I’d been in such a rut. Stuck in the past. Hung up on old loves. Unable to move a single foot forward. But then you came along and all of that seemed to melt away. I didn’t feel so anxious about the future anymore. How could I? It was right there, smiling back at me.
As a social media professional and a theatre fan, it could hardly have escaped my attention that a light technician with The Phantom of the Opera called Tim Roberts quit his job after being disciplined for his conduct on social media. It is an extreme result of some very unpleasant back and forth, but it’s another example of a long line of men receiving backlash after making offensive comments to women.
It was only in June that Sir Tim Hunt, at a conference in Seoul, remarked that the “trouble with “girls” is three things happen when they are in the lab … you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticise them, they cry” and that scientists should work in gender-segregated labs. The women of the Internet responded with justified anger and, much like Mr Roberts, Sir Hunt resigned from his position at UCL for making offensive remarks.
The attack on the fangirl is the only acceptable misogyny left
The tweets that got Tim Roberts into trouble fall into the same offensive category, but his target was a certain type of young woman who often come under attack. While a general swipe at women is enough to set sensors off and rile everyone up, taking a pop at the much maligned fangirl is sadly fair game. But it is arguably the most toxic kind of misogyny. Where young women that are passionate about something are made to feel like they’re wrong and are criticised for being who they are by an older straight white man.
Roberts’ earliest tweets started with an ugly offensive tone:
For clarity, Roberts used the horrific situation with refugees in Calais to offend fans seeing Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet at the Barbican. Quickly following that up with ableism. (A ‘Sunshine Bus’ is the name used for bus trips for young people with special needs, suggesting that those with special needs should be ‘locked up’)
He also took a particularly misogynist swipe at young women:
Edited since publishing to add this gem:
Some women were offended by his comments as they back and forthed with him over his comments about fangirls. However he continued on by calling his haters neo-Nazis:
And advocating that fans should be shot:
Tim Roberts offended the young women he was attacking so much that they forwarded his tweets with a complaint to his employer. Really Useful Theatres (RUT) then took Mr Roberts in for a disciplinary. Roberts quit when faced with this process.
Should Tim Roberts have been disciplined?
The key question that has emerged as a result of this whole affair is whether Tim Roberts should have been disciplined by his employer for these tweets that he sent on his own time (remember, he did not lose his job, he chose to quit when faced with disciplinary action.)
Roberts, of course, says no. The argument that RUT are suppressing his freedom of speech is one that Roberts and his supporters are running with. It’s his personal Twitter and thus he argues that he can say anything he likes on his own time. He wasn’t attacking the company he was working for and thus, he believes, should have the right to say what he wants. Tim Roberts has also gone as far as to compare his predicament to those Spain, Egypt and Iran, who fought censorship on Twitter to enforce political change. His right to tweet using offensive language, he argues, is comparable to their struggle:
It seems disingenuous to argue that Tim Roberts’ predicament is anything like those of political activists during the Arab Spring. In fact, it’s actually a pretty offensive self-important claim.
The RUT have argued, according to Roberts, that he brought their brand into disrepute, and that’s where the professional Social Media Director in me comes out. Although Roberts may not have said anything about his employer, he was tweeting in a professional capacity - he was always talking in the context of the industry he works in and thus to potential clients of RUT. All these young women he insulted and offended are theatregoers and thus their potential clients.
Let’s look at it this way, if Roberts had stood outside Her Majesty’s Theatre before work one day and shouted abuse at people walking by and as they purchased tickets, would anyone say that was ok?
Advice for brands
Social media is a complicated new problem. What can brands do if their employees behave in their personal life in a way that does not align with their ethics? Furthermore, what can brands do if an employee is offending potential clients? This is an absolute minefield, but a sturdy and clear social media policy is absolutely vital.
Clients are well within their rights to request employees do not use social media to bring their brand into disrepute. A really high profile case of this recently was the appointment of 17 year old Paris Brown as Britain’s youth police and crime commissioner. She was discovered to have sent several offensive tweets the years before her appointment, but was subsequently forced to resign because her values did not align with that of her employer’s.
Some might argue that if you are tweeting in your personal time, it shouldn’t have anything to do with your employer, but legal guidelines provided by Linklaters, a global law firm, state that the cases in tribunal seen so far indicate that “the exact details of how the posting is made are generally less important. For example, there is limited focus on whether it is made in or out of normal working hours. Instead what is important is whether there is a clear connection to work (for example, because of the nature of the posting or naming of the employer) and the impact on the employer.”
It’s clearly vital for brands to have clear social media guidelines in place for all staff. But, additionally, I recommend professional social media training. As someone that has conducted plenty of social media training sessions for large corporations and their staff in the past, it’s interesting to get those who aren’t familiar with social media into a room and discuss it with them. They may not realise the risks they take when posting on social media, as well they may not understand their own responsibility as an employee. We always look up an attendee’s social media profile prior to the session and screencap their tweets and show them to the room. Believe me, there’s nothing like bringing home how exposed you are than your tweets going up on a screen in a room with your colleagues. It’s not done to embarrass anyone (very few people have anything embarrassing anyway), it’s done to remind you how vulnerable you are when exposing yourself online.
Tim Roberts tweeted to me that he is in charge of Twitter accounts with followers numbering 30,000 (this tweet has since been deleted).
He feels this gives him some kind of experience and knowledge of social media and how it works. Yet, clearly this isn’t the case. It is a clear example of how organisations with small budgets cut costs by not employing experienced professionals to manage their social media. I would be pretty worried that someone with a similar attitude, in charge of my social media profiles, wouldn’t know how to protect my brand from defamation, contempt of court, libel, wouldn’t know the brand’s responsibility for child safety, ASA advertising law, the important role of PR on social media, and wouldn’t respect the ethics and brand personality in a public space. All things that professionals from social media agencies specialise in and can navigate with confidence without it being the focus of their jobs.
Sadly, Tim Roberts has probably done very little for his employability now. Everyone knows that employers check public social media accounts when recruiting. He is highly visible and, despite attempts at revising history and deleting tweets, there are many posts correcting his version of events. (Read @losethehours post here as well.)
(Note: If any theatres wish to talk to me about social media training for their staff, specifically tailored for theatre and entertainment, please feel free to get in touch either here, on Twitter or google me.)