clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Don't send an email if you can pick up the phone

Pool/Getty Images

One of the first things I learned when joining the Washington, DC political workforce was from a veteran lobbyist who said "don't send an email when you can pick up the phone." The lesson is derivative of the popular adage in various professional circles that goes something like this: don't say shit in writing that you don't want to see published for everyone to see. It's the kind of thing you'd expect any skilled operative to have penciled into their pocket-sized US Constitution, but it can be a practical lesson for almost anyone — especially people who say things they really shouldn't. And yet, I suspect the vast majority of us ignore this rule completely. Like a group of teachers at a prep school in Rhode Island who insulted their students in Slack, only to have those conversations leaked to the whole school.

The Providence Journal reported this week that three teachers resigned after toxic conversations about their pupils were shared "with the entire school community" in a Google Doc by some unknown alleged hacker. The comments were originally made in Slack (the same app The Verge uses to conduct business and share photos of company pets), and reportedly included things like calling students idiots and ridiculing them for their academic performance. It was bad for everyone! The Journal interviewed one student who had been ridiculed in the logs for spelling someone's name wrong. "When I saw my name I just started crying," the student said. "... I guess he just doesn't like me, and I guess none of the teachers like me at all."

It's probably useful that these bad apples put their behavior in a zone of inevitable public discovery, but even decent people can get burned for making relatively benign jokes. As former Gawker editor Max Read said after seeing his old work transcripts read in court earlier this year: "Hulk Hogan taught me never to make a bad joke on Slack again." So these are the stakes: if you write something online, at some point it may read back to the whole world, and potentially one very mustachioed beefcake. You've been warned.