Take care – YOU could be the next Andy Gray

Being angry online could cost companies a lot
Being angry online could cost companies a lot

The millionaire ex-football pundit, Andy Gray, faced a barrage of criticism and his inevitable sacking after making overly sexist remarks about women. His remarks have been both defended and attacked – whether you think this is “just banter” or the “thinking of a dinosaur” is not the point. What’s important is the fact that his behaviour was subject to potential legal proceedings – something that his clients, Sky Sports, undoubtedly did not want to get into. Any discriminatory behaviour – which includes speaking – is now open to challenge in the courts. Be careful what you say.

Of course, online, people are frequently not careful. You can find all sorts of remarks, comments and frank discussions on Twitter, Facebook and in blog posts. People speak their mind, without much attention to whether or not they will cause offence. But beware – if any of your staff, or indeed if you yourself, make any discriminatory remarks online you face potential action.

As from the 1st March 2011 the Advertising Standards Authority has new powers – the power to monitor material added by commercial concerns to social networks. It means that your Tweets, your Facebook wall writings and anything you add to LinkedIn could face an action against your company if the material is deemed to be in any way promotional. According to Punch Communications this means you need watertight policies to cover your online PR activities.

But you should not really need such policies. All you need is to think. Would you say to someone’s face what you say in Twitter sometimes? Would Andy Gray have disparaged a female football referee directly or would he have been more careful with his comments?

When we are face-to-face we temper our language because we get the immediate feedback on our behaviour as a result of the other individual’s body language, facial expressions and so on. We can sense when we are going too far, usually.

Online, we do not have this two-way benefit. Conversations are time shifted and “asynchronous”; also we cannot sense tone of voice and body language. It means that in the online world it is all too easy to make communications mistakes. And that means the chances of being “caught out” by organisations such as the Advertising Standards Authority are considerably higher than in the “real world”.

You have been warned…!

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