By Gayle Lynn Falkenthal
When it's time to face the camera or step up to a microphone, most people take time to prepare and carefully craft their key messages. They may even test their statements and rehearse their delivery so they are ready to deliver when the moment comes.
But in less time than it takes to read this paragraph, all the goodwill in the world can be undone when an inflammatory statement captured on video outside the confines of a formal media interview goes viral.
Three recent examples demonstrate how important it is to recognize the public nature of our lives in 2018, and to think through the consequences of our statements more carefully.
Pico Rivera (California) City Councilmember and high school teacher Gregory Salcido should have known better. His profanity laced rant blasting members of the military fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan as "the lowest of the low" and "not high-level thinkers" was apparently surreptitiously recorded by a student whose father is a military veteran.
After being posted to Facebook, it was picked up by Fox News Channel and Breitbart News, and quickly made it to major newspapers like the Washington Post. Salcido was placed on administrative leave, and his school district was pressured to fire him. The Pico Rivera City Council voted on February 13 to ask Salcido to resign from office, stating in a resolution his comments "have placed our city under a cloud of dishonor, disparagement suspicion, and criticism," and "taking such a drastic step is an effort to restore the positive image of our city." He remains on paid leave from his teaching job.
It's even worse when the communication wounds are self-inflicted. U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant Geraldine Lovely was suspended from her leadership role after she posted a video of herself on social media January 28 ripping into her black female subordinates with profanity laced insults, blaming their ethnicity for their lack of respect and "attitude."
Officials at Nellis Air Force Base Nevada issued a statement saying "Leadership are exploring disciplinary actions and are checking to see if this is a broader issue on the base."
Base commander, Major General Peter E. Gersten, wrote a letter to personnel saying "We are all responsible for what we say and do whether in person or on social media."
Fort Lauderdale, Florida television news producer Robin Cross was fired from her job February 12 at WSVN-TV after a profanity laced blast at a neighbor with whom she'd had an ongoing parking dispute. A third neighbor recorded the racist remarks and posted it. You'd think a professional broadcast journalist would know better.
Are you sensing a theme here beyond the profanity?
It was tough enough to avoid letting our guard down in a traditional media setting, assuming studio mikes weren't live or reporters weren't lingering in the hallways of courthouses or outside public meetings to catch inflammatory statements. Now, all of us need to be cognizant of the "citizen journalist" who is carrying around a recording device called a smartphone, capable of putting nearly anything you say on every major website and cable news network around the world in minutes.
When that smartphone is in your own hands, think twice before recording divisive personal opinions or ill-considered biases of any stripe.
The moment you share anything, even with a single individual, you no longer have any control where it ends up. Yes, your social media channels offer privacy controls, but your operation of them isn't infallible, and there are ways around them.
Even if you realize seconds after the fact you posted something you now regret, deleting it won't save you.
The simplest way to proceed is this: you can't get in trouble for anything you don't say. So far, thinking even the most offensive thought is still private. With any other expression, all bets are off.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, Fellow PRSA, is a veteran strategic communication and crisis response consultant. She is the president of the Falcon Valley Group based in San Diego, California Connect with Gayle on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/falconvalleygroup