Fake Conroy claims Telstra sacking

The satirist behind the Fake Stephen Conroy online persona today claimed his employer Telstra had fired him, a claim Telstra immediately denied.

A clarification was made to this article. Please see the bottom of the article for more details.

update The satirist behind the Fake Stephen Conroy online persona today claimed his employer Telstra had fired him, a claim Telstra immediately denied.

Leslie Nassar

Leslie Nassar
(Image by Nick Hodge, CC 2.0)

"OK, I've been fired for contravening Telstra's AWA [Australian Workplace Agreement] that mandates that you don't criticise Telstra — ever — even in jest," Leslie Nassar wrote on Twitter this morning. Nassar has continued to use the Fake Stephen Conroy account since he revealed his real identity on 16 March, despite what he has said was disapproval from some within Telstra.

However, a Telstra spokesperson immediately denied the claim.

"Leslie Nassar has not been fired. However, we have started a disciplinary process against him — not because of his Fake Stephen Conroy blogs but because of his ongoing unauthorised public statements about Telstra, including abusive comments towards a Telstra staff member," they said.

On Twitter, Nassar claimed it was his latest article on his Department of Internets site that led to the claimed sacking. The article satirically outlined Nassar's action plan, in the unlikely event he was appointed Telstra chief executive to succeed incumbent Sol Trujillo.

Nassar's activities are understood to have been undertaken on his own behalf, with Telstra remaining ignorant of his hidden identity over the months that he has masqueraded as Fake Stephen Conroy.

In further postings this morning, Nassar, whose job title at Telstra was "senior emerging technology specialist (mobile)" defended senior Telstra executives he had worked with, such as chief technology officer Hugh Bradlow.

"Let me make it absolutely clear; the folks working in the CTO do extraordinary work. I'm sorry to lose my workmates," he wrote. "Hugh Bradlow and Greg Callaghan are both good, smart guys. They're enforcers in this, not puppet-masters."

Just one week ago, Telstra's social media chief Mick Hickinbotham wrote on the company's Now We Are Talking site that Nassar "will not be sacked as a result of his Fake Stephen Conroy twittering", but he noted Nassar would need to use an approach that was transparent and consistent with Telstra's policies on staff use of social networks.

"Leslie will disclose that he is a Telstra employee when touching on telecoms matters. That way, other users will be fully informed and can decide for themselves what to think of the tweet," he wrote.

Though, Hickinbotham also acknowledged that Nassar's managers had told him to stop using the FSC persona, independently of Telstra's media unit.

Nassar this morning pledged to continue his work despite the claimed sacking. "For what it's worth, this won't make me any more or less critical about Conroy, Telstra or anyone else," he wrote on Twitter.

Bad move
A number of other online writers immediately criticised what Nassar had said was Telstra's disciplinary action.

"Sacking Nassar is a bit of an own-goal for Telstra," said Crikey technology writer Stilgherrian.

"Last week, Mike Hickinbotham said Nassar wouldn't be sacked for his role as FSC. That was no lie: he's been sacked today for a separate breach of his AWA. But the punters won't see it that way. They'll see it as Telstra going back on its word."

Stilgherrian said Telstra was miles ahead of other telcos when it came to online engagement, but the disciplinary action reminded the public that "at their core they're still an old-fashioned command and control organisation; expecting everyone to check their personal opinions at the door and pretend every single Telstra products is perfection itself."

"Telstra needs creative people," Stilgherrian said, noting that creativity comes bundled with playfulness and irreverence, and even dissent.

"Telstra has just told every creative developer in Australia that they'll expect you to toe the line or be sacked. This won't help them recruit the best people," he said.

Mike Meloni, who runs the Somebody Think of the Children and NetAlarmed sites, which target Australian online censorship, also criticised Telstra.

"When I played a fake version of Stephen Conroy on NetAlarmed a year or two ago, my employer, an internet company, applauded the effort," he said. "After all, it wasn't my company I was satirising or criticising, it was the government. Leslie was also only satirising the government."

The initial headline of this article was "Telstra fires Fake Stephen Conroy". This headline has since been changed as we have verified that Nassar is, for now, still employed by Telstra.