You’ve heard it again and again— “be careful what you post on social media”. Or at least that’s what I thought everyone knew.
In another social media disaster, an employee of Atlanta-based Polaris Marketing Group was recently fired for a post on Facebook. What’s interesting about this situation, however, is that the post itself was not technically the issue at hand. A seemingly harmless selfie of a young, white male employee with a coworker’s black toddler led to multiple racist comments on the post insinuating that the employee, Gerod Roth, was the boy’s slave owner or that the photo was an ad to help feed a “poor child today”. While originally the photo would not have been controversial, Gerod’s friends’ comments in combination with his response led to the public outrage over the photo.
The comments themselves are disgusting and extremely inappropriate but in theory, Gerod could have been completely unattached to these hateful words. Instead, when someone commented “Dude where the hell did you get a black kid??” Gerod decided to respond, “He was feral.” Gerod ended up being fired two weeks after the incident and although a statement from the company said the dismissal was unrelated to the social media post, this is hardly believable.
In today’s age of going viral, Gerod and his friends were another example of the lack of respect and thought put into social media posts. Although Gerod deleted the post, all it took was one screen shot for his entire life to be exposed to everyone. There is never an excuse for racism and to exhibit it so blatantly on social media is frankly asinine.
While this was far from the first time I heard about a social media post gone incredibly wrong, I was especially enraged by this event because of how young the child in the photo was. A completely innocent three-year-old child became the target of racist and utterly false comments. Gerod’s suggestion that the child was “feral” insinuated that he did not in fact have a loving caretaker who watched after him, fed him, and protected him. In reality, the young boy has a wonderful and caring mother. Raising a child and holding a job, the boy’s hardworking mother was viciously implicated in this ordeal. In addition, the truth is that the boy is a beloved visitor of the office and often spends his afternoons in PMG’s President’s office after attending daycare in the morning.
In yet another lesson for both employers and employees, social media posts really do matter. Gerod Roth has effectively ruined his employment prospects for the near future and now unfortunately Polaris Marketing Group has a stain on its reputation as well. While the President’s harsh statement against Roth and its lack of association with him was helpful, they will still always be that company associated with this story. I, for one, had never heard of the marketing firm prior to this story but now if I ever do hear news about Polaris Marketing Group I will immediately think back to this event.
Another big takeaway from this story, which relates to social media but also to life in general, is to be careful with the type of people you associate yourself with. Clearly Gerod Roth did not associate himself with good people and ultimately their actions are what caused this social media event to blow up. Had Gerod only posted the photo and there were no comments, everyone would have taken the photo for exactly what it was—a goofy selfie with an adorable little boy. Ultimately Gerod’s comments revealed that the photo was not so innocent after all, but this would never have been such a big event without all of the comments from his friends. Gerod’s friends shouldn’t even be involved with his professional life let alone with his company, yet now they have effectively hurt both.
As frequent as these unfortunate events are, I am still appalled each time I come across another. Word to the wise, THINK before you post on social media… and while we’re at it, racism sucks too.