The power of social media continues to grow. From an injustice in a small town to the Arab Spring movements, social media has been there. Some countries have tried to suppress the platform, with little success, and on countless levels social media has become a vehicle for change. It seems there is no limit to what can be achieved with the power of social networking.
On most levels, this is a welcomed addition to the way our voices can be heard. Yet, with recent events blurring lines between business and personal beliefs, the question is "Should there be a line?" It depends on who you ask.
Some believe that social media's near limitless power is in need of checks and balances. Should the beliefs of an individual affect their standing with a public company? There is a feeling amongst some that the actions and beliefs held by an individual should be separate from that of their professional work.
Those that oppose this stance believe that is not acceptable. The growing belief is that one can not have controversial stances while overseeing a major company, especially if they claim to hold opposite feelings from the company. Those feeling this way have taken on several key figures at powerful companies in recent years through protests and social media. The opposition hasn't only come from groups. Companies have taken stances as well. With more getting involved, let's examine some prominent cases from the past few years to see how this action has blurred once solid lines.
Chili's restaurant recently came under fire for its autism awareness efforts. The national chain had planned on donating a portion of all its revenue from a particular day to an autism association. The foundation, the National Autism Association, had controversial anti-vaccine beliefs on their webpage.
The belief that vaccines “can trigger or exacerbate autism in some, if not many, children,” a position that has been time and again been debunked and derided by scientists, many families wanted nothing to do with the NAA. The group maintained that its cause was to to focus on safety issues in the autism community, but the controversial beliefs trumped any other message. The group did receive some support on social media, but not much. Soon after the backlash began, Chili's had cancelled the event as it looked for a new way to donate to autism awareness.
The NAA said that it was shocked by the decision from Chili's and its parent company Brinker International. The group asserted that the anti-vaccine claims were from parent reports. Regardless of the reasoning, the public was not in favor of their stance and let the restaurant know. Through social media the change was swift and decisive.
The restaurant confirmed that community feedback was what influenced the decision. Further adding, "The intent of this fundraiser was not to express a view on this matter, but rather to support the families affected by autism." In this situation, the public outcry utilized social media in a way that let the business know that its customers were not satisfied. While a few argued that Chili's should donate to whichever cause it should choose, the overwhelming response was in the contrary. This was one situation that was rather one-sided.
A few years ago we saw one of the more heated debates revolving around a company's beliefs. Back in 2012, Chic-Fil-A president Dan Cathy asserted the company's belief in traditional marriage, in the biblical sense. Cathy himself was a known supporter of anti-LGBT marriage rights. This sparked outrage on both sides of the debate on Facebook and Twitter alike. The outrage extended to public figures as well, with people standing on both sides of the debate. The company took to its own Facebook page to defend its beliefs while removing itself from the debate:
"The Chick-Fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect – regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation, or gender...Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena."
Supporters of Chick-Fil-A embraced a company that wouldn't back down from their beliefs, even under mounting public pressure. On the other side, groups were refusing to support a company that didn't believe in equality for all. Boycotts and pro Chick-Fil-A shopping days ensued. Not much changed through this debate. Many in the public determined that the company's beliefs were irrelevant to where their dollars would be spent.
OkCupid brought this to their Mozilla user's attention with a letter detailing what the current situation was about. After the letter the users could continue on to OkCupid or they could download a new browser that was linked in the letter. Within two weeks of being on the job, Eich had resigned. This situation has come under fire more than any in recent memory. Some are arguing that Eich's personal views should be separate from his career of achievements. Others, including those of Mozilla employees, believe that it is impossible to represent a company with differing views.
Going after Eich's personal views and OkCupid's decision to get involved have been hot button topics since the campaign began. Those in support of Eich and privacy in general believe that a talented individual was driven out by a liberal social media witch hunt. Those on the other side of the aisle are using social media to let people know that in progressive times, antiquated views may get you ousted. This could lead to a new precedent. Will individual beliefs be fair game in professional environments? The line is blurring. The morality of the issue is one that has to be addressed on an individual basis. However, when looking at social media, it appears that the line will continue to be done away with.