This past Friday, LeBron James announced his return to Cleveland after four years of displaying his talents at South Beach. One of the biggest clues that something was in the works was when the open letter written by Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert in 2010 to the then-departing LeBron suddenly went missing from the team’s website. In the letter, Gilbert had lashed out angrily at LeBron for leaving the team, calling the move to Miami a “cowardly betrayal.” Gilbert also made fun of LeBron’s nicknames and boldly [and wrongly] predicted that the Cavs would bring home an NBA championship trophy before the Heat.
So when the scorned team owner’s letter suspiciously disappeared in the days leading up to LeBron’s decision, radio talk show hosts and talking heads alike were abuzz with conjecture that a deal with Cleveland was in the works. Ultimately, this speculation turned out to be true, with LeBron announcing on Friday—via a very well composed article on SI.com—that he would be returning to Northeast Ohio with the hopes of improving more than just the basketball team’s performance.
The role that Gilbert’s letter played in this made-for-TV sports drama is yet another highlight of the dangers of social media in the employment context. In an interview with USA Today, Gilbert stated that he angrily wrote the letter “in about 45 minutes” after watching LeBron’s “the Decision” television special in 2010, in which LeBron infamously announced he was “taking [his] talents to South Beach.” Sure, several fans also held public displays of displeasure with LeBron’s abandonment, screaming and crying on camera, burning LeBron Cavs jerseys, and putting up signs. But all of this conduct was quickly forgotten as it faded in memory. Not the letter, however, which remained on the website for roughly four years.
As Gilbert lamented in the interview, “if you Google me, it’s the first thing that comes up.” The lesson to be learned—and if you’re an employer, this should be the millionth time you’ve heard this lesson by now—is that in this digital age, you must absolutely be 100% sure of what you are writing. This means that you (and your employees) must be constantly reminded to think before typing. The obvious reason is that writing an email or posting a blog is pretty much forever. This is not necessarily a new lesson about the durability of the written word. Edmund Spenser highlighted the staying power of writing in his famous sonnet No. 81, “One Day I Wrote Her Name Upon the Strand.” [Make your high school English teacher proud: Read it here.]
But the Internet makes things even more “forever” because of its universal accessibility and the ease of sharing. Your kids are so aware of this fact that software developers have created apps that erase texts and pictures sent to their friends so that no record of the conversation exists after it takes place. In the employment context, the implications of posting without thinking can be much more far-reaching that jeopardizing your small-market NBA team’s chances to reclaim its native son and the absolute best thing to happen to Cleveland since the Kardiac Kids. Rather, a poorly worded or hastily sent email can be the source of ongoing controversy between two managers or awkward relationships among coworkers. If you’re lucky, your quickly typed social media message might actually become a viral joke leading to Internet fame, like this Buzzfeed employee. But most likely you’ll just end up looking like a jerk. It could even show up at your deposition as “Exhibit A” with a rather testy plaintiff’s attorney on the other side asking you just exactly what you meant when you used the word(s) “[insert worst nightmare here].”
So, once again, I implore you to do the write thing, and think before you type. [Grammatical pun intended.]