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toxic tweets: cause for dismissal?

 “IMO if gay activists protest the Olympics in Russia it’s going to get VERY ugly. They think its just a game but Putin knows the real stakes.”
—Former Business Insider’s chief technology officer Pax Dickinson, fired last September for posting a series of homophobic, sexist and racist tweets.

“I wouldn’t fancy the bed next to Gareth Thomas #padlockeda**ehole.”
—English footballer Lee Steele, fired in January 2012 for tweeting a homophobic remark directed at former Wales rugby player Gareth Thomas, who is openly gay, in response to Thomas’ appearance on
the UK’s Celebrity Big Brother.

“I completely and wholeheartedly support Todd Reynolds and his support for the traditional and TRUE meaning of marriage.”
—Former Rogers Sportsnet anchor Damian Goddard, fired in May 2011 for opposing
same-sex marriage on his Twitter. 


In an age where you are what you tweet, voicing your opinion via your personal Twitter account can either win you online popularity or, in some cases, land you in hot water with your employer.
Organizations today are tuned into their employees’ Twitter accounts more than ever–and aren’t afraid to drop the axe for bad online behaviour. The City of Toronto did just that last November when it sacked three firefighters for posting offensive tweets that were seen as degrading to women. Officials said the tweets violated city policy.
Homophobic tweets may not sit well with employers either. Such was the case with former Rogers Sportsnet anchor Damian Goddard, who was fired in May 2011 for tweeting his viewpoint on same-sex marriage in response to Todd Reynolds, a hockey agent who had tweeted about his disapproval of New York Rangers forward Sean Avery for appearing in a marriage equality advertisement.
Hate speech is hate speech, but is firing an employee for tweets seen as homophobic a pro-active approach? Where should companies draw the line when it comes to censoring its employees’ Twitter accounts? We asked three pundits to weigh in on the debate:


“If you say something the court agrees is hateful, then you should be fired. If it’s just an unpopular opinion, then I don’t think people should be fired for that. When you start saying, ‘You can’t say that,’ you’re making sure people say things you’re only comfortable with. Sometimes being offended is a good thing. It makes you stop and think about what you’re reacting to.”
—Brad Fraser, playwright

“If it’s a public service job, then you’re working for the public. I’d like to make sure there were certain [social media] policies in place. Maybe you get three strikes? Do you undergo sensitivity training? If you represent a company, then that’s where one might lose their job or a privilege. [But] I don’t think firing somebody and everybody washing their hands represents progress. If someone says something homophobic on Twitter, it means we’re living in a homophobic world. Firing somebody doesn’t necessarily change the culture.”
—Roy Mitchell, artist/activist

“I can understand why an organization might want to fire because it’s worried about its reputation. But firing someone does not solve a problem. It just takes the problem off the employers to-do list…In feminism, it’s called the fragile flower approach. As if, ‘Oh my goodness. We have to shut these people down because their views are going to diminish us.’ Having people express their miserable views makes them appear like miserable people. I’m more comfortable with that than the alternative.”
—Lisa Taylor, journalism professor at
Ryerson University/former lawyer