Facebook Rage Sparked Over Lindsey Stone Arlington Nation Cemetary Photo

Over the last couple of days, a major controversy has been brewing regarding a specific Facebook post made by a woman by the name of Lindsey Stone, and the online reputation management  of the company that employs her. If you haven’t heard this story yet, no doubt you will soon find it hard to ignore. The controversy surrounding Lindsey started when she posted a picture of herself on Facebook. In the photo Lindsey is standing at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, she is pretending to yell and flipping off the camera, in front of a sign which reads “Silence and Respect.” The photo was taken by a coworker of hers while the two were on a work-paid trip in October, and has since gone viral as concerned citizens and veterans alike have criticized her for her insensitivity.

Lindsey attempted to stem the tide by posting an explanation of sorts: “Whoa whoa whoa… wait,” she wrote, “This is just us, being the douchebags that we are, challenging authority in general. Much like the pic posted the night before, of me smoking right next to a no smoking sign. OBVIOUSLY we meant NO disrespect to people that serve or have served our country.” Since then a Facebook page entitled “Fire Lindsey Stone” has gathered more than 12,000 likes to its cause and is growing exponentially every day. Lindsey and her coworker are (were?) employed by LIFE (Living Independently For Everyone, Inc.) a non-profit organization that assists people with disabilities, and the company that funded their trip to Arlington. They have since been placed on unpaid leave, and LIFE has issued a lengthy statement, part of which is detailed here:

“This photograph in no way reflects the opinions or values of the LIFE organization, which holds our nation’s veterans in the highest regard. We are proud to have veterans serving on our staff and board of trustees, and we value their service. The men and women who have selflessly fought and sacrificed their lives to protect the rights and lives of Americans deserve our utmost respect and gratitude. We are acutely aware that this photo has done a disservice to veterans and we are deeply saddened that it was taken and shared in a public medium.”

It’s hard to argue that this photo was taken in poor taste. There is a level of disrespect and insensibility here that frankly astounds me, however the photo itself and Stone’s right to express herself that way, is expressly protected by our nation’s constitution. Luckily for her, speech and expression of opinion, no matter how unpopular they may be, are protected, and therefore she is safe from lawful prosecution by our government or any government official. Unfortunately for her, that is the extent of the first amendment’s reach. The first amendment does not defend against negative reputation or perception, and it certainly doesn’t state that anyone can say or do anything without facing the consequences of their actions.

Lindsey will have to live with repercussions of this for a long long time if not for the rest of her life, and the impact doesn’t end there. Remember that Lindsay was on a paid company trip at the time of the incident and therefore, intentionally or not, was representing LIFE inc. as well as herself when she posted this photo. LIFE is playing it cool and has only thus far put Lindsey and her coworker on unpaid leave, but there is a great deal of vitriol surrounding this issue and specifically people calling for LIFE to terminate her employment. In the age of social media and viral exposure, companies of any size or persuasion can ill afford to be linked to a story with this kind of negative momentum. We’ve seen it time and time again whether it’s something local like the Clay Nissan story  or the more recent incident with American Apparel , Social media can heap a mountain of bad press on you before you can blink an eye. Some of the articles viewed earlier on Tuesday report that the page “Fire Lindsey Stone” had 5000 likes, it now has well more than 12,000.

Social media does have the power to positively influence your brand image with unparalleled success, but the slightest wrong move or a hint of bad luck with an employee, and it can all turn against you. Staying vigilant and therefore ahead of this kind of story can mean the difference between your company being stormed by an angry mob and a controversial story being written about a former employee. That being said I don’t recommend monitoring employees social media habits, there are other ways of ensuring that your employees don’t have these kind of issues—such as training employees on the dangers of ill-conceived social media posts. In light of the exponential exposure this story is getting and the fact that the two involved persons were on company time when the incident occurred LIFE would be more than justified in terminating both employees.

What do you think? Would LIFE be justified in firing Lindsay and her coworker?

 

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Comment by Timothy Martell on November 21, 2012 at 3:45pm

Thanks for all the feedback. I believe this is an important issue because the consequences of social media have permeated all aspects of business. I have personally had to fire a dealership employee over a post on facebook involving another employee and continue to see more and more examples of dealerships that are feeling the severity of negative consequences associated with mishandling of a bevy of issues that are then brought to the public venue of Facebook. 

There is no question that the lack of a social media and online reputation strategy today is the equivalent of a long term plan for failure.

Comment by Timothy Martell on November 21, 2012 at 3:40pm

Actually I don't think either Zack or James has it right in this case. James is right that often "idiots" bring to light issues of privacy as a result of their bad judgement. But the issue here is not one of privacy. This was a person that made the choice to do something that reflected negatively on themselves and their company in a public venue. NOT FACEBOOK. She posed for this photo in Arlington National Cemetery (a public venue) while attending a company trip as a compensated employee. 

While there is no doubt that if she had taken this trip on her own accord with her own funds she would likely have received just as much outrage for her bad decision, however, she would have had a valid case to make about what someone does on their personal Facebook page. But that is simply not the case.

When you are "on the clock" so to speak, and in the public eye you are a defacto representation of a company employee and are subject to the the same behavioral expectations one would have while sitting in the office. 

James, I'm sure many of us have been in situations in our youth or even college, for example, where we could have been photographed in compromising situations. Courts are beginning to rule that this type of media cannot be used by employers for either the basis of employment or the termination of employment. Again, in this case, Ms. Stone (30 years old) chose to do something that I do not believe any rational person could believe would be acceptable behavior in an office environment and it was Ms. Stone who chose to make that bad decision public. While she has the right as afforded by the constitution to promote her ideals without imprisonment by the government the constitution in no way protects her from the consequences of behaving in a way outside of the acceptable guidelines of employee conduct. 

Because her conduct as an employee can and likely will cause harm to her employer, they are completely justified, and frankly, obligated to terminate her employment.

Comment by James Bunting on November 21, 2012 at 2:56pm

I'm not arguing that she deserves anything else - she has terrible judgment. All I'm saying is it brings up things that are problematic about public versus private during a time when access to information has never been easier. The business decision is clear: she detracts from LIFE's reputation, so fire her. I was veering into social commentary a bit, I guess.

Comment by Zach Billings on November 21, 2012 at 2:31pm

I get what you're saying James but the fact is that Facebook is public not private. If she had posed this way and a bystander had taken her photo and posted it without her consent that would be a whole different story. What Lindsey did in my opinion is the modern day equivalent of you taking some of those potentially job-destroying Polaroids and pinning them up on every bulletin board you could find around town. The situation is also changed by the fact that she was on company time when she did this and therefore she is representing LIFE inc.

Lindsey voluntarily put this image of herself out in front of the world by posting it to Facebook, I believe that she deserves whatever consequences come of it.

Comment by James Bunting on November 21, 2012 at 2:15pm

I dunno. Obviously this is a person who I wouldn't invite to my dinner table, but the disappearance of the private sphere is something that alarms me more than one idiot being an idiot. It seems like we're running into more and more situations where you have to champion an idiot in order to champion privacy. Tough call.

I was fortunate in that I grew up during the sunset of the polaroid era; I'm sure I posed for a couple job-destroying photos in my teens and very early twenties. These days, all it takes is a cell phone to potentially ruin a person's livelihood. Stepping away from the question of whether Ms. Stone deserves to have her livelihood ruined, the idea that this is the world we live in is kinda scary. Sometimes it feels like you have to stick up for idiots *because* they are outlying cases, they are the canary in the tunnel, so to speak.

Comment by Fred G. Slabine on November 21, 2012 at 10:08am

Great article Tim. I agree with everyone on the fate of the 2 offenders. I also would like to state it is time to tone down the rhetoric in this country, not only politically but personal; the way we treat our fellow Americans. Just think what a great way to live your life, without hate.

Comment by Zach Billings on November 21, 2012 at 8:30am

Yes LIFE needs to fire Lindsey, I'm actually a little surprised they didn't do it when they learned of the incident and released their statement, or shortly there after. The unpaid leave is a half step, they need to make a real decision soon or else they will start to look like they're apologizing for her.

Comment by Dan Hinds on November 21, 2012 at 8:26am

I joined up on the Facebook page as well, and low and behold! It's already well above 14,500 after only 7ish minutes from your comment Abner. This thing is definitely snowballing and LIFE needs to get out of the way before it turns into a full fledged avalanche.

Comment by Larry Rettig on November 21, 2012 at 8:23am

LIFE completely has every right to fire Lindsey, she misrepresented the company publicly while on company time, there is no first amendment issue here, they need to drop her like a bad habit.

Comment by Brad VanMagness on November 21, 2012 at 8:21am

Great article Tim, "There is a level of disrespect and insensibility here that frankly astounds me" this sums it up for me, I can't understand why someone would think it was a good idea to take this picture in the first place never mind posting it on Facebook

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