Americans have a long history of robust political discourse and the media has always been inextricably linked and necessary to facilitate the public conversation. We saw this as early as the 1800 election where differences in ideologies between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson reached a partisan fervor. Adam’s vision of a strong centralized government was at odds with Jefferson's vision of decentralized control over the states. It was effectively the birth of the two-party system in American politics and these dueling visions for America were played out in most of the 200 newspapers that existed in 1800 with partisan attack ads, insults, dire predictions, and mud-slinging.
Of course, news distribution in those days was measured in days and weeks since the transmission was limited to horseback. Flash forward 220 years, and now 70% of the population receives their news from social media in near real-time. With almost 4 Billion users on social media, it doesn’t take long for a news story to reach millions and billions of people globally – shifting attitudes, policies, and often power within minutes.
What we saw over the summer with regards to protests, looting and riots was a result of the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis but more specifically, it was the result of a single video of the incident posted on social media. The video went viral flaming racial tensions, rapidly spreading to other cities across the United States and the world. Social media not only played a central role in the dissemination of the video, but it also, in many cases, legitimized the violence, stigmatized police, and enabled organizers to recruit protestors and agitators further exacerbating the tensions. News and often misinformation quickly spread across all media, echoed by those with large followings on social media resulting in extreme polarization of the population. We saw this same process play out and culminate in the riots at the US Capitol on January 6th.
Corporations, like politicians, have been forced to choose sides. Organizations that remain silent risk an attack by the social media mob, often led by employees of the corporation. But these risks have to be weighed against taking a position that could alienate half the population and possibly half of your customers. Organizations have an obligation to their employees to protect freedom of expression but at the same time ensuring zero tolerance for anyone advocating racial, national, or religious hatred or discrimination. A reliance on politicians or social media platforms themselves to police the discourse is not a solution. Corporations must institute policies and technology necessary to help combat political extremism, which left unchecked, can fester and create unnecessary risk to the organization and its employees.
It’s important to not only vet candidate’s social media before employment but also monitor what your employees are saying online to ensure compliance with your stated policies.
Organizations of any size need to have a social media policy that clearly outlines zero tolerance for hate speech, toxic language, and political speech that could incite violence. But having a policy statement is not enough. It’s important to not only vet candidate’s social media before employment but also monitor what your employees are saying online to ensure compliance with your stated policies. You should consider platforms that leverage artificial intelligence, and are specifically designed to analyze public social media posts of your subjects efficiently, consistently and most importantly legally. Employee risk to a corporation has never been higher than it is in today’s highly politicized and polarized society. And for a relatively small investment, this risk can effectively be mitigated.
Corporations and governments share a common interest in ensuring the safety and economic vitality of the nation. It was the father of capitalism, Alexander Hamilton that understood this “intimate connexion” between government and private enterprise. Hamilton, as Treasury Secretary, played a key role in swaying the election in 1800 for Jefferson over Burr by rallying Federalist support for him. And in an ironic twist of fate, Hamilton was killed by the then Vice President Aaron Burr in a duel 4 years later that was instigated from disparaging remarks Hamilton made about Burr over dinner – perhaps the most notorious instance of political violence in American history.
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