culture: Allen Funt called…

Except these days no one says “Smile! You’re on Candid Camera!” anymore.

I’m not a legal type person and I really don’t get that political, but I’m troubled by the recently-released video of a former NPR senior VP for fundraising. Mainly that he was expressing either private opinions or the opinions of a schmoozing persona* and that the secretly-filmed footage of that is now being used to foment outrage against him and his–now former–employer. Even the Washington Times called it a sting:

In a scene straight from a B-grade spy movie, the actors pretended to offer a sizable donation…

And whether the video was heavily edited or not, taken out of context or not, the thing that really bothers me is someone’s relatively private conversation is being used to affect their employment and employer. Admittedly, Schiller was already in a transition period to his next job, but the release of the video caused him to resign immediately, instead of in a few months as planned. And it wasn’t an “overheard” business meeting in a restaurant, it was a setup. Say what you like about exposé documentarians, most don’t use hidden cameras unless they’re cooperating with law enforcement. And last I checked, expressing an opinion isn’t a crime. However posing as a fake non-profit organization and arranging a sting to purportedly donate 5 million dollars… sounds like something more in the shady-to-illegal arena to me.

In any case, it strikes a pretty unattractive society we’re in where people no longer feel able to make statements on twitter, Facebook or their own blogs, whether public or private because someone will find it and use the information to harm or humiliate them.** I had a similar incident at work in 2009 where something happened and while working on it, I fired off a tweet about the situation. No names, employers or other identifying information was included, but it was still seen.*** Here was the comment forwarded–not sent–to me. 🙄

If [social networking] is going to be used [during work hours], I would appreciate if anything about work that involves me–good or bad–is not made public in this manner no matter how vague the details.

Now, what happened was some files were deleted from a server that didn’t have reliable backups. I had no idea who did it or how they were deleted, but my tweet was one of frustration at a difficult situation I had to deal with at the office. If this colleague hadn’t been viewing twitter–or perhaps scouring twitter out of guilt–at that moment, they might never have seen it. Alternatively, they could have made a much bigger case of it to my senior management and gotten me reprimanded or maybe worse. It caused me to find their account, block them, take my accounts private and changed the way I communicated online for a while. Perhaps it was a good lesson learned for me, but it’s still a sore point to this day.

Still, in light of the recent kerfuffle, I’d like to declare this tweet far and wide

Now I just need to get a custom pocket-sized pad of affidavits printed up and keep a Notary on retainer. Of course, this will probably slow down my commute and trips to Target among other things, but you never know when that busker is actually Joshua Bell or that flighty person dropping their papers in the Starbucks is really performing a survey on the level of rudeness in your town. So be aware and vigilant, folks. Know your state’s one- or two-party consent laws and always ask, “Are you recording this?” :mrgreen:

* He is a fundraiser, after all.

** A quick search for “fired because of blog” already shows way too many incidents.

*** I suspect the correct phrase here would be “searched for”.

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3 Responses

  1. Fredo says:

    This sort of thing led me to go private myself for a stretch a couple years ago. I too was frustrated with a work issue and vented; I named no one and gave no specifics. Though I wasn’t dooced – it was ultimately my choice to leave – I still sometimes wonder about the connection between the ventilation and job departure. It bugs me that I still think about it.

  2. Christopher says:

    This is why I have a private and public account. That being said, remember that Heather Armstrong — aka Dooce — was fired from her job for blogging YEARS ago. And now look at her!

  3. Herb says:

    Another problem is that some people think these stunts are journalism which they clearly are not. Can you imagine Walter Cronkite calling the Wisconsin governor and pretending to be a billionaire donor? These childish “gotcha” videos need to stop—on both sides!

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