A Strong Reminder About the Dangers of Email Carelessness
Sunday, 24 July 2011
The nude-photo Twitter scandal of Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Junior High) offers enough valuable lessons to fill the pages of all sorts of publications – Men’s Health, Psychology Today, Twitter for Dummies.
But one key lesson from this story – a lesson that can benefit everyone – is the importance of seriously thinking through all potential risks before sending any email, tweet, instant message or other online communication.
At Weiner’s press conference, where he admitted to sending naughty pictures of himself over the web, the Congressman explained he had actually meant to tweet the photo to just one woman – but he accidentally sent it to his entire list of Twitter followers. He also admitted to engaging in naughty online chats with several women over the years – chats I’m guessing he assumed would always remain private.
In previous articles, I’ve argued that email (same goes for Twitter, instant messaging, etc.) is public and permanent. It’s public because as soon as you send it, it becomes someone else’s property, and its new owner can share it with still more new owners. Email is permanent because its recipients own it forever and can pass it on to anyone at any time in the future.
I’ll admit, though, that when I wrote those articles about the potential risks of email, I never imagined something like this. The sad truth, though, is that Congressman Weiner’s story is only one of many high-profile examples of how even smart, successful people can make enormous mistakes — reputation-ruining, career-ending, family-destroying mistakes – by misusing online communication.
Ideally, you’ll burn the Anthony Weiner nude-picture email scandal into your memory, because if anything will force you into the habit of thinking seriously about the potential risks before firing off an email, it’s this story.
But if you don’t want Congressman Weiner or any of his pictures in your long-term memory – and I wouldn’t blame you – have a look at these other email scandals.
Email carelessness cost Governor Mark Sanford his job and good name.
Mark Sanford, the disgraced former governor of South Carolina, was ultimately ousted from his position because of an extramarital affair. And the evidence that proved the affair – and made Sanford an international laughing stock – was a series of emails he wrote to his mistress.
A short excerpt from one of these emails: “I could digress and say that you have the ability to give magnificent little kisses, or that I love your tan lines or that I love the curve of your hips….” Let me spare you the rest and just assure you that it goes on and on like that.
Think the governor expected to find this private email to his mistress published in newspapers around the world?
Email carelessness cost Cerner Corporation and its shareholders millions of dollars.
In 2001, Neal Patterson, CEO of the healthcare IT company Cerner Corporation, sent an internal email to his senior staff, berating them for not working hard enough – and threatening to fire them all.
An excerpt: “As managers, you either do not know what your EMPLOYEES are doing or you do not CARE. In either case, you have a problem and you will fix it or I will replace you.”
The “private” email leaked. It hit the news. Investors got nervous. And the stock dropped nearly 22%.
Email carelessness cost one of the most respected climate research facilities its credibility.
The Climate Research Unit at England’s University of East Anglia is one of the primary research centers from which the United Nations pulls data for its global climate reports.
The head of the CRU, Phil Jones, became the subject of worldwide suspicion and criticism when emails surfaced showing that Jones had manipulated climate data.
One example: “I’ve just completed Mike’s [science journal] Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.”
Now that these emails are public, do you think the public will ever again trust Phil Jones’s climate analysis?
If the Anthony Weiner story teaches us anything (other than that men in their 40s should not behave like adolescents), it is that you never know where your digital communications will surface, who will see them, or how they’ll be used.
So when you’re writing any online message – even an informal one to a trusted friend – remember this rule: If you wouldn’t say it (or in Congressman Weiner’s case, show it) to the whole group in a staff meeting, don’t send it.
Whatever happened to the “windfall profits” investigations?
Wednesday, 06 May 2009
It’s too bad that the public has the attention span of… of… what was I saying?
Hard to believe, but only a year ago, gas prices were soaring past $4 a gallon. Remember how furious you were? We wanted something done. Because most journalists don’t understand basic economics or business, our leading media figures suggested that Big Oil had to be manipulating gas prices to make higher profits.
And although our senators and congressmen know that this wasn’t the case, these amoral whores held fiery press conferences denouncing Big Oil for making “windfall profits” and “controlling” the price of oil.
Now, fast-forward to today. Gas is back down to under $2 in most cities, and has been for months. Question: If the big oil companies were able to simply raise the price of gas last year to any level they wanted — and rake in those “windfall profits” — why on earth would they have voluntarily lowered them so soon afterward?
And more important, where are all those senators and congressmen (led, as usual, by Nancy Pelosi) now? Do they have an explanation for why those evil oil CEOs would “manipulate” gas prices DOWN?
The answer is quite simple. It’s too bad that so few in our media know enough about economics to explain it, and that so few of our leaders in Washington are honest enough to do so.
So, why did gas prices get so high? A few reasons:
- India and China, two of the world’s most populous nations, are growing at a rapid rate and need lots of oil. Their skyrocketing demand for oil left less available for everyone else.
- All sorts of geopolitical factors in the Middle East (including security problems and terrorism) led to a constriction in the amount of oil being exported to the rest of the world.
Here’s a perfect illustration of the law of supply and demand at work: A whole series of factors (the ones described above as well as others) led to less oil being available on the world market. The supply of oil went down. As a result, the demand for the remaining oil went up around the world. Thus, the price of oil went up — and we all saw this with $4-a-gallon gas.
Now for the amazing part of the supply-and-demand system. The producers and shippers of oil all saw the rising prices and thought, “Hey, there’s a lot of profit in oil right now. Let’s get more of it to the people who want it.” So suppliers rushed in, pumped oil, refined it, shipped it, and delivered it to our filling stations and to the businesses that needed oil. Soon, the supply had risen to meet the demand — and prices went down.
Notice that nowhere in this scenario is there a Big Oil CEO saying, “Hey, let’s double the price of gasoline tomorrow. That’ll be great for profits!” Given what we’ve just learned about supply and demand, what would have happened if a CEO did try this? Likely, the demand for his $4 gas would plummet, because consumers would just drive up the street a few blocks for his competitor’s $2 gas. And no filling station would agree to buy from him when they too could simply go to his competitors.
Businesses don’t control prices. We do. If they price their goods too high, we stop buying. We even saw this with gasoline last year, as people drove less and the demand for gas quickly dropped.
In fact, one of the common causes of a business failing is that it priced its goods too low, hoping to steal away customers from its competitors. Often even if the business does manage to grab some new customers, the profit margin on its low prices are too low to sustain operations.
Keep all this in mind the next time Nancy Pelosi pretends to be “outraged” by “windfall profits.”
Sorry, “rich folks” — no more “tax havens” for you
Monday, 04 May 2009
In his latest bid to fix the whole wide world, President Obama announced today his plan to “close the loopholes” on “tax havens” for “the rich.”
Make the rich pay their fair share. Hmm. Like most things Obama proposes, it sounds wonderful — until you give it three seconds of thought. But let’s give it those three seconds, shall we?
This idea has a few problems.
First, data just released from the Congressional Budget Office show that the top 10% of wage earners in this country pay more than 70% of all income taxes. (That’s right — just 70%! Hope you’ve enjoyed your free ride, you richies, because the party’s over!)
How much more of our most productive citizens’ hard-earned money does this administration need to take before they consider it “fair?” 80%? All of it? At some point, won’t the most productive among us — those who actually create jobs and wealth and the products we all enjoy — just throw up their hands and say, “If you’re going to steal everything we earn, then we’re quitting”? And then where will the rest of us be?
Second, much of the “tax havens’ Obama refers to in this proposal are for US companies that have operations worldwide and park some of their money overseas. Companies like Microsoft, that sneaky corporation that’s probably paid only a few gajillion dollars in taxes to the US Treasury. (Hope you’ve enjoyed your free ride, Microsoft, because the party’s over!)
Now, let’s think this through. It’s easy to vilify a giant company like Microsoft. They’re successful and dominant. But remember, Microsoft employs tens of thousands of people, has sent bazillions in taxes to the government, and puts out a product that has enabled literally millions of tax-paying and job-creating small businesses to flourish.
So, what happens when a company like Microsoft suddenly gets a new tax bill from Uncle Sam for hundreds of millions more? It’s simple. They’ll have to cut back. That means layoffs. That means fewer new products released. It could also mean Microsoft loses ground to foreign competitors who have saner corporate tax laws. And that, of course, will mean that those foreign companies eating Microsoft’s lunch will be sending taxes on their profits to their own governments — instead of Microsoft sending them to ours.
See that? Three seconds of thought, and we can already imagine fewer jobs, weaker US businesses, and less tax revenue coming into the Treasury.
And all of this is to say nothing of the other destructive effects Obama’s close-the-loophole idea will have on businesses. Fewer products on the shelves. Less competition. Higher prices.
The Left lives in a lovely make-believe world, where all policies feel great to enact and there are no consequences. Unfortunately for the rest of us, we live in the actual world — and Obama is making it worse.
But at least we can feel great that he’s “taxing” the “rich.” Can’t we?