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Twitter NBC Olympics Flap Torches Boundaries Of Free Speech

Chapter 3: The Corporation, The Real American Idol Part 4: 

At the end of the last post, I was discussing circumstances when a person has to speak in the name of the company.  This is not a problem, until that speech starts to conflict with your internal value system.  The whole issue of speech gets tricky pretty fast, because a company routinely expects an employee not to publically disclose things that would be damaging to the company.

I asked many people I interviewed if they were ever in a situation where they had to make a trade off between being straight with a customer and protecting the company.  Here is a typical answer, this one from “Matthew,” a 20-year software employee, and a Buddhist.  “I do that every day.  I deal with customer issues that are unresolvable, or 18 months in the future.  We are encouraged to be relatively straight with them and also to not bad mouth the company.  As a representative of the company, we have a certain obligation.  It’s of it is why you get the paycheck.  I have had 1 or 2 situations that had to do with directly lying to customer.  It came back and caused a huge headache.”

Matthew’s last point is worth elaboration.  Lying to customers is often a bad business strategy, but the criteria for what speech is permissible varies greatly between company cultures.  Which brings us to the Twitter Olympics flap.  Twitter first suspended and reinstated the account of Guy Adams, a news correspondent who shared the corporate email address of NBC executive Gary Zenkel.  (More details on the story available here.)  The key point for now is that, in Twitter’s own words, “there are some limitations on the type of content that can be published with Twitter.”  I love the name of this section on the website, “Content Boundaries and Use of Twitter.”  Boundaries is a wonderful word.  And what sets the boundaries of behavior?  In my opinion it is values.

What are the values of your company, and how do they impact speech by employees and executives?

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