be fired a few days after the incident. He was joined in early January by nearly 100 Missouri lawmakers.

Click was charged with third-degree assault, a misdemeanor, but avoided charges by agreeing to a year's probation and community service.

So what did she do?

Based on the video evidence, a student photojournalist working for ESPN was trying to cover the protest and a line of student protesters blocked him.

A woman who sounds like Click (but is not on camera) says, "You need to back up. Respect the students. Back up. ... You need to respect their space. ... You need to go."

The reporter responds that he doesn't have to leave and that he has a First Amendment right to take photos.

Student protesters and the student reporter then argue with one another about the law and First Amendment rights for several minutes.

At the very end of the footage, Click appears on screen telling the student filming the video, "You need to get out" and tries to grab his camera. She then shouts, "Hey, who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here."

Click was in the wrong. She admitted her mistakes and apologized publicly.

No matter your perspective on her termination, we should be grateful that university officials took their time to investigate thoroughly what took place before making a decision, rather than listening to those calling for her immediate termination.

This incident reveals a widespread and troubling attitude in society that resurfaces frequently - a lack of grace, compassion, mercy.

Rather than look first to the planks in our own eyes (Matthew 7:3-5), we cast stones without the slightest consideration of our own sins (see John 8).

Calls for resignation or termination result from the slightest perceived error or mistake with little thought for what that means for the person or persons involved - the loss of income, health insurance and retirement benefits, as well as difficulty finding new employment.

Social media has exacerbated the problem by speeding up the spread of condemnation and putting pressure on officials to act swiftly in response to public perception rather than thoughtful analysis and inquiry.

In a culture driven by 24/7 news, viral videos, tweets and Facebook posts, public perception is everything - it is more important than facts.

No internal investigation or opportunity for explanation is required. Specific details and extenuating circumstances are irrelevant.

Did the person actually do anything wrong? If so, was it a "fire-able" offense?

These questions don't matter. A perceived offense and subsequent public outrage is enough to compel a person to resign or be fired.

We live in a culture of self-righteous indignation in which calls for people to lose their jobs emerge almost simultaneously with a perceived error or misdeed.

Terminating employment for significant and demonstrable errors, mismanagement or neglect of duty is not the issue. The problem is judgment based on perception rather than reality, feelings rather than facts.

It reminds me of the ludicrous Queen of Hearts in Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" who cries "Off with their heads" at the slightest annoyance.

There are times when evidence is clear and immediate termination is justified, but more often than not social media rings with calls for resignation or firing far too quickly.

There are at least two questions Christians should be asking:

1. Do we care about responding based on facts or on perception?

Social media movements too often emerge and grow based on vague or questionable information. People express outrage over some action, statement or event about which they know little, if anything.

Confirm the facts before you spread the "news" or express an opinion.

2. Is our goal to punish people who err or to restore them?

In criminal justice, retributive justice focuses on punishment. Restorative justice emphasizes rehabilitation.

Quick decisions to terminate employees based on what is deemed most prudent from a public relations standpoint is retributive. The goal is to punish those whose actions are deemed improper.

There is little to no focus on bringing healing and reconciliation to the perpetrator, the victim or victims or the community involved.

Decisions made after a detailed investigation is restorative. The goal is to discover facts, determine guilt or innocence and, ideally, work to heal relationships that were negatively impacted and help everyone involved, including the offender, rebuild their lives.

We seem to love a public resignation more than a comeback story. I hope this trend begins to change.

Zach Dawes is the managing editor for EthicsDaily.com. You can follow him on Twitter @ZachDawes_Jr.

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Tags: Compassion, Judgment, Restorative Justice, Retributive Justice, Social Media, Zach Dawes


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