F***ing Forgiveness in the Age of Sharing

30 Apr

Public reaction to a rookie TV presenter getting fired for swearing on air teaches us which values are really important.

I’ve previously written about the need for more honesty in corporate communications, and the generational shift in the way people communicate. But I think this is actually part of a different trend too.  The constant sharing of personal information has had a fascinating effect: we care less about  human screw-ups.  These are different from corporate screw-ups or political screw-ups – those tend to blow up big-time.  But for individuals, we care less about single goofs because people embarrass themselves online every day.

Take A.J. Clemente – the TV news anchorman fired on his first day for dropping a giant F-bomb without realizing the cameras were rolling.  The clip above of his performance instantly went viral and has over a million views.

But a funny thing happened after he was sacked.  According to ABC News, more than 1,500 people posted on the local TV station’s Facebook page asking the station to forgive him and reconsider the dismissal.  And A.J. was then invited to appear on the Today show, David Letterman, Morning Joe, Inside Edition, E! News and more.

Probably due to his honest and authentic responses on Twitter after dropping the F-Bomb (“That couldn’t have gone any worse!” and “Rookie mistake. I’m a free agent. Can’t help but laugh at myself and stay positive.Wish i didnt trip over my “Freaking Shoes” out of the gate”) and also due to how viral the video went, A.J. generated tons of positive national news for himself.  But why?

A generation ago, more people would likely had sided with the TV station.  “He’s supposed to be a professional” and “You should never swear at work” might have been the reactions.

But, if nothing else, social media has humanized us.  People post embarrassing content about themselves all the time, intentionally or otherwise.  In the aggregate, this likely makes us more forgiving of individual mistakes, because we see them all the time, and no single screw-up seems that bad.  Documenting life in real-time inevitably means that things go wrong and human beings act like, well, human beings.

What does this teach us? It comes back to the renewed emphasis on honesty in communications.  Many people cut their teeth in corporate climates with a “never admit mistakes” culture.  Every message had to be positive, and acknowledging errors was a big no-no.

There’s a generational change occurring, though.  Corporate-speak can backfire horribly and most younger workers see straight through spin and obtuse messaging.  Moreover, because we share so much personal information, there’s much less sting to a single negative data point.  And because the line between “work” and “personal” forms of communication is increasingly blurred, we no longer expect people to be (or even present themselves as) “proper” all the time.  A rawer form of honesty and integrity is valued more than a superficial facade of perfection.

A.J. apparently didn’t get his job back, but we can learn many lessons from the reasons he was propelled to his 15 minutes of fame.


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