An HR director was looking through one of the hundred resumes submitted for a high-profile job. She said to herself, "This Bob guy has just the right sort of experience we need. Let me take a quick look and see what he's been posting on Twitter. Oh. That's not good. Let's see about Mary, instead."
* * *
At a different company, VP Karen was talking with manager Jack. "So, I've been thinking we should promote Tim. He clearly knows his stuff, and his recent project results were impressive."
Jack responded, "Yeah, he'd be great. But I'm Facebook friends with him and, there's no nice way to say this: his posts are horrifying. He's so angry. I'm not sure how he'll react if he has to work with someone he doesn't agree with politically."
"That's too bad," said Karen. "Who's our next option?"
* * *
At yet another company, the phone rang. Regional manager Harris answered the phone. On the other end of the line was Martina. She was livid. "Listen, Harris. You have to take Boyle off the Tetradyne account. Do it today."
Martina continued, "I saw his Facebook posting this morning. He just said, and I'm quoting, that he hates anyone who voted for the President. He said he can't possibly associate with with anyone like that."
"Our face-of-the-company is describing people like the members of Tetradyne's top team with words I'd never, ever allow my kids to say."
She continued, "Our guy is Facebook friends with half of Tetradyne. If any of them read the bile Boyle has posted, we could lose millions. Are you willing to take that chance?"
* * *
These three examples could have come from any time in the past eight years or so, ever since social media started taking the world by storm. But right now, just a few weeks after President Trump has taken office, the level of animosity, unrest, disagreement, bile, and outright hostility on social media is pretty much unprecedented. If anything, it's gotten worse since the inauguration.
I'm not going to take sides here. I can see value in both points of view, and I can also see and understand what's got everyone, from every side, so worried, anxious, angry, and resentful.
It's ugly. I get that.
But here's the thing. If you're going to be a professional, if you're going to be representing your company, or if you're going to be looking for or trying to retain a job, you have to watch what you say. You just do.
This isn't some Big Brother, anti-First Amendment warning. It's friendly advice from someone who deeply cares about whether or not you and all your fellow readers succeed in your jobs and your career.
Let me be very clear: people will lose jobs based on the bile of their Facebook and Twitter postings. There's no doubt in my mind.
But, as the first two examples show, folks out there will lose opportunities they didn't even know they had. That's the most difficult thing of all, especially for someone looking for a new gig or seeking a promotion.
You never really know why you didn't win. It could have been there was a better candidate. It could have been you weren't really qualified. Or it could have been the time you mouthed off, and had no idea a person making a hiring decision knew what you said.
Let's also remember that digital postings live forever. The earliest posting of mine I can find online comes from 1982. Let me repeat that. 1982. If you wanted to research me for a gig, you could find postings online from seven years before Tim Berners-Lee invented the most basic implementation of the Web, a decade before the first Mosaic browser.
My point is this. You may have an opinion today. You may even feel justified in whatever opinion you have. You may even be right. But whether it's for a job this week or month, or for some sort of opportunity decades from now, your digital activities leave footprints.
It's because of all of this that I recommend you (all of you) tone down the level of bile you're producing on social media. It's not just that it's disturbing and stressful. It's because what you say now could hurt you or hold you back.
Think about what you post. You're not having a private yelling-fest at the TV in your own living room. You're broadcasting to the world (yes, even if you think it's only to your "friends"). And you're recording your opinion for posterity -- which, as I've shown, can be a pretty long time.
Please don't interpret what I've said here as a recommendation that you swallow your truth or hide your convictions. Activism, standing up for beliefs, and speaking truth to power are time-honored American values. Exercising freedom of speech is a right granted to us by the Constitution.
Use your head when exercising your conscience. Incivility doesn't help win hearts and minds to causes. Don't be abusive. Actions have consequences. Losing your cool may mean losing income for your employer, and may even hurt your fellow employees. Or the job you save may be your own.
And, please, try to get along. Working alongside opinionated people to build complex systems has always been at the core of what technologists do. In this period of divisiveness, the ability to get things done in a community with wildly divergent opinions becomes even more important.