Twitter To Tackle Abusive Tweets

Twitter is wading into waters that many employers continue to avoid –  the problem of abuse and harassment on its platform.

Twitter’s vice-president of engineering, Ed Ho, stated in a  blog post  Tuesday that Twitter’s primary focus in the weeks ahead will be “making Twitter a safer place.”

Specifically,  Twitter plans to:

  • Identify people who have been permanently suspended and stop them from creating new accounts.
  • Establish a “safe search” protocol that removes Tweets that contain potentially sensitive content and Tweets from blocked and muted accounts.
  • Collapse potentially abusive or low-quality tweets so the most relevant conversations are brought forward. Users will still have the option to  see the “less relevant” Tweets.

If Twitter can address the problem of abusive conduct on its massive international social media platform, shouldn’t employers address the problem in their workplaces?

Twitter already has expanded its Mute tool, which lets people  block  keywords, phrases and  conversations they do not want to see.  Last year, Twitter updated its block button so users could avoid tweets from blocked users altogether.

“We stand for freedom of expression and people being able to see all sides of any topic. That’s put in jeopardy when abuse and harassment stifle and silence those voices.We won’t tolerate it, and we’re launching new efforts to stop it,” writes Ho.

 

Social Media Puts Wal-Mart on the Defensive

Social media appears to be playing a significant role in an epic battle between Wal-Mart Stores, the world’s largest retailer,  and an American union that presumably would like to represent Wal-Mart workers, The United Food and Commercial Workers .

The union has channeled worker dissatisfaction with  Wal-Mart’s  wages, benefits and working conditions into an innovative social media campaign  featuring web sites funded by the union called OURWalmart (Organization United for Respect at Walmart) and Making Change at Walmart.    These sites include a fundraising arm for “striking” Wal-Mart associates, news about alleged poor labor practices by Wal-Mart, and slick videos of associates complaining about their treatment by Wal-Mart. On Tuesday, OURWalmart referred associates to information allegedly leaked by OccupyWallStreet.org on secret Wal-Mart power points   that tell managers how to fend off unionization efforts.

OURWalmart has garnered national publicity for labor protests at Wal-Mart stores across the nation and appears to be making some gains, possibly because of Wal-Mart’s seeming overreaction to the protests of associates and the reality of Wal-Mart’s stingy  pay and benefits.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Office of the General Counsel recently issued a consolidated complaint  against Wal-Mart alleging that the company violated the rights of its employees as a result of activities surrounding employee protests in 14 states. The complaint involves more than 60 employees, 19 of whom were discharged allegedly as a result of their participation in activities protected by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).  The NLRA guarantees the right of private sector employees to act together to try to improve their wages and working conditions with or without a union.

Wal-Mart contends that most of the associates were fired “for violating Walmart’s attendance policies that apply to all associates. Some of these individuals violated the attendance policy dozens of times in the last six months. In other cases, they were absent from work for more than eight days without letting anyone know when they would be returning to work. The facts present a very different story from what OUR Walmart/UFCW asserts.”

Wal-Mart has responded to the UCFW campaign with its own web site called, OURWalmartFactcheck.com , which states its purpose is “to examine claims and provide facts about the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart) – a group funded by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. This site is sponsored and operated by Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.”

Fact checker

Ironically, Walmart’s OURFactcheck.com  on Tuesday appeared to need a fact checker.

The web site incorrectly quotes a story in The Daily News Telegram of Worchester, Massachusetts, as reporting  that the average the average Walmart associate earns $12.83 per hour, and less than 1/2 of 1% of associates earnclaim_source minimum wage.  Walmart provides a link to the The Telegram story, which quotes Kory Lundberg, a Walmart spokesman, as stating:  “In Massachusetts … the average wage of a full-time hourly associate at Walmart is $13.86. He also noted that the majority of Walmart employees are full time. Mr. Lundberg said less than 1/2 of one percent of all Walmart associates earn minimum. Walmart’s pay is comparable to other retailers; it has to be to stay competitive, he said.”

There’s obviously a difference between the average pay of a Walmart associate and the average wage in Massachusetts of a full-time hourly Walmart associate.

NLRB Complaint

According to the NLRB,  the consolidated complaint against Wal-Mart actually was authorized in November of 2013, but withheld until last week while the Office of the General Counsel engaged in failed settlement discussions with Wal-Mart.  Additional charges are under investigation.

The NLRB states that Wal-Mart unlawfully threatened employees with reprisal if they engaged in strikes and protests during two national television news broadcasts and in statements to employees at Walmart stores in California and Texas. At stores in California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Washington, the NLRB says that Wal-Mart unlawfully threatened, disciplined, and/or terminated employees for having engaged in legally protected strikes and protests.  At stores in California, Florida, Missouri and Texas, the NLRB says Wal-Mart unlawfully threatened, surveilled, disciplined, and/or terminated employees in anticipation of or in response to employees’ other protected concerted activities.

Note: OurWalmart includes a “legal disclaimer” stating that the UCFW is not trying to organize Wal-Mart workers but merely to “help Wal-Mart employees as individuals or groups” in their dealings with Wal-Mart.

Fed Cts Eschew Social Media

youtubeAre federal courts out of touch?

 The National Center for State Courts reported the results of a recent survey that would indicate that federal courts literally are out of touch. The survey shows federal courts have thus far largely eschewed the use of “social media,” including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

 Out of the 135 responding courts, only 21 (15.6%) said that they were using social media (split almost evenly between District and Bankruptcy Courts).

This blog, of course, is concerned that federal courts are pro-business  and that federal judges disproportionately dismiss employment cases.  But the bigger issue is the extent to which federal courts simply are out of touch with the American citizenry.

Why would the judicial branch of the federal government pass up the incredible opportunities  offered by social media to inform the public about the court system and to essentially make the case that federal courts are important and should received taxpayer dollars?

 One can look for clues at the U.S. Supreme Court, the leader of the federal judiciary. It still refuses to allow television cameras in its courtroom. Television is archaic technology that dates back to the 1920s.

 Courts do have web pages, of course, but this is a small concession to the universe of opportunity available through social media. Here are some of the many uses of social media that federal court system could benefit from:

  •   Courts are in the business of deciding legal issues. Facebook and Twitter are tailor-made for courts to notify the public and the media when an important legal decision is issued or when a jury verdict is in.
  •  Social media offers the potential for timely dissemination of  useful information to the general public (i.e., Snow day – Court closed; Jury trial postponed so jurors need not report for duty; Delays possible – Parking lot closed for re-paving, etc.).
  •  Imagine the increase in efficiencies that would occur if a court posted YouTube videos showing how the court operates. For example, what should a visitor expect with respect to security screening methods?  Where do pro-se litigants sit in a courtroom and how do they present their case to a judge? 
  • Social media offers tools that can be used to education the citizenry about civil and criminal justice issues. What are the rules of evidence? What is hearsay? This type of educational outreach would be especially useful to litigants who cannot afford an attorney, which includes most poor and middle class Americans.

 Perhaps most importantly, social media offers the federal court system the opportunity to  build trust in the institution and to counteract common negative stereotypes about federal courts –  remote, insular,  obtuse,  elitist, pro-business, inappropriately “activist,” influenced negatively by political considerations, out of touch, etc.. These negative stereotypes  affect the public’s understanding of the important issue of judicial independence.  Enhanced trust also could come in handy when the federal court asked  taxpayers for money to operate.

  One wonders what model of leadership, administration or management is being followed in the federal courts? What credible business school today recommends that an institution which serves the general public reject the very tools of communication that are  most in use by the general public?  And, the last time I looked,  Facebook, YouTube and Twitter were free. 

Monsanto Protest: A Lesson for Labor?

MonsantoIn a world that is increasingly influenced by wealthy multi-national corporations, change can seem unattainable.

 But the tools for change are changing too. And that was apparent on Saturday when the power of social media sent tens of thousands of protesters in 44 countries to the streets in a “March Against Monsanto.”

 (Hmmm … Could the labor movement effectively use the power of social medial strategy to achieve positive change in the workplace?)

Monsanto Co., based in St. Louis, is a leading global provider of seeds, herbicides and ”biotechnology trait products”  or GMOs. The protest focused on the lack of labeling of genetically modified organisms, including crops and animals whose DNA has been altered. Most corn, soybean and cotton crops grown in the United States today have been genetically modified.

Organizers said it was the first global, unified protect for this cause but it would seem to be the first or  one of the first global protests targeting a multi-national corporation and its products.  

 In my own big/little city of Reno, NV, a couple of hundred protesters, several wearing honey-bee costumes, lined the streets with signs that said “It’s Our Right to Know”  and “Why Won’t You Label Your GMOs?” 

 On Thursday, the U.S. Senate rejected – by a vote of 71 to 27 — an amendment to let states require labels on food or beverages made with genetically modified ingredients.  

Meanwhile,, state legislatures in Vermont and Connecticut moved ahead this month with a vote to make food companies declare genetically modified ingredients on their packages.  The supermarket retailer Whole Foods Markets Inc. has said that all products in its North American stores that contain genetically modified ingredients will be labeled as such by 2018.

 A Monsanto spokesperson told the Associated Press on Saturday that the seeds it sells help farmers produce more from their land while conserving resources such as water and energy.

 The debate over genetically engineered food has been going on since the crops became widespread in the mid-1990s. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration concluded in 1992 that there was no difference between genetically engineered and non-engineered plants.

 In its annual report, Monsanto tells investors:

 “The degree of public acceptance or perceived public acceptance of our biotechnology products can affect our sales and results of operations by affecting planting approvals, regulatory requirements and customer purchase decisions.”

 It doesn’t seem like a stretch to conclude that global protests such as the one on Saturday could very well influence public acceptance of GMOs.